Last updated: July 26. 2014 6:54AM - 505 Views
Sandra Ruan Food for Thought

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For some people, kitchens are sacred rooms in which to cook solo, and frenetically do things their way. More often than not, people cook alone, even when they are preparing meals for their family or houseguests. It is understandable to cringe with other people use your knives, pots, and pans out of fear that your shiny stainless steel cookware may get scuffed or mishandled. However, cooking together with friends or family has many benefits that might just outweigh the vanity of our kitchen pieces.

Some benefits are tangible, such as having extra hands in the kitchen to make the process easier and faster, but it is the intangible benefits that make shared cooking experiences profound. Cooking alongside friends and family is a way to strengthen bonds, create new memories and enable the connection or reconnection with people who have fallen out of touch. But the greatest intangible benefit to cooking with people is sharing culinary skills and gaining food and nutrition knowledge that can promote healthier dietary habits.

I enjoy cooking with friends to experiment with new recipes and to make considerable quantities of food, which means more leftovers for the next day and less cooking. But truly, I enjoy cooking with friends because they teach me different ways to prepare foods, and different methods of cooking.

Creating healthier recipes means taking original recipes and modifying them to gain a higher nutritional value in foods.

Now, let’s pretend we’re cooking together, and we wanted to create a well-rounded meal consisting of chicken breast, beans, and carrots. The original recipe for crispy chicken included quarts of oil, all-purpose flour, buttermilk, and the directions said to deep-fry in oil for 10 minutes. Since we have similar goals to eat healthier, we could develop a healthier version of crispy chicken. First, let’s coat the chicken with a mixture of panko breadcrumbs and herbs, and then bake it at 350 degrees in the oven for 30 minutes, instead of frying. The chicken will have lower amounts of total fat. Carrots could be cooked in light olive oil, low-sodium broth with pinches of dill seasoning and lemon juice instead of using tablespoons of butter and salt, which would be higher in saturated fats and sodium. For the beans, we could simply mix diced onions, garlic, and cilantro into a saucepan to create a low fat and higher fiber side dish! Beans and legumes are great sources of dietary fiber. Healthy adults are recommended to consume 25-38 grams of soluble fiber per day to keep digestive systems regulated, improve blood glucose absorption, and decrease cholesterol levels.

See, it’s not so bad to cook with someone else, right?

Developing recipes and cooking with new styles can be fun. While it is nice that cookbooks provide step-by-step direction, there is always room to play with recipes to create a healthier meal. Cooking together not only becomes a tool to strengthen bonds, but also to improve culinary skills that will allow you to create tasty and nutritious meals to incorporate into your diet.

Sandra Ruan, MS, RD is a private practice registered dietitian in Atlanta, Ga. She is the daughter of Mei and Yang Ruan, owners of the Golden Run Restaurant in Laurinburg, and sister of Lilly Ruan, owner of Miyako Japanese Restaurant. Reach her on Twitter @sandras_tidbits or by email at sandralruan@gmail.com.

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