Life Hack of a Surgeon

Are you starving your kids from opportunities in life?

Dr Samantha Pillay
Feb 5 · 6 min read
Mother and child holding a camelia together with cupped hands.
Mother and child holding a camelia together with cupped hands.
Credit: Kate Elmes

here are vast savings when we are self-sufficient in the skills we require regularly.

How expensive would it be over a lifetime, to pay someone to help shower and dress you every day when not required, even if you could afford it? Billionaires like Warren Buffett, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg hold reputations for being famously frugal.

Frugal; careful when using money or food.’ Cambridge Dictionary

Reliance on others costs money. Every time you can’t do something yourself, you spend money on others’ advice, skills or goods.

What #1 skill is more important than a university education?

HOW TO COOK

We have created a society where people can muddle through life without knowing how to cook. Meal providers profit from this reliance, selling the idea that meal preparation is difficult, complicated, and time-consuming.

We teach our children to shower and dress themselves early in life because we quickly work out it’s worth the time and patience to teach them, in return for our time-saving in the long run.

I am fascinated by the number of people who tell me they don’t cook. ‘Do you eat?’ — I refrain from replying. How many meals will you eat, day after day, in a lifetime? That’s a tremendous reliance on others.

Did you know that ‘how to make pancakes’ and ‘how to boil an egg’ are two of the most frequently searched questions on Google?

Are we failing as parents? What’s going to be next? People asking Google how to get dressed?

Cooking is a life skill.

When comparing a $10.00 home-cooking meal to a meal-delivery, the daily savings add up over time. A home-cooked meal could cost nothing if the food consumed would have otherwise gone to waste.

Bulk-buying results in significant savings. When using meal-kits, you miss out on the bulk-buying dollar savings of purchasing a whole broccoli or chicken and having left-overs for freezing or lunch the next day, let alone the savings when purchasing on a larger scale.

Think of the payoff if you teach your children to budget on household spending, from their savings on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, multiplied over their lifetime, decade after decade. When we sit down for a fantastic home-prepared meal for under $10.00 and my son compares this to $100.00 spent at a high-end restaurant he understands the value of money, and the opportunity cost in terms of lost savings, choosing to spend over save. Careful home budgeting fosters mindful spending, compared to incidental spending, (of your money, if they receive and allowance), without thought or accountability.

We expect our children to do high school math, yet we pass by the opportunity for them to apply this to everyday household budgeting and personal finance.

Saving money and investing early in life is more valuable to young people because of the time invested. Remember, one axis of the graph showing exponential growth from compound interest is time. Most people wish they started saving earlier.

Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.” Albert Einstein

Another exponential growth model is learning, knowledge and skills. The more skills you acquire over time, the more valuable you will become. Hybrid skills and hybrid careers are the predicted way of the future.

That’s how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest.” Warren Buffet.

Adult children living at home may have more disposable income resulting from fewer expenses. I’ve heard stories of ‘live-at-home-stills’ ordering Uber Eats for breakfast. Dr Ian Malcolm, (Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park), might have responded; “Just because you could afford a café smashed avocado breakfast, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.” Parents too can succumb to lifestyle creep as their discretionary income rises.

If time is money, and you’re cooking for teenagers, is their time worth more than yours? The kitchen is an opportunity for children to take risks, experiment, be creative, and make their own decisions and mistakes, in a world where these opportunities seem to be disappearing.

Handing over responsibility in the kitchen is the perfect place to practice your parenting skills. The time and patience you invest early on, teaching basic kitchen safety and cooking, will pay off big-time, just like when you taught them to dress themselves.

You’ll soon be able to take a step back, stop watching and answer questions without taking over. Trust me you’ll find something else to do with your spare time, even if it is a well-earned rest on the sofa with a cup of tea.

The risks from cutting with sharp knives and removing hot items from the oven are perfect in a modern world where their everyday lives are devoid of danger. The kitchen provides an opportunity to practice decision-making skills. When asked how much of a particular ingredient to add, I might reply; “I’m not going to tell you, work it out”. If the worst outcome is a bad meal, then risks can be taken, and mistakes embraced. Their accomplishments will build self-confidence.

If you think your kids are too busy to prepare a quick, simple meal, calculate the time and money traveling, choosing from a menu, waiting to order, be served, and pay, compared to the opportunity to develop self-reliance and life-skills.

If trying to decide what to make for dinner seems like a difficult decision, therein lies the problem. Responsibility and decision making requires effort and practice; skills that carry over into all aspects of life. We teach children how to write a business plan before we teach them to write a week’s meal plan. Planning saves time and money.

Running a business requires decision making and dealing with uncertainly and the unexpected. Learning to cook, especially without a recipe, adapting your cooking to what is available or on special, builds translational life skills. Working in teams to cook together with siblings or others teaches necessary human resources and people management skills. Time management, planning, preparation, organization, completing a task, staying focused and working under pressure are essential skill sets.

The price of eating out, celebrity chefs, celebrity cooking shows, and cookbooks with glossy pictures of perfectly presented meals reinforces a belief that cooking a meal is difficult.

I love fine dining, a beautiful meal prepared by a cook, highly more skilled than myself, and the experience of dining in a beautiful location, when I choose to, but I’m not reliant on others to eat when I’m hungry. Preparing a meal for one’s consumption at home doesn’t need fancy or complicated.

Join me in the anti-fancy cooking movement.

Television cooking shows can offer entertainment, education and inspiration but won’t provide practical hands-on experience. You won’t learn how to play the piano by watching a concert pianist. Real-life experience seems lost in a world where too much time is spent observing others or documenting events on Facebook, Snapchat and other social media, instead of experiencing life first hand. Cooking can be a relaxing time for a digital detox. Turn off the screens and get lost in the process.

When I prepare a home-cooked meal, enjoyed around the table with good conversation, it fills me with pride, happiness and purpose. I love being able to do something for others. My son feels the same purpose and pride when he cooks for me, contributing to the household and caring for me. Allow your children this opportunity to give back. If sharing in the household cooking isn’t a gift, why is it something children or partners commonly do on Mother’s Day? Why only allow this giving and receiving once a year?

As a surgeon, a topic close to my heart is healthy eating. Home-cooking gives you control over your ingredients and your portion size without the risk of ordering more food than is required or adding high-calorie drinks, desserts, sauces and sides, tempting overeating or leading to food waste.

There are no ingredient labels available when eating out to indicate the amounts of sugar, fats, salts and additives in your food, or where the ingredients are sourced? The power of our personal choice is lost every time we hand those choices over to others.

Healthy eating habits promote self-care, helping you lose weight while gaining money.

More time could be spent thinking about what we eat, where we get it from, how much it costs us and the consequences of our choices.

Thought should be engaged before action.

To borrow the metaphor made famous by Stephen Covey: Don’t spend your time and money climbing a ladder that’s leaning against the wrong wall.

And maybe as parents, we should lead by example.

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Thought Leadership

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