As I transitioned from eating out all the time to learning how to cook, there were early cookbooks that became the foundation for my healthy cooking philosophy. After unsuccessfully trying to be a lazy cook, I discovered cookbooks on the benefits of whole food diets, full of colorful and delicious meals. I sometimes wonder what my diet might be like today, if I had come across attractive and convincing books on cutting calories or Vegetarianism first. Instead my cooking journey can be defined by a failed attempt at laziness and a couple of fantastic whole foods cookbooks.
When I first started cooking, I looked for books that required minimum effort, like “One Pot” books. To this day I find this whole “One Pot” genre to be misleading and disappointing. I now understand that “One Pot” just means that the entire meal will be served in one pot, not that you cook everything in one-pot. Since I hate doing dishes, these “One Pot” meals that require three pots to cook make me want to deliver dirty dishes to the author’s doorstep. When you do actually find a one pot meal where everything actually cooks in one pot, the meal usually turns out brown, bland and mushy. Faced with the unsatisfactory reality of “One Pot” cookbooks, I moved on.
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100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake, is the book that really taught me how to read food labels. There is a big introduction in this book that focuses on the importance of knowing what is in the food you are eating. The truth is shocking, if you have never read food labels, this book will help you learn how, but prepare to be disturbed by what you learn at the grocery store. I became one of those people that stands in the food aisle reading every package before ultimately putting it back. It’s hard at first to find bread and pasta that isn’t made with jet fuel, but over time you learn which products you can trust and your trips to the store get back to normal. This book is very eye opening and educational and the recipes are simple to make, healthy and delicious.
The Whole 30 by Melissa Hartwig Urban is the only “Diet” that I have ever tried, I have never cut carbs or counted calories. I always knew that if you could not commit to a diet change forever then you shouldn’t do it at all. There is no “finishing” a diet, as soon as you stop you go back to your old habits and put the weight back on, no thank you! The Whole 30 is different, it is not a weight loss diet, it is an elimination diet to find out if there are any foods that are causing you to have health issues. I read the introduction and all of the instructions, then followed the diet religiously, I have never felt healthier in my entire life. No joke, if I had a private chef, I would eat Whole 30 all the time. This is the only cookbook that I have personally purchased twice, I literally used it so much I wore it out. Even though I finished the diet a long time ago, I still cook the recipes all the time, it’s a great book!
At a time when Gwyneth Paltrow was posting a picture of 27 limes and a sprig of Cilantro, then complaining that food stamps were unlivable, Leanne Brown published the book, Good and Cheap, as an attempt to actually solve the problem of living on a food stamp budget. She published the book and made it available for free on the internet, she is a hero. I immediately bought Leanne Brown’s hardcover book to support her cause and the book lives up to its name, it is Good and Cheap! The book aims to help people eat healthy meals for about $4 per day, per person. As such, the book promotes eating in-season fruits and vegetables and de-emphasizes meat as the center of all meals. This is NOT a vegetarian cookbook, but it helps people understand that there are very healthy ways to get protein without eating meat at every meal. This book made me realize that meat is about HALF of my weekly food bill, if I can eat vegetarian a few times a week, it’s both healthier and significantly cheaper.
There are libraries and book stores full of great cookbooks, but these are the three that have had the biggest impact on my life. The thing that sets these books apart, is that they have a very clearly defined food philosophy that teaches you how to make informed decisions about your food. The recipes in these books are like a tasty bonus to help you get started. I still use other cookbooks and recipes I find on blogs, but most of what I cook can be traced back to these three books.
Let’s Collaborate! What cookbook had the biggest impact on your life? Comment below: