Nutrition Series: Make Cooking at Home an Easy Habit
May 17, 2021
Take out is easy and cheap, and cooking at home is hard and expensive, right? Wrong! Cooking can be easy and fun with the right tools and knowledge.
When we’re tired after a long day, it can seem like the easiest option is to grab some take out on the way home or call for delivery. And if we haven’t planned ahead and followed these tips, that might be the case!
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. 60% of Americans order take out at least once a week, and 31% at least twice a week. 34% of Americans spend at least $50 per take out meal, with the average for a single person being $70 per week on take out, or close to $300 per month.
As you can imagine, in addition to being tough on your wallet, eating out is less healthy. You may think you’re being healthy, but you don’t know what’s in the dressing, or how the meat was cooked (with butter? How much oil?). Many restaurants also cook their veggies in oil or butter, making them not the healthy, low calorie option you think they are. Only when you make your own food can you know exactly what’s in it.
When I first started making a conscious effort to cook most of my meals, it seemed like a lot of work. It seemed like cooking was this big chore. It took a lot of time to cook, a lot of time to clean, and not very much time to eat. I would usually stick with my plan for a day or two and then go back to ordering out or picking up food on the way home.
When I started incorporating some of these tips, it seemed like cooking got easier, and I began to enjoy the food that I made. Hopefully it will be the same for you.
Here are some tips to help you get started on eating at home more often. It may seem like a lot of work to start, but if you follow these tips, you’ll get into a routine in no time.
Create menus at home for yourself and your family. Think about your week, and plan some more complicated meals (if you want) for shorter, easier days, and some easy meals for tougher days. This will take out the guesswork, and make it easy to get started on the meal when you get home. I try to make my plan on Sunday for Monday-Thursday or Friday, and do the grocery shopping on Monday. You do what works for you.
If you’re new to cooking and don’t know where to start, there are a lot of ways to find good recipes. Pinterest is a great resource, and it’s easy to search for specifics. Try “Easy Chicken Recipes” or “One Pot Vegetarian Dinner”. You can search for anything! You can also ask friends or family. Ask them what they make on school/work nights and ask for some ideas and recipes.
If you do make a recipe you really like, save it! Whether it's online on pinterest or written down by hand, save the recipes you like so you can make them again.
Keep it Simple!
As alluded to above, keep it simple. If you want to experiment with some fancy meals go right ahead, but save this for the weekend or easier days. Chances are you won’t be in the mood to experiment after a long work day.
Keep weekday meals simple by looking for one pot dishes, crockpot or instapot dishes, or just simple dishes that don’t take too much work.
Once you get into a habit, you’ll discover a few dishes that everyone in your family enjoys and that are easy to make. Keep those recipes on hand and use them as your “go to’s” for when you just need a quick easy meal. Save the experimenting for less stressful days.
Grocery Shop ahead of time
Don’t wait until the day of to grocery shop. Do it ahead of time and plan ahead when you’re going to do so. Try not to go after work or when you’re hungry - you’ll be less likely to stick to your list and more likely to get snacks and other things you may not need. Try to consolidate your trips to 2-3 times per week.
Bring your list (either physical or on your phone) with you to the store and only get what’s on the list. I like to use an app called AnyList, which sync’s between my husband and my phones, allowing us to both update the list in real time. However, pen and paper work just fine as well. Stick to your list, and make sure everything you need for your menu is on there.
Stock your pantry and fridge with staples.
Staples means something different to different people, so think about what you tend to use often and make sure it’s always on hand. This, of course, has to be relatively shelf stable food. Some examples:
Grains: potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, pasta
Veggies: onions, zucchini, bell peppers, carrots
Proteins: Ground turkey or beef, chicken breast (frozen) or tofu
Other: your favorite canned sauces, beans, pre minced garlic
Always make sure to have your usual spices and oils on hand as well.
Have the right tools
Some tools are fancy and not worth the price. But some are absolutely necessary.
For a working person or working family, some type of “set it and forget it” type machine is a must, whether its a crockpot or instapot. Air fryers are different in the way that you can't put the whole meal in there, but they do drastically cut down on cooking time for meats and vegetables.
A set of good knives will also save you a lot of time and frustration while cooking. Along this line, a couple good cutting boards are also important: separate veggies and meat, so you must have at least two.
Some people like things like veggie choppers, spiralizers, and slicers. These can cut down on prep time for vegetables, leaving you time to do something else.
Batch cook and use leftovers
When you cook, make extra. If you’re a family of 2, cook for at least 4. Family of 4, make 8. It’s hardly any more work (and no extra pans to wash) to make extra food, and that will give you either an easy to go lunch for the next day or dinner for a following day. You can also freeze your meals (this works better with some than others) for a meal more than a few days out.
Some of you may be saying “but I don’t like leftovers!” and to you, I say that you’re probably not making the right things. Some things, you’re right, should never be leftovers. Fish, for example. But with a couple tips, you can make some great leftover meals. Try to always leave the dressings off the meal and add them just to the portion you’re eating tonight, or have each person add them to their individual plates. This will keep salads and greens from getting mushy. Things like stews and casseroles can sometimes taste better the following day, as the flavors have had a chance to come together.
Some things sit just fine in a fridge for a day or more. Make these things ahead! Things like rice, beans, and potatoes can be made the day before (maybe a day when you have more time) or in the morning if that works better for you, to limit your cooking time (and mess) day of.
Some things can be frozen and stored for longer. Sometimes having just one less thing to chop up can make a meal seem much easier! You can freeze things like onion and garlic in ice cube trays or in little baggies. Just make sure you label each with what it is, and how much, so you can add it to the right recipe!
Some things you want to make day of, such as most vegetables, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prep them ahead of time. Cut up your veggies and leave them in an air tight container for easier meal prep the next day.
Save your recipes
Once you find some recipes you like, save them! Some people use apps, you can make a board on pinterest, leave a bookmark in a cookbook, or write them out yourself. Whatever works best. Saving recipes takes another step out of the equation and makes things a little easier the next time you want to try that same recipe.
Hopefully these tips have been helpful for you. Don’t forget, by attending our Nutrition Series (or reading the blogs) you can grab 25% off our 3 Month Nutrition Counseling program. Just reach out to Greg via phone, text, email, or social media and we will get you signed up!