We're spoiled by the availability of cheap food in Malaysia. There's food served at every street corner, so it's really easy for the busy, overworked urbanite to abandon the home kitchen and eat at the local economy rice restaurant instead.
I was that person. I visited the economy rice store ("chap fun" in Cantonese) across the street. For RM5-6, I'd get a plate of white rice, vegetables and protein. Healthy, I thought. (Nope, not always.) On a more indulgent day I would visit the numerous restaurants in my area and eat Thai, Vietnamese, Western or Indian food. I definitely won't starve where I live!
All that came to a screeching halt when I started developing gut issues late last year. After much research and consultations with a naturopath and a functional medicine doctor, I realised that I had to stop triggering my gut with foods such as dairy, soy, preservatives, gluten/wheat, sugar, recycled oils and vegetable oils.
At first I thought I could still eat out and eat clean. I just have to be very careful and selective, right? Nope. It became a game of Russian Roulette instead.
That chap fun I took for lunch could've been slathered with recycled vegetable oil. That bowl of yummy pho probably had a tablespoon or two of MSG. And the crispy sweet potato fries I loved so much were probably dusted with flour before being placed in a vat of vegetable oil. Worse, maybe the person who prepared the meal didn't wash his hands after visiting the loo...
Because I didn't know what was in my food, I would sometimes be down with an aching tummy for days. Nausea and bloating was a constant companion.
So, in April,I had to concede defeat: I will start cooking all my meals.
I fell into a deep funk. I cannot stress how much I hate cooking: I would Netflix something on my iPad while cooking to distract myself from the task!
Also, eating out wasn't just convenient for me. Being a foodie, dining at restaurants was a source of joy and socialisation for me.
I grudgingly began. The meals I cooked was worse than gagh. An excellent chef, I was not.
I fell into a deeper funk, thinking that I was now condemned to a lifetime of joyless, bland, food.
But over time, I not only embraced my new lifestyle, but am sometimes even excited to cook!
Here's how I transformed from a cooking-phobic person to an amateur cook:
I found a "partner in crime"
The thing that helped me turn around the most was when my best friend Marlene told me that she, too, was cooking all her meals. Only, she was really loving it! Why? Because it saved her a tonne of money and her health improved so much doing so. She also had a sense of accomplishment each time she cooked.
Her joy and happiness was infectious. (Also, knowing that I wasn't the only weird one cheered me up. Believe me, I get so many strange looks from Malaysians when I tell them I cook all my meals.)
Now, we exchange photos of what we cook for the day. Cooking my meals has become a fun, social affair, imagine that!
Changed my mindset
I have to admit, the idea of saving money was very appealing to me. Shockingly, I can eat an RM50 lunch without batting an eyelid. Now, RM50 buys me supplies for a week's worth of food.
I went on a Youtube recipe hunting binge and bookmarked favourite recipes. Have a look.
Meal prep in advance
This was the one that did it for me! Initially, cooking was such a tedious affair for me because I had to cook two or three times a day. All that cleaning up I had to do was driving me insane. Then I discovered the magic of once-a-week cook-ups.
So, on my off day, I'd set aside two to three hours to cook meals for the entire week. It saves me time and it certainly saves me all that washing up which I loathe. At the end of each session, I'd have five-six boxes of read-to-freeze meals each week.
I only cook my dinners, however. I do very light cooking for lunch.
Remind yourself that it's for your health and well-being
After just two weeks of eating meals I prepared for myself, I noticed a marked improvement in my gut health. I no longer had stomach pains, and if I do it's almost always because I took something I didn't prepare for myself. Plus, I lost weight (yay!), and my skin cleared up. I'm still healing, but I'm on the right direction at last.
Stop being a perfectionist about this
I'm Type A, a perfectionist to the core. I had to remind myself that it's not the end of the world if my meals are awful or if I strayed and eat out only to suffer the consequences later. I'm only human, and one slip up is not going to set me back to zero. The point is to keep on going forward.
While I may not be a happy chef yet, I can definitely say that this "cooking most of my meals" thing is here to stay. I actually feel so much better health wise, and it's actually fun to come up with a meal plan for the week and to strategise how to cook a week's worth of food in two hours. (What can I say, I can never stop being Type A, even in the kitchen...)
So, do you cook most of your meals? Do share tips and strategies, and how you came to do this.