I had the good fortune of being born into a family of some pretty incredible cooks.
My grandmother on my mom’s side owned a small country diner for years that was famous in little Colony, Kan., and on my dad’s side, my grandmother was one of the best pie makers this world has ever seen. My mother, of course, learned to cook from my grandmother, and to this day, I am still amazed at her skill in the kitchen.
All that is to say, when I set out for college at 18, the typical college diet of ramen noodles, pizza and cereal wasn’t gonna fly with me. I was spoiled by home-cooked meals. Teriyaki stir fry. Pork chops and sweet potatoes. Lasagna. Chicken and noodles. Beef and broccoli.
So I learned to cook.
I had my mom write up the recipes for all my favorite meals that she had made for me over the years, and I set about trying to recreate them on my own. There were many phone calls to my mom at first – How do I know when the chicken is cooked all the way through? – and many disappointments as my meals somehow never tasted quite like my mom’s despite following the recipe exactly as instructed.
But as it turns out, simply by following recipes and practicing, like any skill you put effort into I became pretty good at it. And over time, as I experimented with the recipes and added my own flare or tweaked things here and there, cooking became no chore but rather an enjoyable retreat for me.
Now, as a family man with a wife and two children, I do all the cooking in our house. I come home from work, hug my children, kiss my wife, ask about their days, and then head to the kitchen to begin preparing our dinner.
And no, the kitchen is not “a woman’s place.” Come to my house at 5:30 on any given night and you’ll find me in my apron dicing meat, peeling vegetables, mixing fresh fruit or boiling something. The kitchen is my “man cave,” and it should be for more men, especially fathers.
In families where the wife/mom is the regular cook, when she isn’t able to cook dinner for the family and the meals are left to the dad, far too often dinner is something microwaved out of a box or poured out of a can.
Being a Fit Dad starts in the kitchen first and the gym second. A healthier lifestyle for you and your family requires healthier food choices at home, and dads learning how to cook is critical.
What’s more, like my mom did with me, teaching a child to cook can be an incredible bonding experience for any parent, but more than that, it sets kids up to make healthier food choices later in life. Combating childhood obesity starts in your kitchen at home, where dinner time means protein, fresh veggies and fruit, and water or milk to drink. Nuking a frozen boxed dinner and downing it with a sugary soda is not a meal, it’s a slow death sentence. And no, mac and cheese with hot dogs cut up in it doesn’t count as cooking either.
What’s more, children will eat healthy food options. My kids love a grilled chicken salad with sweet potatoes on the side.
Start simple. If you’re new to the cooking scene, don’t try to make pesto-stuffed, prosciutto-wrapped chicken right out of the gate. Work on kitchen basics, master simpler recipes, and watch how quickly your skills and proficiency around the kitchen improve.
Here’s one of my favorite recipes to get you started.
Baked Chicken Packets
- Preheat an oven to 350 degrees
- Trim the fat off 4 chicken breasts and place each breast in the middle of a square piece of aluminum foil
- Dice up a potato, 2-3 carrots, and a zucchini and evenly distribute the vegetables around the chicken breasts.
- Slice up ¼ of an onion and place directly on top of the chicken breasts
- Season chicken and veggies with just a bit of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and oregano
- Add a tablespoon of butter on top of each chicken breast
- Fold up the ends of the foil so that it creates a sealed packet, and place the packets on a cookie sheet.
- Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour.
- Remove the chicken and veggies from the foil pouch onto a plate, or, place the packet on a plate, open it up, and eat your meal right out of the packet
- Serve with a fresh fruit like a diced pineapple