Archive for ‘Benefits of Cooking’

January 9, 2018

Make the Kitchen Your Happy Place

If you want to improve your family’s eating habits, make the kitchen your happy place! Watch any home improvement show and you’re sure to see a lot of emphasis on kitchen design. Even tiny house occupants often insist on full-size appliances. This could lead you to believe that Americans love to spend time in the kitchen. But according to former consumer packaged good consultant Eddie Yoon, only 10% of Americans love cooking.

Why do we go to all the trouble and expense of large refrigerators, stone countertops, and multiple small kitchen appliances if we don’t want to be in the kitchen? It doesn’t make much sense. On some level, we must still believe the kitchen is important. Since the only way to really know what’s in your food and thereby ensure you are meeting your health and nutrition goals is to begin with fresh food, it would be good if we enjoyed our time in the kitchen.

So, how do we take a basic space or a beautifully appointed kitchen with a custom pantry, elegant countertops, decorative backsplash, and ample refrigerator and turn it into a space we want to use, a space that draws us in, a space that feels like our happy place?
Make it Yours

Forget all the sparse, neutral images you see on TV and online. Those are just showing you a blank canvas waiting to be personalized. Let your kitchen become a place filled with things that make you feel good.

Put your grandmother’s cookie jar on the counter and keep it filled with homemade cookies just like she did. Add a wireless speaker to the top of the refrigerator so that meal prep can be choreographed to your favorite dance tunes. Get a spoon rest that makes you laugh. Buy a handcrafted cutting board that makes you feel connected to the outdoors. Get cabinet organizers that reduce frustration by making everything easily accessible. Get rid of appliances you never use so you don’t feel guilty for having them. Buy a small appliance if it will invite you into the kitchen to use it (for more than the first week or two). Add a collection of decorative objects you love. A kitchen does not have to be cold and clinical to be functional and efficient.
Add Color
Don’t be afraid to add some color!!! All white, mostly gray, or somber black and brown can dampen my mood! Unless your house is listed for sale, there’s no reason to be hesitant about adding something bright and happy to your kitchen. If you’re not comfortable with painting the walls or cabinets, bright curtains, a painted island, decorative plates, unique pottery pieces, wall art, vintage salt and pepper shakers, flowering plants, or potted herbs can help make you feel happy to spend time in the kitchen.

Get Comfortable
If you love to converse while you prep veggies, add a bar stool or a comfortable chair near your prep space. Share a cup of hot chocolate, hot tea, or coffee and conversation with a friend, neighbor, partner, spouse or child while your hands are busy. They don’t necessarily need to help. They can just keep you company. This can be a great time to exchange recipes or share cooking techniques.

My great aunts used to shell peas together. They’d gather at my Aunt Nola’s house, sit outside in metal chairs with a bushel basket in front of them and talk while they worked. They actually did many things as a group – crocheted, quilted, and painted ceramics. The grandkids ran free in the yard or around the farm while the women stayed in touch and made work seem like play.


If you’re new to cooking from scratch (without the use of something that is already prepared or in existence), but love to play around with color, texture, and flavor, the kitchen may soon be your favorite place! I tend to visualize how flavors will taste together in my head before I try them in real life, but I also get inspired to pair flavors when I taste something that excites me.

A cucumber, jalapeño ice lolly I ate on a hot day inspired my recipe for Chilled Honeydew Soup, a delightful and refreshing combination of honeydew, cucumber, with a hint of jalapeño. Soon after eating that ice pop, I began experimenting with ingredients in varying proportions and possible additions until settling on the best combination. After that, the recipe faced 2 more tests in order to meet the Cooking2Thrive quality standard. For me, each of the experiments was fun!
Good Taste

Even if experiments don’t excite you, It’s hard to resist a room filled with delicious food. Remember, many ingredients do not require cooking to be scrumptious! If you are reluctant to cook, consider constructing simple salads. These following salads rely on flavorful fruits for their flavor and texture. They do not require cooking and they are both delicious.

No Cooking Required
Tomato and Avocado Stacked Salad
Layer tomato slices, avocado, and mozzarella cheese. Drizzle with a vinaigrette made from olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, chopped basil, salt, and pepper. Add a slice of crispy prosciutto if you like.

Simpleberry Salad
Combine fresh blueberries and blackberries with sliced bananas and tiny cubes of cantaloupe. Dollop with sour cream or plain yogurt and top with grated nutmeg. Add a dash of cinnamon if desired. You can also sprinkle with a granola crumble if you like some crunch.

Bake Something
When you add baking to the equation, the kitchen will fill with warmth and the smell of browning cookies, yeast bread, pizza dough, and cake. Yummmmmm!! Who can resist the kitchen then? It’s like having your own personal bakery.

Add the Family

The smell of fresh baked cookies, pork tenderloin, or a casserole will bring the family running. A kitchen filled with all ages creating a meal is a wonderful place to connect and bond. Food is a source of comfort. Connection is another source of comfort and joy. When you begin to associate cooking with comfort and joy, it automatically becomes your happy place! Even the cleanup process ceases to be work when it’s a shared experience of laughter and fun.
When my kids were growing up, there was always someone sitting on a counter in my kitchen. Sometimes it was my kids. Sometimes it was their friends. Sometimes it was me. One or two of us would be preparing a meal and the others would be engaged in the conversation while warming the counter. I don’t know why this seemed natural in that particular house, but it was. During cleanup, the roles reversed. In between, we enjoyed a meal together. This didn’t happen every day of the week, but it happened enough that that’s how my kids remember meal time.

Both of my sons are good cooks. Not only can they fix pancakes or steak and blacken Brussels sprouts, they bake yummy pies and cakes. They feel no limits when they’re in the kitchen. It’s a place they’ve always felt comfortable. I didn’t emphasize cooking back then. It was just a regular part of our lives, but it set the stage for them to cook in their own homes. That’s the benefit of making the kitchen your happy place!

My grandson DJ and I read “Green Eggs and Ham” on a regular basis. Whenever he balks at a new food, I simply say, “Try them, try them, and you may. Try them and you may, I say.” He knows exactly why I’m saying it. If you have never really gotten your hands dirty in the kitchen using fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch, but don’t think you like cooking, I’d probably say the same thing to you, “Try it, try it, and you may.”

And if you don’t, every family needs a cleanup crew in a happy kitchen!

May 18, 2017

Healthy is Beautiful

Why can’t we see that healthy is beautiful? This week there were radishes in my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box. I immediately thought of my grandmother. As the host of all of our Sunday family dinners, birthday celebrations, Thanksgiving meals, and Christmas lunch, she never molded, garnished, piped or styled anything. She didn’t take the time to weave a lattice top over her apple pie, she just rolled a second crust and put a few slits in the top. Her one nod to beautifying her food was the radish rose. Even those she kept simple, using a few rudimentary cuts. Then she placed them on a china plate – sometimes her pattern and sometimes her mother’s.
If this leaves you thinking the table was bland or ugly, think again. A simple white on white table cloth held pristine china, real silverware, cloth napkins, and a row of serving bowls down the center brimming with food from the garden — bright yellow corn, red tomato slices, green okra or string beans with new potatoes. Even the stuffed peppers were home grown, and the dark red Bing cherries were picked fresh from a tree in her yard. Gran may not have used the silver service that sat in her china cabinet next to the dining table or made room for flowers and candles on the table, but her table was elegant, inviting and filled with colorful, fragrant, delicious, fresh food.
What would Gran think of styling or plating food? I don’t know if she’d object. She wasn’t particularly rough around the edges. Her grammar was impeccable, her nails were always perfectly manicured and painted bright red, and she never gave up her high heels. She just had her own sense of priorities and a limited amount of time. That led to practical decisions. Gran was able to discern that fresh ingredients and skilled preparation would trump appearance in the long run so that’s how she allotted her time.

She also shopped and delivered groceries to a disabled man on a regular basis, made regular nursing home rounds to visit old friends, was church clerk and worked 40 hours a week. If you had suggested she style her food rather than perform these tasks, I’m pretty sure she would have stomped her foot and sent you out of the room. That sort of prioritizing just made her mad.

Maybe it’s my grandmother’s influence, or perhaps I’ve just hit that age when lots of things don’t make sense, but our current priorities leave me frequently feeling out of sync. We spend lots of time, energy, and money making things look good on the surface when doing so means sacrificing quality, health, resilience, accomplishment, character, learning, and deep connection. You can see this in play in many areas:
Relationships – Dump this imperfect person for the next imperfect person instead of examining our contribution to the problem
Parenting – Help the child with his homework so he gets a good grade rather than allowing him to learn from failure
Education – Teach to the test instead of teaching how to learn and process knowledge, i.e. think critically
Finances – Spend and borrow so we appear affluent now rather than plan and save for later
Beauty – Starve, cover, augment, inject, fill, and color instead of appreciating the beauty of our natural attributes
Psychological & Emotional Health – Numb with drugs, alcohol, video games, excessive spending, and overworking rather than feeling and healing
Politics – Say what appeals to constituents right now no matter how a policy will affect the country in the future
Nutrition – Substitute packaged, processed, fortified and convenient for fresh, whole, nutrient-rich, minimally processed and variety
Medicine – Treat symptoms with meds in instances when lifestyle changes can be equally effective

The shift in priorities from Gran’s era to now is rarely questioned, but it doesn’t seem to be serving us well. In my city, the homicide total to date is more than double last year’s rate as of this date. The number of nonfatal gunfire injuries has increased 92 percent. Opioid addiction is at an all-time high. Chronic disease is increasing across all age groups. Political divisiveness and hostility now frequently erupt into contentious confrontations. Rudeness abounds. Bad behavior is presented as the norm of the reality TV star. The US barely makes it into the top 20 list of countries with the highest standard of living as measured by the Social Progress Imperative.
How many of these problems could we reverse simply by prioritizing basic healthy practices-
Getting enough sleep
Eating fresh, minimally processed food
Finding a way to be active 5-6 days per week
Making time for stillness
Forgiving ourselves
Owning our decisions
Setting boundaries
Showing appreciation
Practicing gratitude
Listening to each other
Showing compassion

Of course, there’s no way to know, but I believe we have the ability to improve anything on which we focus our energy. If we simply viewed healthy as beautiful, it’s clear we’d throw lots of time, money, and energy into achieving a healthy state. Perhaps we can start by pausing a moment to see the beauty in colorful fresh vegetables, fragrant herbs, and listening to each other over a bowl of homemade soup.

With her energy focused on growing and preparing vegetables, making pickles and tomato juice, and keeping the cookie jar full, Gran may not have had time for frilly or fancy, but she certainly provided a beautiful spread. She’s been gone for more than 20 years and we still talk about those meals. We miss them. On Gran’s table, healthy food had lasting beauty.

The lasting beauty of healthy food that contributes to healing – that’s a priority I can get behind!



June 16, 2015

Feel like a chef? Be a chef.

Feel like a chef? Be a chef. Last week I had the privilege of leading a Cooking at College session for some teens in a College Bound program. The students were broken into 4 teams. Each team prepared 2 different Cooking2Thrive recipes, then presented and served them to the rest of the students plus parents and staff. Chef’s hats were provided for everyone.
chef thomas
Before we even got started, it was clear that some of the students already felt like chefs. They grabbed a hat and chattered about things they like to cook. There was no need to encourage them to begin; they were ready to show off their skills!

Asked about his favorite thing to cook, one young chef readily admitted he had never cooked anything. He said this with a smile, his head held high, and eagerness to get to the cooking. He wanted to be a chef. He saw himself as a chef. He had full confidence that he would excel at preparing his dish.

Others weren’t so sure at the beginning. After they read their recipes, made a shopping list, and procured ingredients at our “store,” they began to get comfortable. Eventually, they too felt like chefs although they never donned the hats. In fact, once they hit their stride, they challenged me to a taste test — their tomato soup vs. my tomato soup.
One chef assured the group that she deserved applause for having baked them Parmesan Crisp Mini Pizzas. Even though they had yet to taste her contribution, she successfully solicited the applause she desired. She clearly was in charge of her kitchen!

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of chaos, occasional frustration, and some necessary regrouping here and there, but overall it was clear to see that as the students participated in the process, they gained the confidence to see themselves as something they’d never been before.
That is the joy of trying something new! Through the process, our world opens to possibilities we never imagined. We may take an introductory flight lesson and begin to see ourselves as a pilot. We may try out a pottery wheel and begin to see ourselves as a potter. We may begin to run each day and eventually sign up for a marathon. We may try a yoga class and eventually become an instructor. We may feel compelled to share the story of a friend’s struggle and become a documentary filmmaker. Or, maybe we prepare one delicious meal when we feel like a chef.

My favorite moment of the day was when a student decided to taste the left-over French fry casserole he’d just finished cooking. His look of surprise, appreciation, and accomplishment as he exclaimed, “Ooo, that’s good!”, was priceless. You could literally see it register with him that he had created something delicious. In that moment, he felt like a chef and I felt his joy.

Luckily for all of us, joy is even more delicious than the very best food! I wish you a boatload of it.

Download video of student cooking techniques here:
Tomato Soup
French Fry Casserole
Banana Pudding

June 8, 2014

Fed Up?

Fed Up posterBen, Heather & I went to see the movie Fed Up this week. Our motivation was that James was one of the colorists who worked on the movie, but the visual effect his work created wasn’t the only thing we took away from the theater.

Directed by Stephanie Soechtig, this documentary is brought to us by executive producers Katie Couric and Laurie David. Katie Couric also narrates. The movie’s basic premise is political – an indictment of the US government’s acquiescence to the food lobby that has led to grocery stores full of food with tons of added sugar.

I don’t know if the point of the movie was to suggest that the government change its ways, big business change its ways, or just to shed a light on how the relationships currently work and how those relationships affect what we are told about food. Nonetheless, we all learned something.

In the car after the movie, Heather said she always thought that all calories were equal so it didn’t matter whether she got those calories from French fries or from almonds and carrots, and green beans. Every time Ben has told her that vegetables matter, she has dismissed the idea because she believed what we’ve all been collectively told – calories in, calories out is the key to healthy weight. This movie showed her that nutritionally where the calories come from matters.

Although I read labels any time I buy packaged food, I typically focus on the ingredient list. Sometimes I’ll look at the amount of calories, fat content or carbohydrates. I guess I always thought that sugars never contained a percentage of daily allowance number because the label was just reflecting how many grams of the carbs were sugars.

Fed Up makes the point that due to the lobbying pressure of large food manufacturers, the USDA has not set a recommended daily allowance for sugar. This means that in the US labels never bear a percentage of the daily allowance of sugar because no such recommended daily allowance exists. This is quite a clever strategy for avoiding having to state on the label that one regular can of soda contains 40 grams of sugar and exceeds the World Health Organization’s (WHO) sugar intake recommendation for one day by 15 grams.

chex nutri label

Rice Chex

GF super seeded bread

Gluten-Free Super Seeded Bread

wheat bread label

Wheat Bread

Hamburger helper label

Hamburger Helper

At first glance 15 grams may not sound like much, but 15 grams = 3.5 teaspoons or 60% of The World Health Organization’s recommended daily sugar intake for a whole day. The WHO advises that no more than 5% of your daily calories come from sugars. For the average adult with a normal body mass index (BMI), that comes to about 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar per day. Now remember, one soda is 15 grams above the daily allowance. In other words, one regular can of soda contains 160% of the recommended daily intake of sugar.

Would it change how you feel about handing your child a soda if the label on the can listed the sugars as 160% of the recommended daily allowance? For those of us who try to make informed choices, having the information at out fingertips would make our job much easier.

And that brings me to Ben’s takeaway, and my passion – the only way you ever really know what’s in your food is to cook it yourself! In fact, that’s why we’re here cooking to thrive!

Not convinced that you can make cooking part of your lifestyle? Check out these posts:


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have a material connection to the colorist mentioned, but no material connection to the companies, brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I did not write this post at the behest of said colorist. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”