Why You Should Invite Charles Darwin Over for Dinner

Yoni Freedhoff

Evolution. We all know the gist of how that works. It's survival of the fittest, where the weak and the weary don't live long enough to pass on their genes to the next generation, leaving only the strongest and healthiest to populate the future. It's a powerful force of nature--and it belongs in your kitchen.

Modern-day kitchens are too often sad affairs. They're places where microwaves get more attention than ovens. Where breakfast tables are covered with everything but breakfast. Where people come and go, always in a hurry to get out again as fast as possible. They're where Tupperware go to die.

But they don't have to be that way.

When I first met my wife, neither of us knew much about cooking. Her freezer was full of boxed, processed, reheatable food, and believe it or not, I'd already retired two deep fryers--I literally used them to death. We certainly weren't the best role models for healthy eating. But our kitchen evolved. My wife wanted to create the sort of home where her kids bragged to their friends about their mother's cooking. Where dinner-table meals were regular affairs, and where the smell of home cooking and baking precluded the need for air fresheners.

Slowly we learned how to cook. Bit by bit, we tried our hands at new recipes. Many, even most, were duds. But every once in a while we found a recipe that we both enjoyed enough to add to our rotation--and in so doing, we edged out the least healthy meals in our repertoire.

Our cooking skills evolved, too. At first my wife was exceedingly reluctant to ever stray from a recipe, but after a few years of cooking with rigid adherence to her cookbooks, she started modifying things based on what she thought sounded right. A decade later, she's creating dishes entirely from scratch.

The key to an evolutionary kitchen is to ensure you truly follow Darwin's rule of natural selection. You need to be prepared to let the weakest, unhealthiest meals experience horrible, permanent, extinction-style deaths, just as we did with the boxed pierogi and chicken fingers of our kitchen's yesteryear.

So please, invite Darwin to dinner one night a week. One night where you cook a meal from scratch using fresh, whole ingredients. One night where if the fruits of your cooking efforts are better than your unhealthy go-to meals, they earn their way into your kitchen's future.

Even better, make cooking that dinner a family affair--where each week a different family member not only picks the new recipe to audition, but is actively involved in its preparation.

Remember too that evolution isn't a rapid process. Take a flying leap at evolving your entire kitchen and you're liable to land squarely on your face. Small, incremental change is the very definition of evolution as we know it.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Yoni Freedhoff, MD, is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he's the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute--dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and is also easily reachable on Twitter. Dr. Freedhoff's latest book Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work will be published by Simon & Schuster's Free Press in April 2013.