Home Cooking Strategies for Busy Lives
Home cooking has many benefits. This is especially true for people who have digestive issues and/or want to eat healthy. You know exactly what is going in your meal and you can control for the amount of salt, sugar, and fat. There is also the added plus that it is less expensive. When cooking at home, you can enjoy making old family recipes and food from your culture, as well as cooking together with your family and friends, teaching your children how to cook, and making memories. When I was young, I loved watching my mother and grandmother cook. It is how I learned to cook and began to understand the benefits of pure ingredients. However, most of us lead very busy lives in which we are pulled in many different directions and are exhausted. Finding time to cook homemade meals can be difficult. But, there are ways to make cooking at home a manageable and fun experience. Below are tips and strategies that I learned from my working grandmother and mom, developed myself over the years, and picked up from others.
Keep your pantry full with the basics: Once a month I go to the bulk section of my food store to buy beans, oats, grains, nuts, and seeds. I also stock up on frozen vegetables and fruit and other items I need that are not perishable. Then once a week I go to the farmers market and store to pick up fresh vegetables, fruit, bread (I keep my bread in the freezer so it stays fresh all week), and dairy products. My food shopping each week ends up being quick and easy and it helps save on grocery bills. Additionally, a stocked pantry allows me to cook simple meals when I don’t have a chance to go to the supermarket. For example, one of my go to pantry meals is quinoa made with frozen peas and almonds.
Food Savers: A friend of mine buys naturally raised meats from a farm that requires a road trip. To help them buy meat less often they wrap fresh meat in heavy plastic and suck the air out so it lasts longer in the freezer. You can do this with meat, vegetables, fruit, coffee, etc. She recommends the GameSaver.
Have a couple of hours to cook? One smart option is to cook complete meals in bulk and then pack them up in individual containers to have for the week. Another option is to make specific foods in bulk and mix and match throughout the week. I tend to go with the second option. Typically one to two days of the week, usually a Sunday and Wednesday night, I cook a few items that make getting dinner ready faster and easier. Below are some examples.
- I roast a butternut or kobucha squash that I can add to salads, quinoa, or rice.
- I cook dry beans and grains like rice, quinoa, amaranth, or millet in large amounts. I love brown rice with beans and veggies, lentils with millet and spinach, and roasted veggies and tofu as meal options.
- I hard boil eggs to add to salads or have as a snack.
- I prewash my lettuce or precut veggies.
- I double or triple my soup recipes.
Take it slowly: Slow cookers are a huge time saver. You can make a stew, chili, soup, and other dishes. Throw everything in the morning, make sure to double or triple your recipe and your good to go for a couple of meals.
Have an extra freezer? My mom and sisters would spend one Sunday every year making enough meatballs and sauce to last a year. It was a fun day project with music playing and very satisfying as we put all the labeled containers in our freezer. Throughout the year, we would take the meatballs out to defrost the night before or morning of when we would have it for dinner. Right before dinner all we needed to do was heat up the food as we cooked the spaghetti and prepared a salad or vegetable. Dinner prep was about 15 minutes.
Don’t have a huge freezer? Then cook two instead of one. For example, double your lasagna recipe. It takes the same amount of time to chop and bake but you end up with one lasagna that can last a couple of meals over the week and you have another one for another week. Make and freeze a couple of pizza doughs. These do not take much space and pizza is an easy meal to make when you come home tired. Precutting your veggies on the weekend can make the prep even faster.
Know your schedule: If I know I will be out late on a Tuesday, I make sure on Monday that I have food ready for both Monday and Tuesday. This prevents the desire to pick something up on the way home or call for take out.
Time it right: A night when I am exhausted and have nothing already prepared will not be the night that I make an elaborate dish. I know how long it takes for me to make certain foods. For example, I can make quinoa (about 15 minutes), grilled tofu (< 10 minutes), and sautéed kale (< 5 minutes) within twenty minutes including prep. I can make a healthy and filling salad including salad dressing in less than 10 minutes.
Give yourself a break: Going out for dinner and getting take out once in awhile is a treat so on those nights when you just want a break, enjoy it!
What tips do you have to make preparing dinner easier?
Photo found on PEXELS