It’s time to cook more!
One of the main missions of this blog is to encourage people to cook more, and cook better. Our food sets the rhythm for our lifestyles, and when we have fun cooking we learn to be more involved in our food and live simpler lives in general. Everyone’s becoming more and more aware of the destructive effects of haphazard eating habits, and the best remedy is to grab the wheel and take control of the menu ourselves. Nevertheless, the majority of us don’t cook as often or as well as we want to, despite our desire to do so.
From my experience, there are three main reasons why people don’t cook more often: ability, money, and time. Ability is easily remedied; in fact, one of the goals of Foodie’s Arsenal is to be a resource for home chefs who are semi-clueless in the kitchen. Money is a topic I’ll save for another day, but *spoiler alert* I’m probably going to tell you cooking isn’t as expensive as you think. Be ready.
Time, however, is a serious obstacle that isn’t overcome as easily as taking a cooking class or sticking to a budget. The fact is that we’re busy people. As much as many of us like the idea of cooking, we also don’t often have the luxury of wandering blissfully around a bright kitchen with a mixing bowl or a grill pan as if we’re hosting our own recipe show. There’s only so much time in the day, and when it comes down to it our diets and menus are more a reflection of our schedules than anything else.
So today I want to talk about simple ways we can all be better home chefs despite our ridiculous schedules. I’m not going to do any myth-busting or tell you that there’s some secret way to cook a lot without spending any time on it. What I am going to do though is give you some wisdom I’ve learned about how to make the most of the time you do spend in the kitchen. So here are 7 tips for great cooking on a tight schedule:
1. Adjust the mindset
No matter how good your intentions or how much great advice you seek out, change and new habits don’t happen without making a commitment to an attitude adjustment. If the reason you don’t cook is that you hate the idea of cooking, then you probably won’t be able to spend more time in the kitchen just because you like the idea of it. To get anywhere with this, you have to commit yourself to the idea that cooking is both fun and worth the time. Start with an assumption that you’re going to spend an hour a day in your kitchen. If you spend less, great– but don’t come with an attitude that cooking is just an “extra” that’s taking time away from the real things you want to do.
2. Choose your battles
When it comes to new challenges in my life, I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of guy. I either want to plow through the entire issue right now, or else pretend it doesn’t exist. I think it’s called “perfectionism” or “being awesome” or something.
Anyway, the point is that you can’t tackle everything right this second. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to bake all your own bread and freeze a month’s worth of food and cut your grocery bill in half by next week. Pick one or two things and work forward from there. Trying to force yourself to eat only salads forever is a one way ticket to steaks-ville this weekend when you decide to never eat lettuce again. Work in some new veggies, cut $20 off your weekly budget, try a new recipe. If you’re learning to cook so you can avoid all the super-processed over-preserved foods in the store, buy the yuppie natural stuff for a little while as you learn to make it yourself. Let this be a fun process, not a stressful one.
3. Think ahead
The moments when I think cooking is a pain are when I’m already hungry and there’s nothing ready to eat. When there’s half an hour of kitchen time between me and the meal I want this second, suddenly cooking becomes a chore and a burden. So think ahead to your upcoming week. When will you have time to cook? What foods will you be in the mood for? Do you have the right ingredients already? Are you working late or going out any evening? A little time planning ahead can save a lot of work later on. I can’t tell you how often I come home exhausted and thank the Todd of yesterday for making sure there were enough leftovers for tonight.
4. Make your time worth it
Along those same lines, when you do set aside time to cook a meal, make the most of it and save yourself time later on. Are you making a loaf of bread? Make 3 or 4 instead. Are you making soup for 4 people? Make enough for 20, and while you’re at it blend up some salsa to freeze for next week. Rachel and I try to make 2 or 3 times as much food as we need on a given night, because we’ll always want it for lunches or nights we don’t cook. It takes around the same amount of time and the same number of dishes to make more of something, so save yourself the effort for a future meal.
5. Leverage the leftovers
One of the quickest ways to burn out on cooking is to try and cook a different meal every night. It’s nice to have variety, but it’s not necessary to create a new meal from scratch every time you walk into your kitchen. Learn to like eating the same food for a few days in a row, or better yet: learn little tricks and strategies for repurposing old meals into new ones. Old rice becomes fried rice, half-stale tortillas can be quesadillas, and I’m pretty sure most casseroles started out as a way to clean out the fridge. If you get tired of eating the same soup 17 days in a row, freeze the rest of it for when you’re in the mood again.
6. Cheat intentionally
By that I mean “cheat with an intentional attitude”, not “cheat on purpose”. We’re all going to have days where we lose our resolve to be involved in our food, but that doesn’t have to mean you have to sabotage all your goals. The problem with “just this once” moments is that you usually end up just-this-once-ing your way back to the same habits you had in the first place. So, know yourself better and plan ahead. Have some quick meals ready for those nights you don’t feel like sticking to the menu. Learn some easy desserts or some homemade comfort foods so you’re not out buying junk in a moment of weakness. Rachel and I have a bag of tortilla chips in our cupboard right now for an Emergency Nacho Night. It’s our way of having a backup meal when we’re sick of cooking, so we don’t wreck our budget (and our digestive system) by getting expensive takeout. Be smart about your cheating.
7. Try new things
This may surprise you, but one of the best tools for making cooking worth your time is experimentation. For one, it makes you start thinking more creatively and understand your food better. But more importantly, it gives you the chance to stumble upon new ideas and recipes that can work well with your appetite and schedule. If you only know how to make roast chicken and mashed potatoes, you’ll be amazed at how easy and delicious a stir fry can be. Or you might stumble across a vegetable or a new dish that blows you away and becomes a new favorite in the rotation. Maybe you suddenly realize that anything shoved into a tortilla or a pita tastes amazing to you. The more you learn and the more you try, the more ability you have to take control of your food and your schedule. Be adventurous! And be a good learner.
Hopefully that gives you a good start. Let cooking and living simply be a joy rather than a burden, and don’t let a busy schedule dissuade you from making some great changes in the way you eat and live!