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Case Studies

Case Study: How This Foodie Mastered Healthy Weeknight Cooking For One

Being able to cook well is totally something to be proud of. My buddy Ethan is super humble about his cooking skills, but he’s definitely a boss in the kitchen.

He doesn’t usually bring lunch to work because he’s able to eat cheap and healthy there. But at home, he’s a big fan of cooking Mediterranean inspired dinners and he always makes breakfast for himself during the workweek.

Growing up in a family that cooked every night, Ethan is fearless in the kitchen. He’s confident enough to have locally grown veggies delivered to him through a CSA (without even knowing what vegetables he’s going to get). He can also cook his breakfast every morning while he’s taking a shower.

In this interview, Ethan told me all about how he learned to master cooking and a healthy lifestyle that includes going out and indulging for fun.

shakshuka
shakshuka

The TL/DR message from Ethan’s interview is this: When it comes to food, know what you like, make it work and stick to it. And it never hurts to keep a couple of emergency frozen meals in your fridge for the nights you just can’t.

Scroll down to learn Ethan’s tips on how to ditch the recipe and cook intuitively.

ethan behling

The Basics:

  • I’m an associate in the Center for Israel Engagement, at the Jewish Federation of Northern NJ
  • I drive to work every day, and live in Manhattan with four roommates and one kitchen
  • I’m 26 and love what I do
  • My favorite food is sweet noodle kugel

What’s your diet like?

I eat a lot of lean protein and vegetables. There’s definitely a Mediterranean influence in what I eat, maybe inspired by my trips to Israel. I love chicken, chopped salad, eggs and shakshuka.

Weekday mornings I’ll have two hardboiled eggs and a lot of coffee. I cook the eggs in a little steamer while I’m in the shower and eat them during my drive to work. I could prep them in advance, but I like them fresh.

Once in awhile, I’ll pack dinner leftovers for work, but I mostly buy it at a cafe across the street. It’s subsidized so the meals end up being $4-$5.

For dinner, I batch cook protein and prepare veggies fresh when I get home. I usually saute them or make a salad. I also love putting chicken, cherry tomatoes, onions and any veggies on a baking sheet and throwing it in the oven with olive oil and spices. It’s so easy, kind of like a one-pot meal. I prefer chopped salads to leafy ones. Washing greens is time-consuming, but chopping is cathartic!

chicken salad from CSA
chicken salad from CSA

When did you get into cooking?

Growing up, my family cooked every night and we always ate together. We would all be in the kitchen when dinner was being prepared, helping, talking about everyone’s day and joking around. It’s funny, preparing dinner was actually a family bonding experience and probably a part of what kept us so close even after long days at work or school.

Both of my parents are great cooks, but my dad is known in our family as “the best”. I kind of took it for granted growing up, but I almost never ate out as a kid. We never ordered takeout and didn’t have processed food in the house.

My parents definitely taught me how to be healthy. They wouldn’t include many carbs with dinner. It was mostly veggies, salads and protein. We reliably ate salmon three nights a week. After a few years of rebellion in high school and college, I continued the healthy eating habits I grew up with.

chopped salad
chopped salad

What junk did you eat during your “rebellion” years?

We weren’t allowed to have soda, so I went crazy for it in high school and college. Burger King and McDonalds were such a treat. But as I got older, the novelty wore off. And also I felt gross. After college, I was like, oh wait I care about how I feel and look. So my rebellion definitely didn’t last.

Do you cook every night?

I cook most nights, but I have an emergency storage of Amy’s burritos in my freezer for the occasional bachelor moment. I’ll also go for peanut butter and bread, but that’s only for when I’m really not feeling like putting in any effort.

Living with four roommates without a dishwasher, how do you handle dirty dishes?

I try to wash my dishes right after I’m done eating because I know it will bother me later. And living with so many people, it’s just the right thing to do. I try not to use a lot of dishes so I don’t have much to wash.

What is your food spending like?

I spend $40-$50 a week on groceries. Since I live in Manhattan, meeting up with people usually involves a meal. Manhattan has an amazing culinary and bar scene and it’s a big part of my life here. It can get expensive, but I view it as more of a social experience than just feeding yourself. I never order takeout for only me.

I’m also subscribed to a CSA, so I get locally grown vegetables delivered to me every other week. My roommate and I split it. It’s a challenge because I get things I don’t normally cook with, like kale. I recently got kohlrabi and, as we speak, it’s just sitting in my fridge intimidating me. I have no idea what to do with it, but I’ll have to learn!

CSA veggies
CSA veggies

What tool in your kitchen could you not live without?

My egg steamer. It’s vital for my breakfast.

What are your three go-to meals?

  • Chopped salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, parsley)
  • Turkey chili
  • Hummus from scratch — it’s so easy and tastes way better than store-bought hummus.

Do you have any cooking tricks up your sleeve?

I can cook Indian food. I had Indian friends in college and I picked up Indian food because of them. Specifically curry, chicken tikka masala, I love it.

chicken curry
chicken curry

How has cooking improved your life?

I’m just much more confident in the kitchen. I usually cook without a recipe. When I first started, I always needed a recipe in front of me. But now, I can just open my fridge, see what I have and know what to do. It’s very freeing. In the beginning, you really don’t know how long you should cook each ingredient. Being around cooking when I grew up helped too. I always say that you can tell if someone grew up in a cooking household or not just by watching them handle food.

Cooking makes sense health-wise, saves me so much money, and is fun too. I couldn’t imagine eating out of styrofoam every night. I love a sizzling pan and a great smelling kitchen. It’s a big part of my identity.

Broccoli rabe and ground turkey pasta sauce
Broccoli rabe and ground turkey pasta sauce

Hey! I’m doing these case studies because I want to show you how other busy 20-somethings make room for cooking in their lives. If you’re interested in being interviewed for one, contact me.


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