Cooking Like Exercise

Cooking Like Exercise

Cooking is like exercise 

You know the type of people who are natural athletes?  My brother is one of them. He has excelled at every sport he ever played. Then there’s me: the typical kid who was picked last at every single P.E. class. It didn’t really matter when my shoelaces came untied because, hey, I wasn’t really moving that fast anyway.

In spite of my lack of athletic prowess, I’ve exercised on and off my whole life, but it’s something I have to do consciously.   There are a thousand other things I would rather do than exercise, but since I need to exercise for my health, I keep on trying.

I just started running again, (for the 100th time). Then I missed a couple of days because life got too busy and, well, you know the end of that story. But lately, I’ve started seeing some striking parallels between my own half-baked attempts at establishing an exercise regime and the struggles some of my friends face as they try to revamp their family’s food habits. Maybe there are people who really want to cook at home… but then life gets in the way.

If you’re one of those people, don’t fret. There’s hope! Just like exercise, with cooking, every little bit counts. Every day that you make the effort to peel a carrot and chop an onion, brings you just a little bit closer to the end goal: good health.

As we’ve been working on the sequel to the Stanford Child Nutrition and Cooking course on Coursera, to be released in just a few months, we found some research that looks at the average time Americans have spent in the kitchen over the past few decades. In 1995, time spent on food preparation and cleanup was about half (41 minutes per day) the time spent cooking in 1965 (85 minutes per day). More recent data from 2003-2004, shows that time spent on food preparation has decreased even further as we get busier and convenience foods become increasingly available. (1)

This is our country’s reality – and probably a worldwide trend. But just as regular exercise remains an important part of efforts to protect our health, it’s important to keep cooking! It will be hard sometimes, but if you can prep some simple meals in advance and freeze them, or dedicate 20-30 minutes to chopping fruits and vegetables and storing them in the fridge, this may ultimately make your family healthier and happier. More importantly, if you happen to fall off the wagon once in a while and end up eating a less-than-healthy meal, that’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day and you can try again, and keep trying. As I lace up my running shoes for another lap around the block, I realize that things will get easier. Just like cooking, I’ll get in the habit of exercising, and it will feel just a little bit easier (and a bit more efficient) with each passing day. So, join me, friends. Let’s not give up. Together, we can do this.

Here’s a simple meal for those crazy days when you just want to order pizza:


One-pot pasta with broccoli 

What you need:

1 package of store-bought pasta

1 bag of frozen broccoli (did you know frozen produce has pretty much the same nutrients as fresh?)

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Toasted pine nuts or walnuts (optional)

How to:

On medium heat, bring 4-5 quarts of water  and a pinch of salt to a boil, add the pasta and the broccoli at the same time and boil until the pasta is al-dente*, which is about the same time the broccoli will be cooked. Drain and drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper. Add the nuts and red pepper flakes if using and mix well. Enjoy!

*An easy way to know when pasta is at it’s best cooking point is, if you grab a piece of pasta and break it, the color should be uniform, if it’s still uncooked, you will see a lighter color in the center.

(1) Reicks M, PhD, RD; Trofholz A, RD; Stang J, PhD, MPH, RD; Laska M, PhD, RD. Impact of Cooking and Home Food Preparation Interventions Among Adults: Outcomes and Implications for Future Programs. J Nutr Educ Behav, 2014; 46: 259-276.



Cooking Like Exercise

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