The young cook lacked confidence. T.J. was shy in the kitchen, and when dinner was ready, he sat down to eat with his family and asked for a plastic fork. It turns out he was used to fast food every night.
Fast-forward three weeks. T.J. was now the first of all the students to man his kitchen station. He washed and chopped carrots and kale and marveled at their transformation from raw to cooked. And he ate dinner that night with a metal fork.
Every home-cooked meal produces small victories. For two years, Cooking Light and our sister magazine Southern Living have partnered with Jones Valley Teaching Farm, an urban farm in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, to cook with local elementary school students and their families in our Test Kitchens. We joined forces to build community and teach the families how to bring our weeknight recipes to life with the farm’s produce. Victories ensued: Thirty-five or so families have graduated from The Family Kitchen program, and they’re cooking almost two more meals at home a week and eating one fewer fast-food meal per week, on average. T.J.’ s mom told me that he’s now the head cook at home.
Recent studies show that we eat fewer and healthier calories with home-cooked meals and spend less money than we would at restaurants, including fast-food joints. Children who consistently eat dinner at home with their families eat fewer processed foods, and they perform better in school. If you’re reading this, you don’t need studies to tell you that cooking food for the people you love makes you feel good.
Thus, our Family Dinner issue. It marks the first time in our nearly 28-year history that we’ve featured a person on the cover. First Lady Michelle Obama has done more than anyone to spark a meaningful conversation about good food and good health in our country.
I flew to Washington, D.C., for the cover shoot, a departure from our typical sets—lasagna and chocolate cake don’t require Secret Service detail. Mrs. Obama was just as warm and genuine off camera as she appears on, and she framed her own struggles at the stove as a working mom in the context of the hurdles we all face at dinnertime. As a father and cook, I can relate. Sometimes we’re simply too busy to cook. Many Americans don’t have access to good ingredients, while more convenient options abound. And for such a food-obsessed nation, we’ve lost some of our home-cooking traditions.
Mrs. Obama talked about empowering, not guilting, people to return to the kitchen and inspiring a new generation of budding cooks like T.J. The Family Kitchen taught me that we simply have to make cooking more practical. Healthy recipes like the One-Pot Pasta on the March cover—big on flavor yet limited on prep—are an answer. Inspired by The Family Kitchen and Let’s Move!, Mrs. Obama’s program to end childhood obesity, the CL team developed an easy, affordable, and healthy curriculum called Let’s Cook! You can download the full curriculum in English and Spanish and read my story and interview with Mrs. Obama at CookingLight.com/LetsCook.
If you’re struggling to put dinner on the table, start here. Small victories add up to big ones. Let’s cook.