Cook It Yourself: Learn a Skill, Save Money, Improve Your Health

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I’m still into the “Cook It Yourself” movement/meme/trend/whatever. If you’re looking for a new year’s resolution and consider yourself a DIY person, why not CIY in 2015? Knowing how to cook simple, delicious food is a great skill to have and it can’t be bought with money. Here is a collection of articles and quotes related to this idea.

Corporations cook differently than humans. The New York Times has a neat article called What 2,000 Calories Looks Like. Basically, industrial food is made to be cheap but tasty. That usually involves adding a bunch of salt, fat, and sugar. So, you could have a single peanut-butter milkshake (2,090 calories):


Or you could cook yourself a feast including pasta, potatoes, eggs, chicken wings, turkey chili, coffee, and even beer and stay within 2,000 calories:


Writers, nutritionists, doctors, chefs and Michelle Obama have all been promoting a hot new diet: home-cooked food. “People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought,” Michael Pollan recently told Mark Bittman, both authors and advocates of the cook-it-yourself diet. “It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” The magic of the diet, its advocates say, is that it doesn’t mean skimping on portions or going without meat, eggs, cheese, alcohol or dessert.

This is Michael Pollan’s position of Eat Anything You Want, Just Cook It Yourself, as put into a short 2-minute video:

Well-known food writer Mark Bittman has a new book called How to Cook Everything Fast which mixes the right recipes with time-management tips to bring homemade food to tired weekday cooks. You can find a long list of reviews for it here. I enjoyed his quote that “the most radical thing that you can do for your health, if not the world at large, is cook.”

Here’s another good 2-minute video with Mark Bittman taken from the Time article The Truth about Home Cooking that explains some of his philosophy.

When I talk about cooking, something I’ve been doing for the better part of five decades, I’m not talking about creating elaborate dinner parties or three-day science projects. I’m taking about simple, easy, everyday meals. My mission is to encourage novices and the time- and cash-strapped to feed themselves. Which means we need modest, realistic expectations, and we need to teach people to cook food that’s good enough to share with family, friends and, if you must, your Instagram account.

Because not cooking is a big mistake—and it’s one that’s costing us money, good times, control, serenity and, yes, vastly better health.

Don’t let the corporations convince you that cooking is too hard; it really is doable if you avoid the common pitfalls and plan ahead. I agree with Bittman in that you should learn to make food you really want to eat, first and foremost. See if these Bittman recipes excite you: quick spaghetti squash or quick chicken parmesan.

Want more recipe ideas? Skip the poorly-chosen recipe from Sam Sifton’s Home Cooking Manifesto and try these 10 realistic recipes from Megan McArdle instead. Also see the links inside my Dinner A Love Story book review.

Feel free to share your own links and thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Hey jonathan, i cannot agree with you more on CIY.

    5 years ago i pulled together all my AMEX transactions for the entire year and categorized them. I then did a pivot and realized food was the item that i spent the most $ on. Yes, it was even more than my rent, which was only $550 a month.

    I then started cooking a lot more and start bringing lunch to work. My wife and I eat out only once or twice per week and it saved us so much money.

    BTW, on the side note, I live in Chicago and we have Divvy bikes. It saved me over $90 bucks a month commuting to work. Maybe something you want to write about too. 🙂

    • Right now a lot of the recipes we have are for a family of 4 so we usually have lunch the next day too. We still eat out once or twice a week as well, it’s good to have a break. Planning every week ahead of time has made all the difference for me!

      I’m not familiar with Divvy bikes, but I did write about the Citi bikes in New York City. If you would like to contribute a guest post on how commuting with Divvy has worked for you, let me know!

  2. I totally agree with this! We cook everything at home and rarely eat out (we go to restaurants just a few times a year). It’s so nice to know exactly what’s in our food, to prepare it just as we like it, and to reap the incredible savings. We’ve found that by cooking at home, it’s possible to prepare meals that are so cheap per serving it’s not even funny (like our $0.10 oatmeal breakfasts and $0.20 rice-and-beans lunches). No way can you get prices that low when eating out. Thanks for this!

  3. I got the Bittman book for Christmas–it was on my Amazon Wish List. It is tome. Like 800+ pages. It has hundreds upon hundreds of recipes, probably thousands if you could all the variations they suggest to the basic recipes. Looking forward to trying some in the new year.

  4. Eating in restaurants regularly is condemning yourself to an early death! Fresh, whole food prepared at home is the way to go.

  5. We analyzed our budget on and noticed most of it goes to food. After seeing that I started cooking 5 days per week. We eat out only on weekends. As a time saver, I love the instant pot (they sell it on amazon). It is an electric pressure cooker and cooks steel cut oatmeal in 15 minutes, and time intensive recipes that I love ( like oxtail or beef short rib) much quicker. It triples as a rice cooker, slow cooker, pressure cooker and even makes yogurt, which I haven’t tried yet. No more braising for 2-3 hours for those dishes, just throw it all in there and its done in less than an hour. It has a self timer and keeps things warm too, I cannot sing its praises enough.

  6. I’m not a cook but when I chose to live healthier and spend less I actually realized I enjoyed cooking. I’m no chef but I can follow directions pretty well and the sense of accomplishment feels great. Now, that’s instant gratification.

  7. One of the things that works for me is having a ‘food list’ – just a list of meals I like (to make AND eat). It’s surprising how often I’m in a store and can’t decide what to eat because nothing appeals to me.

  8. I find it funny how as I child, I used to hate eating my parents’ home-cooked meals every single day. My mom always tried to cook for breakfast and dinner while my dad cooked for our lunch. I wanted to eat out every time and have fries. Now that I’m older and going out quite a few times for a meal, I miss my parents’ cooking. Nothing beats healthy meals that taste like home. It’s also cheaper to prepare your own food. That’s one of my goals this year, I want to cook more and learn healthier recipes.

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