Cooking Up A Tradition
By Olivia Martino, Registered Dietitian and Co-Owner, Nourish Northwest
I used to be one of those people that hated to cook. It seemed too expensive, too messy and too time consuming. Plus, everything I made didn’t come out quite right. We had home-cooked meals often while growing up, but we were also a typical American family, with two working parents. Sunday night was pizza night, Tuesday night McDonald’s, and then there was a cereal night and I think another pizza night thrown in there somewhere.
When I went off to college, I stocked my microfridge with peanut butter and fluff, ramen noodles and instant Mac& Cheese. When I was able to move off campus into a house with a kitchen, the extent of my cooking was a Morningstar Chick Patty. How I came to decide I wanted to study nutrition is still somewhat of a mystery to me.
After I graduated college, I wasn’t sure which direction to go in. I knew I needed more school in order to work as a nutritionist but was not inspired by traditional dietetics programs that offered detailed teaching on the food guide pyramid and appropriate portion sizes. I discovered a flier for a holistic health coaching program in Manhattan and felt this was the perfect fit for me.
Each weekend class I was fascinated and inspired by the new foods I was learning about. I learned how to chop an onion, boil a pot of beans, make quinoa and kale (I thought this was just a garnish!). I learned that cooking didn’t have to be fancy or complicated, but that it was exciting yet meditative.
My journey then led me to Seattle, where I attended Bastyr University for my master’s in nutrition. I knew nothing about this far away, rainy city but was certain that I had to attend this small, natural health school that actually had whole foods cooking classes in their curriculum.
At Bastyr, I learned how to eat sea vegetables, forage for stinging nettles, butcher a whole chicken and ferment kombucha. I didn’t have much money, but cooked and enjoyed meals of black beans and sweet potatoes with my friends. We found a million ways to prepare beets and cauliflower from our CSA box during the endless winters. We didn’t have much, but we celebrated food and each other and were so completely satisfied.
Fast forward a few years and I am living in Louisville, KY being asked to work as a personal chef for a family of four. “But I’m not a good cook,” I responded. What started as a trial week of cooking, turned into a two year stint. I spent 8 hours cooking every Sunday and created a week’s worth of meals for this family. With a generous budget and flexible palates, I was able to stock my kitchen with essential spices and oils and experiment with a variety of new dishes. Each Sunday, was a slightly chaotic scene of steam, smoke, aromas, piles of dishes, and occasional tears. Despite all of this I was able to slip into a meditation and emerge in the early evening, with several beautiful dishes surrounding me.
Learning how to cook and more importantly, how to ENJOY cooking, really was a lifelong journey for me. Now that it has become second nature to me, it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t know how to saute vegetables. I am so glad to be where I am now, but do feel nostalgic for the times when learning the basics was so thrilling.
Now, I find that thrill and inspiration, through teaching others. It is so rewarding to see my clients, friends and family travel along down this same path. I encourage you to give cooking a shot. Cooking your own food is a very important step towards becoming your healthiest self. It is becoming a lost art. I could go on and on about the benefits of cooking from a nutritional standpoint, but simply put, when you are eating out of boxes and packages, you are usually consuming additives that your body doesn’t need and missing out on important nutrients that are essential. Cooking also keeps you connected to your food, which has benefits that extend far beyond nutrition. If you need one more reason, cooking is far more economical than eating out every meal.
Keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be fancy, time consuming or full of expensive ingredients. Start with a bowl of oatmeal…. anything counts. Follow a recipe or don’t. Maybe it’s healthy, maybe it’s not. Just give it a shot. And share it with someone.