Cooking for fun and profit: why it’s an essential life-skill

One of the most common complaints I hear about healthy food is that it’s expensive. Another is that it’s difficult to get hold of. Both of these are true: if I wanted to save money and time I could live on cereal, Gregg’s pasties and beans on toast, but then I’d be a pale shadow of my normal testosterone-filled self. You have to eat healthy – it makes you more productive, aggressive (not a bad thing) and mentally acute over the course of the rest of your life. So how do you eat healthy and cheap? Simple.

Throw away your cookery books

They’re largely useless. If you try to learn to cook from most cookery books, you will a) Be intimidated by the ingredients b) Forget one of the many steps and c) Get disheartened early. If you can already cook but get hooked on cookery books, you’ll constantly buy things you don’t need. Throw them away. Resolve not to buy any annato seeds or sundried tomatoes or goose fat until you can at least cook a chicken properly. Concentrate on principles, not recipes. Which leads to…

Learn to cook

Non-negotiable. If you’ve literally never cooked before, start by mastering scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes. Next, do meat – learn to grill a steak and roast a chicken. If you can cook a bit, move on to stews – they’re difficult to mess up, last for days, can be easily bulked out with inexpensive ingredients and actually taste better if you get engrossed in Youtube fight analysis and leave them on the hob for an extra half hour. Next do steak and roast chicken. Once you’ve got those down, I suggest learning to make curry and a decent home-made burger – all good ways to avoid the crap you get in the processed versions, and all decent treats. Your endgame is to have 10-15 meals that you can whip up easily – with those to rotate through you’ll rarely get bored, and you’ll be ready for…

Look for bargains

There are two parts to this. Firstly, your local shop almost certainly reduces the price of fresh food when it’s ready to go off, and knowing how to make a meal out of whatever’s on offer is basically free money. At the minimum, you should know how to make something out of all the main meats (pork, lamb, beef, chicken), and preferably you should have options for when different things are on offer (2kg of pork shoulder takes different prep to a load of pork steaks, and some chicken recipes work better with bones in/out). Secondly, load up on whatever cans you normally buy when they’re on offer – my staples, coconut milk and canned tomatoes, quite often go for half their usual price. Buying what’s cheap, and making healthy stuff out of it, is half the battle.

Make stuff that produces decent leftovers

Many people would just tell you ‘Eat leftovers.’ This is reductive bullshit. Second-day broccoli tastes like wrong whatever alchemy you apply. Roast chicken tastes amazing when you cook it, then not great the day afterwards, unless you throw it in a curry until it tastes amazing again. Chili tastes better on day two, and so does my beef stroganoff.  And here’s a nice rule of thumb: if it’s wet, you can probably get away with chucking a fried egg on top of it and calling it breakfast. I’m not sure it would work with soup, but who the hell even eats soup?

Make time to cook

For many people, this is the sticking point. Everyone’s busy, and stuffing a pizza in the oven rather than spending 20 minutes prepping vegetables seems like a sensible time-saving device. Unfortunately, it also means eating stuff that isn’t classified as food, so cut that shit out and resolve to make everything from scratch. I have a reasonably demanding job, a decent commute and a four-night-a-week fighting habit, and I still cook most evenings. Firstly, stop watching TV – or get Netflix, and watch TV while you prep. Secondly, just get better at prepping – these days I can peel and chop an onion in about 30 seconds, and just knowing what you’re doing will save an enormous amount of time. Thirdly, if you really haven’t got time in the evening, just cook in the morning – throw stuff in a pot and get it to a state where it just needs to be heated when you arrive home. No time in the morning? Get up earlier.

Healthy, cheap eating: it isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding and useful. It will give you more energy, and make you better at life. What’s more, it’s a skill you’ll be able to use almost every day forever. If you haven’t got on it already, start now.

HOMEWORK: Cook something this week. Easy.

About the author


Editor and creator of Live Hard. Fighting enthusiast, steak lover and aficionado of all things self-improvement related.

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