There are a few keys to long term success on a plant-based diet, and one central truth is that it takes regular time and effort, namely in the form of cooking. Time in the kitchen is the key to health and satisfaction when you’re focusing on whole, plant foods. Unless you are fortunate enough to be able to afford private chef services, cooking will need to become a regular part of your life. Convenience foods are often damaging to our health and well-being, and while they are cost and time effective, we ultimately pay a heavy price by fueling our bodies with processed, packaged foods. Of course, they can be used once in a while, but homemade is best.
The idea of cooking regularly (especially if cooking without animal products is foreign to you) can be daunting for many. Like you, I’m time strapped. I’m mom to two small kids without outside help, and I run a small business. On any given day, you can find me racing around, dealing with near-constant interruptions and distractions whenever I attempt to be productive, and generally feeling perpetually behind in all areas of life. The myth of “doing it all” is exactly that – a myth. I regularly sacrifice things that I’d like to do, or should be doing, for the sake of the things at the tippy top of my priority list. So is nearly everyone else that I know. It’s extremely important to me to feed myself and my family well, so I’ve made peace with the fact that other things will have to wait for a future, slightly less insane season of my life. The payoff, so far, has been worth it.
Prioritizing time in the kitchen is more digestible if you can view it as a higher form of “self-care”, and not just another thing on the to-do list. When you cook nourishing, healthy food, you are truly supporting the very foundation of your life; when your health suffers, so does everything else. If you have children, or a partner, or are living with parents/roommates, you are giving them an invaluable gift whenever you spend your precious time and energy preparing a healthy, home cooked meal for them. So, think of cooking as caregiving in its purest, most basic form, for both yourself and the ones you love. It’s also a powerful act of stewardship toward the earth and its inhabitants – connecting on this level with the planet is deeply healing on many levels.
If you doubt your cooking skills, or if you’re unfamiliar with plant-based cooking, remember that everyone has to start somewhere. Purchase one or two cookbooks (I recommend Isa Does It, Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen and Vegan for Everybody for newbies), and really read them, including the non-recipe parts in the front and back of the book. Take note of the advice and guidance being offered, get familiar with the ingredients used, and take note of any special techniques and equipment. Ask questions (feel free to DM me, or ask a family member/friend who is an experienced cook), take an online cooking class (this one looks excellent), and, most of all, be patient and forgiving with yourself when something inevitably doesn’t come out as planned. The more you cook, the more culinary intuition you develop. I’ve had my share of kitchen disasters and epic recipe failures, with some important lessons learned along the way.
If you still generally dread time in the kitchen (regardless of your skill level), consider the act of cooking as a meditative practice that will ultimately benefit you and your mood. There are so many things to be mindful of – the smells, textures, sounds. Reflect on picking up the ingredients at the store, washing them and putting them away, taking them out and setting them on the cutting board. Thinking about the origins of each ingredient – where it grew, the hands who brought it from seed to table – helps connect us to our food and gives the meal a greater sense of meaning and value, as it connects us to the people and planet that made it all possible. Take note of all the delicious smells that waft through your kitchen as you begin cooking. And yes, even be mindful when washing the dreaded pile of dishes – the temperature of the water, the scent of the soap, the weight and feel of the individual plates and utensils and pots and pans in your hands as you scrub them. Set an intention next time you cook to be mindful of the practice, and really focus on each individual task in real time. If this is difficult for you at first, then pick a relaxing playlist or podcast to enjoy during meal prep and let yourself zone out.
Being truly vested in your food, from beginning to end, is a beautiful, meaningful and powerful process. This will, in turn, create positive energy around the act of cooking and eating well. And it doesn’t always have to be an elaborate meal – these thoughts and practices can be applied even when you’re making a sandwich or reheating some homemade soup on the stove for lunch. The point is, no matter how simple or complicated the food may be, it’s always worth the time and effort to cook for yourself and others, especially when your diet is centered around whole, plant foods.