Olivia Bradford, a 26-year-old public relations manager, often finds herself too busy or too tired to cook — so she turns to takeout.
Bradford, who lives with her fiancé in Vancouver, says they regularly use food delivery services Foodora, DoorDash and Uber Eats around mealtimes.
“My go-to lunch order on a busy workday is a salad… on the Foodora app, and for dinner, it’s probably sushi from the place under our apartment or Tacofino Yaletown down the street,” Bradford said.
“It really all comes down to convenience. I’m very busy [so] I often don’t have time to prepare meals, and once I get home, I’m too tired or too lazy to cook.”
Nicole Fetterly, a B.C.-based registered dietitian, told Global News that many Canadians simply do not know how to cook or choose not to cook — especially younger generations.
“If we think about maybe 30, 40 years ago, people were still doing the bulk of their cooking at home,” she said. “We really lost that over the last two generations.”
How did we get here?
According to Statistics Canada, 54 per cent of Canadians eat out once a week or more, and 40 per cent of folks say they eat out for convenience, have no time to cook, or do not like/know how to cook.
For millennials, Fetterly says they likely don’t know how to make food if cooking wasn’t a big part of their lives growing up.
For kids who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was a huge cultural emphasis on microwave meals, pre-packaged snacks and fast food.
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“There was a lot of pressure to have more participation in sports and activities, and more often than not, two parents working outside of the home,” Fetterly explained. “[There was] a lot of pressure from the food industry saying, ‘You’re too busy to cook, here’s all this convenience.’”
Now, there’s even more convenience with delivery apps like Uber Eats, Foodora and Skip the Dishes. Fetterly says these companies offer such a wide variety of cuisine that users have endless options at their fingertips.
“These external companies that will deliver from any restaurant… are really opening up that palate choice and giving people more options — which isn’t always a good thing,” she said.
The ease of ordering food is also attractive for people who simply don’t know how to cook.
What can’t we cook?
Fetterly says there are common foods that many Canadians don’t know how to make — especially fish. She says many people will order it at restaurants, but rarely make their own.
“Fish is something that we dietitians recommend should be on your plate a couple times a week because it’s so much healthier than other animal protein sources,” she said. “In my private practice, people say they are nervous about cooking fish because they don’t know how, and they’re scared of the smell.”
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Another food that causes confusion is legumes. Fetterly, who is an advocate of plant-based foods, says that many folks don’t know how to cook with things like chickpeas, lentils and beans.
Lastly, she says the art of baking bread has significantly disappeared in recent years.
“Bread used to be such a staple, and in every culture, people baked bread all the time,” she said. “Now… we’re falling to store-bought breads that aren’t going to be as nutritious as the ones that we might have made at home with our own hands.”
How cooking can help us
It’s no secret that eating pre-made or takeout food is affecting our health. Research shows that regular consumption of ready-made meals is linked to obesity.
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This is likely because restaurant food and pre-made food is often loaded with sugar and salt, and nutritional information is not always clear or accurate, Fetterly says.
“A lot of times we just don’t know what’s in the food, so we’re not provided with ingredient lists or nutrition facts at the bulk of restaurants,” she explained. “There is a change where more of the larger chains are providing that information, but as a dietitian who calculates nutrition facts, I’ll tell you it’s not a perfect science.”
Fetterly says that the food we order on apps or buy from restaurants often doesn’t take the Canada Food Guide into consideration, either.
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The recently updated guide says Canadians should eat lots of fruits and vegetables, choose whole grains, and reduce red or processed meat consumption. The guide also suggests eating plant-based proteins, like legumes, beans and tofu more often than animal proteins, like dairy, eggs, meat and fish.
“We also know most restaurant foods are going to have a much smaller percentage of vegetables on the plate compared to our new Canada Food Guide regulations, which say half your plate should be vegetables,” Fetterly said.
Getting back in the kitchen
Aside from health benefits, cooking can be a positive activity to do alone or with a loved one. For some people, cooking or baking is even therapeutic.
For Bradford, cooking with her fiancé is a form of emotional bonding. Not only do they enjoy making recipes together, but it’s a change of pace, too.
“[Cooking] is a great activity to do together and it gives us a chance to disconnect from technology and just enjoy each other’s company,” she said.
The couple recently invested in a meal kit subscription service in an attempt to break some of their takeout habits. Having a recipe and its ingredients delivered to their door is convenient, but also forces them to the kitchen.
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“When we do cook, we usually make the same meals and don’t get creative,” Bradford said. “We love that HelloFresh gets us out of that routine and helps us make more creative meals.”
Fetterly says she’s seen an uptick in interest around cooking and baking, in part thanks to meal kit subscriptions.
“There’s been an explosion in the food television world and on social media with showing [off] foods,’” she said. “But a lot of the pride in cooking comes from learning and doing it yourself… and I think that’s where some of this [interest] in meal kits comes from.”
“People are looking to really explore flavours and colours — and that’s also what’s going to come out really well on social media.”