The False Promise of Fast Cooking
There have been enough consumer insight studies completed in the last 5 to 10 years to convince food writers, producers, and editors that what readers and cooking show viewers want most are quick and easy recipes. This focus on fast makes sense: I know all too well the challenging working parent reality of trying to feed my family balanced, homemade meals day in and day out. In response to today’s rush-rush-rush culture and workplaces that demand longer hours than ever, food magazines and television shows have created whole franchises around "quick" cooking. The thing is, "quick" for a well-seasoned (no pun intended) chef or test kitchen staffer who knows their way around a kitchen is unlikely to be all that quick for a home cook who is preparing the recipe for the first time or multi-tasking dinner prep alongside homework help and other evening activities. A recent article in the Atlantic calls out this fast-cooking bluff, explains the trend’s evolution, and basically gives readers a free pass to order delivery sans guilt.
I am all for being honest in the face of over-the-top aspirational lifestyle shows and magazines. Finding ways to make working parenthood, well, work in a healthy, wholesome way is a goal not just for me but for my readers and cooking class students. I will admit to wrongly calling recipes quick or simple; I spent a lot of time and money on culinary school and many years in professional and home kitchens, so yes, what to me might be easy is likely not so for the general population (as my husband reminds me when I chide him for cutting an onion the wrong way).
Here’s the thing though: The nutrition cheerleader in me is unwilling to say, “Yep, cooking every night is too time consuming. Go ahead; order take-out.” First off, while I respect your time and don’t want you to waste it slaving over a from-scratch meal your toddler is likely to throw on the floor, I also really respect your money and don’t want you to waste it on sodium-laden, slightly-cold, actually kinda-crappy take-out. I respect your culinary intelligence. You’re here, aren’t you? You’re reading this. Obviously, you care about what you and your family eat.
So yes, we in the food media have been stretching the truth. Those 20-minutes-or-less recipes are only that fast IF you are skilled in the kitchen, and IF you already have all the ingredients out in front of you, and IF you don’t have to pause to change a diaper, answer a work e-mail, or explain how to solve for b when 15 + b = 23 (without giving away the answer). BUT that does not mean the solution is to throw up your hands. Like almost all things in life, balance is key. Take-out food once a month, or even once a week if your budget allows? Okay fine, but only as a last resort. Cooking Light has a bajillion suggestions for streamlining and speeding up supper prep, so get reading, go shopping, don’t stress, and start stirring. Another great resource is one of my all-time favorite Cooking Light books, Dinnertime Survival Guide by Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD.
What about when evenings are too intense to add elaborate cooking to the mix? Plan and make the morning part of your plan. The slow cooker has been rocking my world this winter. This is not news; Cooking Light editors and readers are all about their slow cookers. I threw a pork roast in the other day on low with chili powder, cumin, coriander, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and beef stock. Come evening, it was the best pulled pork I’ve ever made. I whipped up a pot of creamy polenta, served some butter lettuce on the side, and dinner was way tastier and cheaper than any take-out in my 'hood.
What about you? When you are tempted to do take-out but think better of it? What is it that you are cooking when time is tight? Any tips or tricks to share? Bonus points if it includes whole grains, seasonal vegetables, and, unlike so many of the false-promise fast recipes found online, is actually fast.
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