Posts Tagged ‘cooking skills’

8 reasons to cook at home in 2014

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Cooking at home makes it easier to eat healthier and more sustainably, save money, help your kids with kitchen literacy, and promote change in the food system.
Photo: LABabble via Flickr,

Despite the proliferation of online recipe sites and our fascination with TV shows like Top Chef, Chopped and Cake Boss, many of us are spending less time than ever in the kitchen. Whether it’s because we lack time, confidence or culinary skills, we wind up relying on convenience foods and restaurants instead of planning, preparing and cooking meals at home.

It’s a real loss. Cooking for ourselves not only allows us to eat healthier and save money, it gives us an opportunity to eat more sustainably, choosing foods that are local, seasonal, organic and fairly traded.

In fact, brushing up your cooking skills and preparing more meals from scratch could be the most important changes you make in 2014. Here are some of the benefits.

  1. Save money. Compare the cost of a takeout lunch with packing your own (60% of Canadians eat lunch out at least once a week). Figure out what you’d pay for a restaurant dinner versus   home-cooking a batch of chili or roasting a chicken that would give you several meals. Home cooking wins hands down. What’s more, planning meals each week makes it easier to stay on budget because you’ll be more likely to buy only what you’ll need to make them.
  2. Control what you eat. Whether you’re heating a frozen pizza or dining at the newest bistro, you’re consuming food that’s been defined by someone else. When you cook for yourself, you pick the recipe, ingredients and cooking method according to your taste preferences, health needs and food values.
  3. Eat healthier. Cooking at home allows you to select the cooking method that best preserves the health value of the food.  For example, roasted vegetables retain more of nutrients than boiled, while grilling chicken is a lower-fat technique than frying. In addition, by cooking with fresh, whole foods you avoid the salt, sugar and fat levels of industrial food as well as the pesticides and other chemicals used in producing them. Finally, you control portion size, which helps with weight management and reduces food waste.
  4. Throw away less food. No more supersize takeout fare: cook only what you know you’ll eat. And, equipped with some basic cooking skills, you’ll be motivated to cook with leftovers instead of tossing them out.  About  $27 billion worth of food is wasted every year in Canada, more than half of it in our homes.
  5. Reduce meat consumption. Industrial meat production consumes a disproportionate amount of natural resources and contaminates soil, air and water. If you want to eat less meat for environmental, health or other reasons, it’s easier if you cook for yourself. Restaurant, fast-food and ready-to-eat meals tend to centre on meat and poultry.
  6. Give the gift of food literacy to future generations. Find ways to let your kids participate in cooking. Even something as simple as washing vegetables or making cookies will build their sense of competence in the kitchen. Just as important, take them to a farmers’ market or a local farm so they can connect food with the people and natural resources that produce it rather than with supermarkets and burger chains.
  7. Discover a rewarding way to spend time. Providing nourishment is an essential survival skill and a meaningful activity that’s embedded in human culture. It becomes even more meaningful when you share the food you’ve cooked with loved ones, writes Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything The Basics.  After a hectic day, cooking can be relaxing and comforting, helping to bring families together around the dinner table. It also stimulates creativity: improvise on a favourite recipe, invent a new dish, or even discover a new approach you can apply in another area of your life.
  8. Vote for change in the food system.  Whether you’re concerned about health and nutrition, environmental stewardship, food security or humane treatment of animals, cooking good, clean food for yourself and your loved ones is a powerful way to promote the changes you value. It’s been said that eating is a political act: vote with your plate.

Do you cook for yourself? How has it helped you?




7 ways to dig deeper into local, sustainable food

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Brushing up your cooking skills is one way to deepen your appreciation of fresh, local ingredients. Photo by Amarpreet K via Flickr


You care about healthy food and protecting the environment. Maybe you’re a regular at the neighbourhood farmers market or you’ve joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.  But you want to do learn more, and do more, to support the growth of a local, sustainable food system in the Ottawa region.

Where to start? Here are some ideas.

1. Grow some of your own food. Whether you plant a backyard vegetable  garden or tend a solitary pot of basil on the windowsill, you’ll develop greater respect for the work involved and the harvest that results. You’ll also enjoy edibles straight off the plant or in your kitchen steps away – that’s about as local as it gets.

2. Brush up your cooking skills. Getting culinary basics under your belt, or honing the skills you already have, will deepen your appreciation of food and reinforce the importance of fresh, quality ingredients.   Knowing some simple techniques will also make it easier to prepare no-fuss, nutritious alternatives to fast food and other convenience fare.

Check out The Urban Element’s schedule of cooking workshops this fall. C’est Bon! Cooking also emphasizes local, seasonal food and offers gourmet tours of Ottawa farmers markets and local food artisans.

3.  Help bring healthy fresh food to low-income people who may not otherwise have access to them. Volunteer to plant, weed and harvest organic vegetables with Ottawa Food Bank’s Community Harvest program or glean seasonal fruit with Hidden Harvest Ottawa.

4.  Eat less meat. Not only is it better for your health, it’s easier on the environment. Meat production – mostly industrial — is set to double by 2020 due to a growing global population and increased meat consumption.

Why is this a problem? Large-scale livestock production accounts for 18%-25% of greenhouse gas emissions. More than two-thirds of all agricultural land grows livestock feed compared with just 8% that grows food for direct human consumption. And there are other downsides to industrial meat: it depletes already declining supplies of fresh water; damages forests and grasslands; erodes soil, and; produces runoff from fertilizers and animal waste that creates dead zones in coastal areas. In addition, the routine use of antibiotics in livestock production has been linked to rising levels of antibiotic resistance in humans.

Eating a bit less meat is a simple, effective way of making a difference. Check out Meatless Monday for more information and ideas   for meat-free meals.

5.  Dining out? Choose restaurants that source from local, sustainable producersSavour Ottawa lists restaurant, hotels, caterers and B&Bs that source a set minimum of food from local farmers. Some of Ottawa’s new food trucks also serve local, seasonal food.

6. Read more about the food system and ways to change it. Dip into these books from Canadian writers:

Margaret Visser’s Much Depends on Dinner, the pioneering 1986 classic that explores the history and mythology of a basic meal, touching on the environmental, economic and political implications of food

Sarah Elton’s latest book Consumed: Sustainable Food for a Finite Planet, or her 2010 best seller Locavore: From Farmers Fields to Rooftop Gardens – How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat

Jennifer Cockrall-King’s Food and the City, which looks at the rise of urban agriculture in Vancouver, Toronto and other urban farming hubs in Europe and the U.S.

7. Go to Netflix or iTunes to download some of the best food documentaries to come out in recent years. Although these films cover the U.S. and Europe, the issues they explore apply to Canada, too.  A few examples:  King Corn, Our Daily Bread and Food Inc. probe the effects of industrial food and high-tech farming. Farmageddon shows what happens when small-scale farmers who produce safe, healthy food run up against government bureaucracies. Dive! demonstrates the scale of North American food waste by following a group of friends as they dumpster-dive behind L.A. grocery stores.  The Harvest investigates the use of agricultural child labour. For other ideas, try sites such as First We Feast and Organic Authority.

Share what you’re doing to  learn about local, sustainable food. 

Related posts: Hidden Harvest Ottawa; Community Harvest grows fresh produce for Ottawa’s hungry; 8 reasons to grow your own food; Ottawa’s new food trucks boost sustainability; Join a CSA in 2013