You know that feeling when you're starving, open your fridge, and wish it looked like a Sweetgreen salad bar? Let's get real for a moment: the temptation to just order in food and sit on the couch is very, very real. But the fact of the matter is, cooking at home is better for your health, and better for your wallet.
Unfortunately, there are obstacles when it comes to cooking at home.
- For starters, there’s the time element. We all lead busy lives, so let's be honest, spending an hour making dinner is the last thing you want to be doing when you get home.
- Then there’s the boredom factor. Making one big batch of chili for the week may ensure that you have food, but by Wednesday you’ll be eating the same chili for the fourth night in a row. No thank you!
- Finally there’s the issue of food waste. Going to the grocery store with grand ambitions to cook is great, but if you don’t have a strategy, you might find yourself throwing half of your food out a week later because it all went bad. That's just an unnecessary dent on your wallet and on the environment.
If you strategize well, cooking at home can mean that you have a variety of healthy, delicious food available anytime you want it! Here’s how it's done...
1. Batch cook. (Yes, "duh" I know, but the devil is in the detail.)
Obviously the way to prep for the week is to cook in quantity. But rather than thinking in terms of a single composed dish that you’d find in a cookbook or on a restaurant menu, think in terms of individual foods that you can mix and match to create different delicious meals. For example, if you make three vegetable sides, two cooked grains, and three proteins, you’re guaranteed at least 18 different possible meal combinations. This will keep you from getting bored of the same exact meal day in and day out.
Keep in mind, you only need to prep the foods that take a while to cook and/or stay well in the fridge. Think: roasted vegetables, cooked grains, and cooked proteins. In fact, try to stay away from making foods that are really only good when served fresh, like guacamole, which browns, or sautéed spinach, which gets soggy.
2. The freezer is your friend!
Freezing leftovers in small individual containers can make putting together a gourmet meal extremely easy. For example, if you have a pint of homemade Bolognese sauce just sitting in your freezer, pull it out and serve it with the spiralized zucchini or spaghetti squash you have pre-roasted in your fridge and you have yourself a perfectly balanced, delicious meal!
3. Dressings, spreads, and dips are the key to variety.
Having multiple dressings and spreads on hand can help keep your meals interesting. For example, say you have a bowl with greens, faro, roasted cauliflower and grilled chicken. Simply add guacamole and salsa and you have a dish full of Mexican flare. The next day, take the same base but mix in a dollop of hummus and lemon tahini dressing, and that dish gets a total transformation. Boredom averted!
4. Stock your pantry smartly.
Having to run to the grocery store is one of the biggest obstacles to getting homemade food on the table, so a well-stocked pantry can make all the difference. Keep whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, and faro on hand to round out your meals. Canned beans, tuna and salmon are perfectly legitimate sources of protein to top a salad or grain bowl. Raw nuts and seeds are also a great addition to a salad or bowl and provide nutritional benefits of healthy fat and fiber. Finally, invest in your spice rack. Simply adding a teaspoon of turmeric, curry, and cumin, can make an ordinary dish seem, well...less ordinary!
5. Raw food is nature's fast food.
Raw produce, like lettuce, cucumbers, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes are a great way to freshen up and fill out a dish with pre-cooked ingredients. The best part? They take zero cook-time!
6. FIFO: First in, first out.
This is a rule that all efficient restaurants use, and is something that households should try and adopt as well. By using produce as you buy it, you decrease the chances of having to throw out moldy food. The trick to this is to stock your fridge from front to back, with the newer food at the back and the older food at the front. This way, you know which foods to use up first. The result? Less food wasted, which means less money wasted! Its a win-win!
7. Allocate time that works for you.
Usually, people like to do their cooking over the weekend because that’s when they have the most free time. Setting aside 2 hours to clean, prep, and cook your food is a good idea, but if you don’t have that much consecutive time, you can definitely do it in increments. For example, spend 30 minutes cleaning and prepping your groceries so that when you have an hour free later on, all you have to do is cook! Bottom line is, do what works best for you.
8. Don’t try and be perfect!
For someone who doesn’t regularly cook, starting to make home-cooked meals is already a big enough endeavor. Don’t try and put out 5-star chef quality food...at least not in the beginning. Cooking is a process of trial and error. You may burn things, you may undercook things – but you will get the hang of it and learn along the way. The trick is not to be afraid! And definitely don’t be afraid to experiment with new flavors, ingredients, and spices – you never know what deliciousness you might discover!