My best friend, Zoe, recently nailed down cooking the right foods for her body. In this interview, she shares how she figured out how to not waste food and improved her life by cooking with quality ingredients. She’s seriously a pro when it comes to using fresh veggies from the farmers market.
Like most New Yorkers, Zoe lives a busy, fast paced life. She works in the entertainment industry as an associate producer for a show called “On The Case With Paula Zahn,” goes to more concerts than anyone I’ve ever met and still has time to cook most of her meals. If she can, so can you.
The TL/DR message from Zoe’s interview is this: Don’t be afraid of vegetables. Experimenting with cooking is fun, helps you stay healthy and save money.
Scroll down to see how Zoe uses fruits and veggies in every meal.
- I’m 24, I live in NYC and I work in an office (when I’m not on set) from 10 am-6 pm but am always on call
- I mostly cook, but buy food out 2-5 times a week and try to spend $10/meal
- I food shop once every 10 days and spend around $50
When did you start cooking for yourself?
Z: I started cooking for myself halfway through college. But if you asked me now if I could cook then, I’d say no. I could only make five things. And they were all a variation of meat and bread or meat with a vegetable. I didn’t have any skills in terms of creating new dishes myself, I was just repeating the quickest things I could make. But you have to start somewhere!
Why do you cook for yourself?
Z: I cook because I enjoy it and I can see what’s going into the food I’m eating. I feel like when you’re eating home cooked food, you digest it better.
American restaurants tend to serve huge portions, and then you force yourself to eat it all. If you cook for yourself, you’re only going to eat exactly how much you need, and you’re less likely to waste food. Cooking gives me full control.
Before you started cooking, did you have any fears around it?
Z: Ha, I was mostly afraid of setting off an alarm, honestly. Oh, and burning things. I used to burn food a lot. I also used to be afraid of buying food and not being able to eat it before it went bad.
What is your diet like?
Z: I have a unique diet because of some digestive and stomach issues, but cooking has helped me get a handle on it by controlling what’s in my food.
Currently, I don’t cook with meat, and I’m experimenting with vegetarianism. Not cooking meat has helped me cut cravings for it too, and it has improved my digestion. It doesn’t make cooking harder, it just makes me eat more consciously.
If you don’t think about what you eat, you could create an irreversible problem for your body, which is what happened to me. I have a fast metabolism, so I always thought I could eat junky food all the time and be fine. But not eating enough of the right nutritious foods for a long time hurt my body. Cooking helps me correct it.
When do you cook?
Z: I either cook right when I get home from work or in the morning while I’m getting ready. On weekends, I have more time and I’ll cook during the day. Dedicating an entire day to cooking and trying new recipes is always more fun, but that’s only if I have time.
But what I cook depends on my mood and if I’ve been able to plan ahead. If I’m in a really good mood, I’ll get excited about what I’m making and make a point to pick up ingredients.
Do you prep food before cooking it in advance?
Z: Not really. I chop everything and cook it right away. The only thing I’ll chop extra and save for next time are things like onions because I never use a whole one. Using whole ingredients helps me not waste food.
Do you cook one meal at a time or batch cook?
Z: I do both. If I make dinner I usually make extra so I have leftovers for one meal. My favorite thing to batch cook is a chili recipe that my dad invented. You can dip tortillas in it, you can repurpose it into a burrito or tacos. And you can change it a little bit every time. I also enjoy making big baked pasta dishes, stuffed shells, mac ‘n’ cheese, which lasts me a few meals.
Do you ever get lunch FOMO at work?
Z: No, not really. Sometimes I’ll smell someone’s lunch and I’ll crave whatever they’re eating. But I never look at the lunch I packed and think, “I don’t want to eat that.”
How convenient is grocery shopping for you?
Z: Access to groceries is a huge part of how much you can actually enjoy cooking and what you’re able to make. Right now, grocery shopping isn’t very convenient for me. I live within two blocks of four different stores, and they all sell different types of things with different prices.
It doesn’t stop me from going, but it can be a pain. If I lived close to the health store, I would go there 100 percent of the time, even though it’s more expensive. Quality and ethical ingredients matter most to me. I love farmers markets.
Where do you find new recipes?
Z: I use Yummly because it aggregates every food blog and recipe website into one database. Plus you can save recipes. It’s so easy because you just open your fridge, see what you have that’s about to go bad and search recipes with those ingredients. It’s great for when I don’t know what I want to make.
Do you think cooking for one makes financial sense?
Z: It totally makes financial sense. But it takes trial and error to figure it out. At 24, I’ve finally learned how to avoid wasting food because now I know exactly how to use it before it goes bad. Wasting food is basically the same as wasting money.
The more I cook, the less things go bad. But I used to throw out half a bag of spinach because I didn’t plan cooking properly. Becoming vegetarian really helps because I;m cooking with veggies constantly. Most veggies actually go together too, so they’re easy to cook or whip up a salad with.
How does it feel knowing you have your food handled?
Z: I love it. When I first started my job, I bought lunch almost every day for a year. Now I never buy lunch at all and I’m so happy with it. Honestly, I got bored of eating out.
What are your go-to recipes?
Z: These are just some of my staples for each meal.
- eggs over easy + cilantro + sriracha on toast
- avocado toast
- yogurt + granola
- smoothie with bananas + berries + milk
- Power salads: leafy greens, beets, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, goat cheese and random ingredients like avocado
- Grain bowl: quinoa, leafy greens, another vegetable, dressing, sometimes seitan
- Baked pasta, chili, tacos or roasted root vegetables with a protein, like seitan.
The ingredients I normally use are chickpeas, beets, kale and sometimes seitan. These ingredients go well in a lot of different things. I also try to make something new or different once a week. Just the other day I tried an Asian style buckwheat noodle!