I started cooking with my mother once I was old enough to stand on a chair and get flour all over the kitchen. My mom started me off with simple tasks: stirring, dropping chocolate chips into cookie dough, and taste-testing. As I aged, my mother let me chop all of her veggies (YAY knife skills!) and would even let me prepare entire portions of our family dinners. At the time, cooking with my mom was just something I did for fun, and a good way for me to spend quality time with my mamacita. But, looking back on things, I realize my mother equipped me with an excellent knowledge of nutrition, basic math, and even chemistry. I also realize that she provided me with a skill that is invaluable: putting a healthy, delicious meal on the table for Jim and me (and maybe one day a mini-BP) is something that I take for granted. Cooking is one way in which I show my friends and family how much I love them. I think taking the time to cook a great meal for someone is a phenomenal gesture. But maybe that’s because the way to MY heart is through my stomach. Just last week I made Jim’s favorite dish: beef stew. Like any man, Jim likes meat and potatoes, and he asks me to make this for dinner almost every week. I looked up so many recipes for beef stew, but they all included ingredients that weren’t so figure-friendly. So, I compiled a few of my favorites and cleaned them up, and have come up with a recipe that runs under 260 cals per serving, has minimal fat, and is loaded with protein. I feel good about scooping out a big bowl of beef stew for Jimmy with macros like that – and he licks the bowl every time. So does Trotter. Here’s where I must get on my soapbox for a moment. I firmly believe (firmly) that everyone can cook. A bold statement? Perhaps. But if you can read and follow directions, you can cook. The most difficult part of cooking is getting the timing right. I know a lot of great technical cooks who just can’t ever get a meal to come together simultaneously. In college, that was always my biggest issue, and I frequently found myself eating cold servings of protein with hot veggies simply because I couldn’t figure out when to start preparing my stupid chicken! Over time, however, I figured it out, and now I can prepare a 4-course dinner and have it all come out perfectly-cooked and at the same time. Just like anything, it takes TIME to get things right. Don’t give up. And for those of you who say “I’m a horrible cook,” think about what makes you “horrible.” If it’s your timing, practice. If your food doesn’t taste good, that means there’s something fundamentally wrong with the recipe. Are you measuring everything properly? Are you combining things at the right time? Are you using correct heat? Cooking is about chemistry, in all honesty. Heat reacts with ingredients that will change the shape, form, size, and viscosity of anything in your recipe. Following a recipe to the letter is so important. Only when you’ve been cooking for a VERY long time can you really “eyeball” ingredients and make substitutions for key players like fats. You have to know how ingredients react with one another and with heat when you’re cooking, and that takes practice. I also hear the “I don’t have time” excuse a lot. I think many of you know how I feel about this excuse when it comes to personal health. You have the time, you just don’t want to make personal sacrifices. Just like people who tell me they don’t have time to exercise, I don’t believe people when people say they don’t have time to cook a healthy meal. Most of my dinners take me 15 minutes to prepare. Trader Joes is a PHENOMENAL place to shop for quick meals. Their frozen section is FULL of pre-made fish and meat, veggies, and pastas. One of my favorite healthy meals is their pre-marinated frozen ahi tuna with sliced avocado and a huge salad. Five minutes on the grill and some veggie chopping and I’m done. When you have more time, you can devote your skills to larger dishes that require more preparation, or you can prepare your meals ahead of time, which is what I do. I make big batches of polenta (seriously, all you do is slice it and throw it in the oven for 20 minutes), brown rice, sweet potato fries, oven roasted veggies, huge salads, grilled chicken, etc. I always have these items in my fridge for nights that I just don’t feel like cooking. There is never any reason that I should be eating McDonalds for dinner every night. And Rachel Ray has made her empire on her “30 Minute Meals” concept. It CAN be done. So, learn to cook. You CAN do it. Go with your spouse or significant other or girlfriends to some cooking classes. Cooking is even more fun with someone you love. Jim doesn’t know it yet, but I plan on dragging him into the kitchen with me more often in 2012. Make cooking in your house fun: I usually play music and dance around with a glass of red wine while I’m cooking. Buy cute aprons! Whatever it takes, just make it fun. If you have any questions about cooking, I’m always here to help! Beth is an NPC and OCB figure competitor and has been competing for 3 years. When she’s not rocking the stage in her stiletto heels, she’s either at work as Project Manager at a Pharmaceutical company in Durham, NC or she’s in the gym training clients or teaching spin classes. In her very minimal free time, Beth likes to sleep, eat, play with her dog, and spend time with her boyfriend and friends (who also like to sleep and eat).