Mark Bittman: Home Cooking is ‘Crucial’ to Family Nutrition

marl bittman cooking in the home

Mark Bittman Food writer and best-selling cookbook author Mark Bittman talks with KIWI about why home cooking is so important, how to keep kids from being picky eaters, and ways to get good food on the table fast.

How important is home cooking to family nutrition?
It’s crucial. Cooking is the only way you can control what goes into your body. If someone else is cooking, you don’t know what you’re eating.

Some people say that the downfall of the American diet started when women began getting the message that cooking was drudgery. They stopped cooking dinner, and after that our health declined.
Well, that’s complicated. Cooking is a chore, but it can also be a pleasure. Women shouldn’t feel saddled with that responsibility. Men should be plunging in too. At least 50 percent of adults ought to know how to cook—half men and half women. I wouldn’t want to say if you’re a woman raising a family, you have to be the person to cook. I would say if you’re anyone raising a family, cooking should be part of it, and that includes men.

If parents could change one thing about what they’re serving their family, what should it be?
Eliminate highly processed food. Actually, eliminate non-food, which is what that is.

In your new cookbook, How to Cook Anything Fast,
 you help with that by suggesting ways to cook healthy
food quickly. What inspired you to write it?
People had been asking for fast recipes for a long time. So we looked at how people who are skilled at cooking actually cook, and then we wrote it down in a way that allows people who haven’t yet learned how to do it, or are looking for a more efficient way to do it, to walk into the kitchen and make good food right away. It actually reinvents the way recipes are written.

Can you share a favorite cooking shortcut?
Have a well-stocked pantry.

What should be in it?
Oils, condiments, vinegars, grains, pasta, legumes. Onions and garlic. In the fridge, keep Parmesan and eggs. Have frozen vegetables in the freezer. With an initial investment of time and money, you can stock a good pantry and do a lot of cooking with minimal or no shopping. You need quite a few items, but most of them keep forever.

Do you have a favorite recipe in the new book?
I have a bunch of favorites, but Spaghetti and Drop Meatballs is really good. There’s a stir-fry shrimp recipe that’s amazing. There’s baked ziti, which is actually broiled ziti. They’re old favorites that have been rejiggered to be much less work. Everything is rethought for speed.

How about a favorite recipe for young kids?
There’s an argument to be made that you should make for them what you make for yourself. I adhere to that. Make a real dinner and expect your kids to eat it. If they’re not hungry, that’s fine. If they want to eat something else, make sure you have healthy alternatives on hand. What’s not fine is making yourself real food and making something weird for your kids.

If you could give one piece of advice to every health-conscious parent in America, what would it be?
Cook real food, and get everything else out of your house.

Mark Bittman’s new cookbook, How to Cook Anything Fast, is available now in bookstores and online. Try his Spaghetti and Drop Meatballs recipe, found here.


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