As a meal prep expert and food writer, the most common excuse I hear from people who are struggling in the kitchen is, "I hate cooking."
Unfortunately, I find that a lot of people who hate cooking also eat out more often because it feels like an easier fix. So this week we are going to focus on the difference between cooking and preparing food. Because there is a difference and once you start to realize your own setbacks and pitfalls, you can figure out your own tips and tricks to work around your struggles and make life easier in the kitchen.
Cooking vs. preparing food
Let me ask you this: Do you consider making a sandwich to be cooking?Technically, it fits into that category. Cooking is defined as “the practice or skill of preparing food by combining, mixing, and heating ingredients.” But a sandwich? Most of us wouldn’t give too much cooking credit to making a sandwich.
The difference between cooking and preparing food differs for every person. And your attitude towards cooking plays a big role in establishing that difference. I love to cook. So planning a week of meals and coming up with fun ideas is something that truly excites me. That might not be your jam but there are ways to simplify your routine to keep you from eating out all the time.
Figure out why you're eating out
In our house, there are two times we order out for dinner -- when we want something specific (like Thai food or pizza) and when we don’t have anything ready to be prepared.
Not having anything prepared is a rut we all fall into at times and while it is completely avoidable, it’s also a situation where people tend to lean on their "I Hate Cooking" crutch. It’s likely not that you hate cooking, it’s that you are overwhelmed by the idea of having to start from scratch. So you look at the task ahead of you and the amount of work and decide it’s not worth it.
Every meal doesn't have to be exciting
Here’s where I remind you. Every meal doesn’t have to be the most exciting meal of all time. That realization can be a tough pill to swallow, especially in a world where whatever you want to eat is just a call or click away.
Sometimes you just need to eat what you have at home and move on. No excuses. No "I hate cooking." You put together some food, you eat it and you move on.
Here are five tips that can help you break your rut.
1. Buy the big stuff ready-made
What do I mean by the big stuff? The main parts of your meal. For most of us, that tends to be protein. Every grocery store has a selection of prepared meat products that only require chopping or reheating, from the incredibly versatile rotisserie chicken at your neighborhood store to the hickory smoked pulled pork at Costco.
This method helps you out the same way batch cooking does; having parts of your meal ready to go means you can cut out a lot of the prep time and move right into assembling your meal.
2. Clean and cut up your vegetables ahead of time.
If you’ve been reading For The Week for a while, you’ve probably now heard me recommend this close to a thousand times.
But hear me out. Let’s go back to the moment you open the fridge after work. You’ve just walked in the door, you’re exhausted and now you have to find something to eat. The door swings open and sitting in front of you are rows and rows of plastic containers full of chopped vegetables ready to be used.
Instead of being overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead of you, you can dive right in to getting a meal put together. Which leads me to my next tip.
3. Don’t make more work for yourself than you need to.
In less than one hour, you can have all your produce cleaned, cut up and properly stored in your fridge for the week ahead. And that includes cleaning up. Now think about all the extra work you would add to your list every day if you cleaned and cut up your veggies as the week went on.
That small commitment takes so much off your plate and it might just be the barrier that is pushing you out of the kitchen.
I like to follow the rule, if I am making a mess in the kitchen I want it to be worth it. What do I mean by worth it? I mean that mess is giving me more than one meal. Even if you make extra to throw in the freezer, adding this method to your mindset can help you think beyond just that one meal.
4. Throw money at the problem.
The easiest way to do this is to seek out a meal prep or meal delivery service. As someone who loves to cook, I’ve never subscribed to one myself but I have cooked them with friends and was plenty surprised by the experience.
You can throw money at cutting down your prep time. Many grocery stores offer pre-cleaned, pre-chopped vegetables and as I mentioned earlier, purchasing pre-cooked protein options is a great way to cut down on your weekly routine.
Now here’s where a lot of people say, "that’s too expensive for me." Yes, this type of living is an investment in your life. But all those impulsive, impromptu takeout meals? Those add up too. While those takeout meals offer convenience, they aren’t teaching you how to change your ways and if you really want to change your routine that’s an important distinction to make.
5. Use your grill.
It’s grilling season and it might be the easiest time to break up your meal prepping rut. The prep work that goes into grilling is very simple so it’s the perfect type of cooking for someone who doesn’t like cooking. If you have never used a grill before, you can start with pre-cooked sausages and brats before moving onto chicken breast and steaks.
When it comes to vegetables, keep in mind water-heavy veggies are going to cook faster and can become soggy quicker. Using the foil wrap method – I call it a little foil sleeping bag – is a great way to help keep your vegetable from turning to mush.
It is impossible to take all of these tips and immediately add them into your routine. I suggest finding one that you think will work for you and then start where you are. You won’t become a meal prep expert overnight, but you can make your own routine better so don’t hesitate to pick and choose what’s best for your lifestyle and your goals.
I also encourage you to go back and read my For The Week on Fridge Foraging and how it can be a beneficial addition to your kitchen routine.
Like Lindsay’s work? Find her recipes, blogs and videos here on Bring Me The News or on her website. Or follow her on social media @LindsayGuentzel on Twitter and Facebook.
You can also email her directly at email@example.com.