The Best Health Decision I Ever Made for My Family Was to Cook More, Cook Together, and Cook from Scratch
“My mother was famous for serving processed food. She served Mrs. Smith frozen apple pies because that was the thing you did back then. She said, no one can make a pie as good as that.” Marcy Hairston, a special education teacher based in Washington, D.C., has enlisted her entire family to cook more from scratch for 10 years — and some of the inspiration came from her mother. “At 10 years old, I decided to make an apple pie from scratch; it was so good and not that hard!”
Since her childhood, Macy has loved food and cooking, a passion that has rubbed off on her three sons. “My middle son recently declared he’s a vegetarian; my youngest son loves chicken; and my oldest will eat anything that’s not nailed down.” I asked her why she made cooking more from scratch a priority, how her family helps out, too, and why cooking is the most essential ingredient in her health.
20 people, 20 stories of what healthy means for them in 2020.
My Healthy: Cooking from Scratch
- Name: Marcy Hairston
- Location & Occupation: Special Education Teacher in Washington, D.C.
- How Long Cooking from Scratch: 10 years
What does “healthy” mean to you?
Cooking at home with my family, using fresh and whole ingredients whenever possible. We are working hard to pass this on to our three boys.
So health for you is defined in relation to prioritizing cooking with your family? That’s very special. Why is this important to you?
I think this all started when my husband and I watched the Food Inc. documentary. Our boys were very young at the time. And we felt like we weren’t eating as well as we could.
As the boys get older — they’re 16, 14, and 11 now — it’s harder to spend time together. The boys just spend less time with us. Food sort of brings us all together. We plan the menu together and it’s opened up a nice dialogue around how we spend our time. I don’t want to send them off to college eating boxed macaroni and cheese. Cooking is a life skill. Knowing what foods are healthy is a life skill. We talk about how if you’re going to eat cookies, it’s better to make them yourself.
What eating style helps you feel your healthiest?
We cook more from scratch now. We search for recipes and we encourage the children to figure out how to make something we had at a restaurant like pad Thai or Indian butter chicken. Nothing that we make at home is as good as it is at the restaurant but we’re trying and learning new things.
Meal prep is really important. We’re hardcore planners. That’s partially for financial reasons but also, when you get home from work and you have three kids and you have no idea what to cook, life can be difficult. Meal prep helps us feel more in control. The children also pack their lunches the night before school so they take leftovers to school.
What were your goals when you made this change?
We made this change to reintroduce the family meal and the idea of slow cooking to our boys. For us, slow cooking means making everything from scratch. We don’t use frozen or canned vegetables. We use raw broccoli we buy at the market. And, we can turn out a really good dinner without cutting too many corners. We don’t make our own tortillas yet but we could. My husband loves to barbecue so I bought him a grill a few years ago. He literally puts the meat on early in the morning and we wait all day for it to cook.
How did you make this change? What motivation pushed you on?
Honestly, we just wanted to be as healthy as possible and teach the boys how to make good choices about food and how to best fuel their energy. We are definitely not professionals, but we started with the idea that we wanted to make friends with vegetables and break away from eating too much processed or pre-made stuff. Our interest and our skill level grew from there and, over time, we’ve managed to gather a pretty solid repertoire of favorite meals.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that we’ve taught our kids to love good food and to appreciate the work that goes into it. Of course, not every meal is a success but food really is love. I want the boys to remember that when they’re older and cooking for themselves or their own families. Our middle son, who is a vegetarian, loves to cook and is interested in becoming a chef. He has taken on a lot of the cooking and loves inventing and testing recipes. All three of our boys have an appreciation for home-cooked meals and have been introduced to a variety of foods we have cooked for them.
So what does keep you going? Lifestyle and habit changes are famously hard to make and keep. Do you have a secret?
No secrets here, just a lot of planning! My husband and I have a weekly menu that we create every Saturday and then shop specifically for that menu. We are religious about sticking to the menu and having one or two “emergency” meals on hand in case something unexpected comes up. We plan for meals out and how we’ll use the leftovers, and we try to match less complicated meals to busier nights.
That being said, we are realistic about life with three children and two full-time jobs. We still have to cut corners to save time occasionally (I still haven’t mastered pie crusts or poached eggs!) but we remain committed to trying new things and cooking from scratch most days.
What’s the one food you love the most?
If you were to recommend cooking from scratch to someone else, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. We watch a lot of cooking shows around here and when we’re inspired, we try a new recipe. I made Omurice (a Japanese rice omelette) just the other day because I saw Antoni Porowski from Queer Eye do it and it looked delicious. It was! We’ll try anything once at our house; it has made us all more adventurous eaters.
Thank you, Marcy! Follow her at @MarcytheGreat on Instagram.
Some (Delicious) Resources for Cooking More from Scratch
My Healthy 2020: 20 People, 20 Healthy Choices
Every January people make changes to improve their health. But which ones actually make a difference? We’re sharing the stories of 20 people who changed their lives for the better and stuck — thanks to choices that are individual, diverse, and sometimes wildly different from each other. Read their stories here throughout January. We hope they inspire your own journey to finding your own, unique, individual healthiest 2020.