Food is the most primitive form of comfort. Ask anybody who's been away from home what they miss the most and the answer is most likely to be home-cooked food. Indian homes have always had the tradition of preparing well-thought, balanced meals all along. It's only in the recent years that it has become "unfashionable" to be spending time in the kitchen, stirring a pot of hearty soup, or pondering over the dining table on what meals to prepare for the rest of the week.
The most appreciated and vital task of feeding the family is either left in the care of housekeepers or cooks or even take-out menus. I have seen families that have a complete folder of take-away menus, neatly filed alphabetically, cuisine-wise. The trend is catching on, and it is indeed sad that kids of the present generation think better of a cheese-dripping pizza delivered from the outlet to something that has been lovingly prepared at home. From personal experience, I can tell you that nothing satisfies me better than preparing a balanced meal from scratch, knowing fully well about everything that has gone into the making of it.
The traditional concept of prana and health is closely linked to the food we eat, to how it's prepared, and even to the love and vitality of the cook. The art of cooking includes bringing out the life force from each of the ingredients used and projecting one's own love and care into the meal. Though a woman is traditionally seen in the role of a nurturer, in today's times, men don't mind donning the apron and cooking for their partner and kids.
Mindful cooking - Loving to cook
De-clutter your kitchen. Especially in cramped up apartments, kitchens can get overburdened due to lack of counter space and storage. Before starting to cook, clear up and wipe the counter space spotlessly clean. It's like starting on a blank canvas. Lay out essentials such as chopping board, knives, dishcloth and ingredients systematically, so that once you start the process of cooking, you are not running around like a maniac trying to find the cumin seeds when the oil is bubbling away.
Put on some lively music with positive vibrations on your portable CD player in the kitchen, so that a relaxed atmosphere is created in which to cook. It has been proven that food prepared with a happier mind always tastes better due to better prana than food prepared otherwise, in presence of negative vibrations.
Simplify. Top chefs will tell you that the best tasting recipes are made with few good quality ingredients and with the simplest of procedures. Do not drown yourself under the drudgery of a long queue of instructions. Make simple, wholesome, nourishing food.
Stay calm and meditative as you chop the vegetables symmetrically or as you stir the pot of stew. And don't forget to taste the food with your eyes closed, experiencing the tastes just as they hit your taste buds.
Play around. Use your intuition instead of sticking by recipes. If your mind says that rosemary would taste better instead of oregano, go with your instincts and you'll be right. Enjoy working with the colours, textures and tastes of different ingredients, all when mixed in right proportions lead to a beautiful melange.
Shopping for food ingredients or groceries can be fun too, if we do not treat it as a chore. One can take this chance to bond with kids, by taking them along, explaining the different aspects of food and nutrition as you walk together by the aisles of the supermarket, or teach them simple mathematics as you bargain with the veggie-vendor in the open air market. This teaches them to be independent later in life; it also shows them the effort that goes into preparing each meal at home, making them more respectful of you and the food that is served to them.
Some tips to make shopping easier:
- Make a list. This will come easily if you have planned a menu for the week. Also keep in mind the kind of space you have in your refrigerator and cabinets.
- Go ahead of the crowds. Weekends are the most convenient time for these shopping trips, but that's when all the markets and supermarkets are super crowded. Try going there at shop opening times, when there are not many people around and you can finish your chores without bumping into trolleys at every aisle or waiting in a long billing queue. You also end up getting the freshest produce.
- Try something new. Don't be afraid of picking up that unfamiliar fruit or vegetable or cheese. Who knows you might find another healthy, interesting ingredient to include in your family menu. Besides, everyone loves a change, both the cook and the tasters.
Most of the lifestyle disorders of our times such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and lipid disorders are all directly or indirectly related to the food we consume. It therefore becomes imperative that we give more thought into what goes to feed our families - cooking that is done with a little more consciousness. Also, kids and older people have special needs, which with a little effort can be taken care of - enabling them to have more nutritious meals.
Home is the only place where special needs of family members can be catered to. It would be impractical to suggest that special meals be prepared for each one of them, but by working on a weekly plan, each person's need in the family can be more or less accommodated by making minor adjustments. For example:
- If an elderly member cannot chew regular rotis, then they can be made into porridge by microwaving the roti pieces with some milk and jaggery. The vegetables can also be served into a separate bowl with a small quantity of water, microwaved and mashed to a smoother consistency.
- If your child finds regular food boring, you can wrap up the veggies in a roti, cut into rounds and serve with a sauce of his/her liking. Having a weekly menu also reflects your own discipline to your child, and he can be made to understand that you have taken his likings into consideration just as everyone else's in the family, so if he eats what is not his favourite for lunch today, dinner will be something of his liking. It's never too early to learn to adjust with members of the family.
- For someone who needs a low-salt diet, salt can be added to food at the end of the meal, reserving a portion aside. Also, in case of a restricted salt like, say, one tsp of salt a day, this can be measured out and used in the various meals separately.
A shortage of time can be dealt with by using pre-cut vegetables, supermarket short cuts and even further simplifying meals, such as a one-pot meal on weekdays, keeping the more elaborate stuff for weekends. It would be wonderful to bring back the pride and satisfaction of cooking for one's family. After all it is food you cook, but it is love you serve.
Include in your diet
Foods rich in Calcium
- Sesame seeds
- Yogurt [Dahi]
- Soy milk or tofu
- Sardines with bones
- Turnip greens or any dark greens
Foods rich in Iron
- Kidney beans
- Black eyed peas
- Fortified cereals
- Prune juice
- Have with Vitamin C rich foods for better absorption of iron from non-meat sources like greens, orange juice, guava or berries
Foods rich in Protein
- Soybeans and soy products
- Seaweed / Spirulina
- Chowli leaves
- Kidney beans
Foods rich in Vitamins & Minerals
- Spinach and greens
- Nuts and seeds
- Orange/yellow coloured fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
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