It’s officially March. So by now, some of you have probably started to revert to bad habits you promised yourself you’d leave behind in 2015.
Especially on the cooking front, I understand how easily good intentions can devolve into once again ordering in Thai food on the couch. Without the proper plan for execution, preparing clean meals from scratch every day can feel like an impossible burden. Here are some strategies to help you make home cooking into a more realistic part of your week so that your time at the stove can be a joy, not a chore:
1. Stock your pantry.
One of the biggest deterrents to getting started in the kitchen is the initial stocking of the pantry. However, keeping cabinets filled with necessities means there’s always the possibility of dinner without having to resort to a) leaving the house, b) takeout, or c) pita chips and hummus. This up-front investment will help you stay committed to working your way through all the great whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds you’ve added to your shelves.
2. Shop at the farmer's market.
When you throw away food, you’re flushing money down the toilet. And when you invest in higher quality fresh ingredients, you have an even bigger financial incentive to ensure those ingredients don’t die a slow death in your fridge. Cooking is a habit-forming activity, just like going to the gym. You have to intentionally carve out time in your schedule if you want the practice to stick. Going to the farmers market on weekends is a great way to start nurturing the ritual of cooking.
Which brings us to ...
3. Batch cook on a weekend afternoon.
Setting aside an afternoon on weekends to batch cook for the week ahead is a strategy that can help most people strapped for time, no matter what your day job or income bracket.But that’s just one of the benefits. Cooking in advance also makes you less wasteful: the beauty of planning ahead for one session at the stove is that you’ll use your veggies start to finish without all those scraps left to wilt. Plus, you’ll feel inspired to actually eat your leftovers. You might toss a half-eaten container of sad-looking moo shu pork that you had delivered, but you won’t want to throw the fruits of your own kitchen labor in the trash.
4. Rely on one-pot wonders.
Whether you’re batch cooking on weekends or just making one dinner here and there, choose recipes that hit all the food groups and can be made from start to finish (think stir fries, casseroles, stews), and then round out those “mains” with simple building blocks like roasted vegetables and precooked grains. Once you have one hardy, complete dish, the task of making it into a meal becomes much simpler. Usually just a green salad will do, no prep necessary. And the less cutting boards you have to clean on a weekly basis, the better.
5. Only drink wine at dinner if you’ve made it yourself.
If you’re the type of person who loves to pair a good glass of wine with your meal at the end of a long day, use this as an incentive. You have to earn that glass! This can have a positive impact on two fronts. The way I see it, cooking for yourself means far fewer additives (like sugar, butter, and salt) and full agency over what you’re putting in your body, which allows you that much more wiggle room to indulge in other areas. Plus, it makes eating out that much cheaper if you do fall off the cooking wagon.