How many times have you said this: “I’d love to cook more at home, but I just don’t have the time”?
Cooking at home can seem daunting: there are so many factors to consider, from planning to shopping to actually doing it... and of course, cleaning up. It's a time-intensive, work-intensive process that we can always find an excuse to get out of. Few people have hours to prepare elaborate meals seven nights a week. It is no wonder so many of us just opt for takeout instead.
The trouble with this is that restaurant food often has more salt, more oil, and more sugar than we might add if we made the dish ourselves. Restaurant dishes are created to be flavor sensations, not health-conscious, and most chefs are most concerned with impressing your taste buds. There is absolutely a place for decadence and treat foods, but when we consistently distance ourselves from what we eat and how it’s made, we lose touch with what our food can do for us. We lose the sense of empowerment that comes from exerting some say over what goes into our bodies.
Not to mention, eating out is far more expensive than cooking at home. Even if you shop at a high-end, all-organic supermarket, several takeout meals in a week will easily eclipse that grocery bill.
So how do the people who manage to make meals at home - and enjoy it - fit it into their week without going crazy?
Read on for seven habits of happy home cooks and how you can start implementing them this week (and if you're looking for a little more guidance, check out the Rewire Your Food Brain e-Course... we dig into all of this in a bunch more detail).
Pick ingredients to focus on for the week. Begin by narrowing things down a little. Select one or two proteins (tempeh and black beans, for instance, or two animal proteins if you include these in your diet), two or three grains (quinoa, millet, and buckwheat; barley, oats, and brown rice), and three or four vegetables (choose from starchy [sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, parsnips], green [kale, chard, romaine, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage], or other non-starchy types [eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms]). These will help you choose the recipes in the next step, and some will be your ‘staples’: simple foods that can reappear in different forms throughout your week. Grains, beans, and prepared veggies are a great place to start. Also consider which fats [oils, nuts, seeds, avocado] and spices you'll use [see below].
Plan your recipes. Grab your focus ingredients list, then sit down with your favorite recipe book, blogs, favorited Twitter posts or Pinterest to create a list of 'must make' recipes. Search by ingredient or for recipes that combine a few of your focus foods for efficiency. Then procure a weekly calendar, which can be as simple as sheet of paper with the days of the week written across the top. Next to each day you will need to prepare a meal, jot down a recipe you’d like to make followed by a list of the ingredients you'll need. Then take a step back and look at your list as a whole: are there other ingredients, apart from your focus foods, that appear in multiple recipes? Which nights would be best for leftovers? Which recipes will yield enough for two meals worth? Double check that there are a variety of foods scattered throughout your week. Create your shopping list using this list and put it somewhere handy (like in your phone or in your wallet).
Set a date with yourself to shop (and prep). Prioritize this! Choose two days during the week where you can make a little time to do something health-supportive for yourself. Bank on at least half an hour in the store - your list will help keep the time commitment down. You will also need about two hours to prepare for the week, plus another block of time mid-week to play catch up with anything. Shopping and preparing en masse is more efficient than several grocery trips and from-scratch cooking projects throughout the week.
Get into the kitchen - and get multitasking! You can do a lot in two hours in the kitchen. You can prepare multiple elements for different meals all at once. Take advantage of the momentum of peeling and chopping to ready the components of all your week's recipes. Once the oven is on, it's fair game to throw in anything for the week (think veggies, casseroles, roasted proteins, quick breads and breakfast bars). Batch-cooking your staple foods can be really efficient, too. A pot of beans, a few cups of cooked grain, and a big batch of sauce can go a long way in several recipes, and you'll save time throughout the week by getting it done at once.
Use spice for variety. You've prepared a big pot of brown rice... but who’s keen on eating the same thing with the same flavor for seven days straight? Consider spicing up your meals - to avoid food monotony - by incorporating different spices each day of the week. Have a stash of spices handy to add Indian [allspice, coriander, cumin, turmeric], Thai [basil, garlic, ginger, pepper], Mexican [chili powder, cumin, onion, oregano, paprika], or Italian [garlic, onion, oregano, parsley, red pepper flakes, thyme]-inspired flair to basic grains and beans all week. Get creative! Check out the Staples + Spice posts for some easy ideas.
Supplement with some precooked additions, or try out a meal ingredient delivery service. Companies like Sweet Roots NYC will send prepared, portioned ingredients to your home along with a simple recipe: all you need to do is throw it together. Adding in prepared whole food options, usually found in the fresh ready-made section of the grocery store, can also offset a little of the work you need to do. This could be anything from a pre-made batch of edamame to a pre-tossed salad to pre-baked wild caught fish. Saving a little bit of time might afford you a few extra minutes to get creative with how you use these ingredients.
Be flexible with yourself. Not every recipe will turn out perfectly, nor will every week’s meal preparation feel seamless. Embrace the adventure with a spirit of joy and nourishment, and cut yourself a little slack for any accidental charring or undercooked noodles. After all, the most important part is that you're rolling up your sleeves and taking ownership of your food -- and in doing so, taking ownership of your health.
My compliments to the chef!
What will you make this week? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below!