Inside: Learn tips to help you enjoy cooking at home to save money and eat better.
You know you should be cooking at home to save money, but you sort of...hate it.
And that's no good because it's a big job and something that you have to do every day. Instead of just forcing yourself into the kitchen night after night with a bad attitude, let's explore some strategies that will help you actually enjoy this endless task.
How to enjoy cooking (Really.)
1. Keep your kitchen clean
This is a pretty simple one. If your kitchen is always a mess, it's going to make cooking difficult and frustrating. And who wants to cook in a stressful environment? But if you keep the surfaces cleared off, your sink emptied of dishes, and your stove free of spills, cooking won't feel like such a burden. This won't necessarily make you love cooking, but it will definitely make you hate it less.
Some practical tips:
- Run your dishwasher every night and unload it every morning. No more wondering if you should run it or suddenly running out of spoons.
- Never ever ever EVER go to bed without doing all the dishes.
- Get in the habit of deep cleaning one thing in your kitchen per day so you're never overwhelmed by it.
- Declutter your counters and cabinets so you can clean them easier.
Of course, having the right tools and fresh ingredients is lovely. But a clean kitchen will give you more enjoyment than anything else.
2. Start with plenty of time (more than you think you need)
Rushing to do anything stinks. And when you're in a hurry to cook, the whole thing feels even more miserable.
So, start cooking with plenty of time until dinner. Never try to get dinner done in 20 minutes. Allow yourself an hour and a half minimum for cooking if you want to enjoy it. Take out ingredients early in the afternoon, get a head start on chopping, and stop procrastinating. It will make the cooking process so much more enjoyable.
And do not try to make more than one meal at a time. Ever!
3. Make things ahead when possible
One of the most useful things you can do to make cooking at home easier is pre-make things like sauces, condiments, and dressings. If you're marinating chicken for dinner, try making the marinade in the morning instead of at night. It means one less thing to worry about before bedtime.
Also-give yourself some extra time on the weekends for meal prep. That way you can do all that hard work at once and relax during the week when you're tired.
Professional chefs fully separate cooking from prep, and always pre-chop, make sauces, and do anything else they can beforehand. That might be a little extreme for home cooking, but definitely take a look at your menu ahead of time. If your recipe calls for cooked rice, why not make it ahead of time?
I recommend planning a fully make-ahead recipe one night per week. (This means a dish you are making in a slow cooker or pulling out of the freezer.)
4. Find inspiration in cookbooks
Food gets a lot more fun when you have a recipe to follow. Having a book with gorgeous pictures and clear instructions on how to cook something is going to make the process feel exciting and new each time.
Do not, however, buy cookbooks with recipes you'll never use. Look for ones with realistic recipes, accessible ingredients, and simple techniques. Some favorites that will help you get dinner on the table:
- Dinnertime from the Pioneer Woman
- Barefoot Contessa Family Style
- America's Test Kitchen Cookbook
Do not look for flashy cookbooks promising to help you channel your inner chef. You want family friendly, approachable recipes that you'll really want to eat.
5. Meal Plan
You've heard it before. But you have to really do it.
Meal planning takes so much mental pressure of you. Once you've decided what to make for the week, it's easy to just follow the plan.
You'll know exactly how much food you'll need, what to shop for, and will have a better idea of how long it will take to cook.
Tips for making meal planning work:
- Set aside a specific time to do it. Sunday afternoon is a natural choice.
- Organize your favorite recipes in one central place
- Start with a weekly meal plan, and work your way up to a monthly plan
6. Get help
Family meals should be a family effort. Even if you're the one that cooks, try to involve everyone else in some way.
If you have kids, ask them to help prep vegetables or wash the fruit. They're often excited to help and it keeps them busy.
6. Cook What You Like
When you're first getting into the habit of making your own meals, don't focus on eating healthy food you'll hate. Just cook food that you enjoy eating! Think about what you order at you favorite restaurants, and prepare similar dishes.
6. Organize Your Cooking Space
Alright, my friends. Most of us are doing this wrong. Your kitchen should be organized in zones so that you can stand in one space and work efficiently.
- Set up a prep zone with knives, a cutting board peelers, etc. This should be near the sink.
- A baking zone with measuring cups, dry ingredients, and mixing bowls. Put this somewhere near a big stretch of the countertop.
- A cooking zone with tongs, pots, and spatulas. This should be near the stove.
Take a look at your kitchen. Is it set up in a way that makes sense? How can you enjoy cooking when it's a challenge to find things?
7. Take advantage of shortcuts
If you hate cooking, making everything from scratch is silly. Home-cooked meals do not have to involve homemade tortillas and Julia Child recipes. There's nothing wrong with doing things the easy way, especially when it helps you get a warm meal on the table.
Consider these tips :
- Use frozen veggies: They're cheap, clean, and precut.
- Buy a rotisserie chicken: Perfect for soups, salads, and casseroles, this is usually cheaper than roasting one yourself.
- Take advantage of gadgets: If you have a slow cooker or pressure cooker, use them!
They're time savers and can make all the difference when the idea of making dinner feels like too much.
Make sure you have some fast recipes in your rotation so you don't feel like every night is an hours-long cooking fest.
8. Clean As You Go
There's nothing worse than spending hours cooking and then having to deal with a huge pile of dirty dishes. So if you're in the habit of scrolling on your phone while you're cooking, let's turn that energy towards getting a head start on cleaning up.
Just fill a large bowl or pot with hot soapy water and throw things in there as you use them. While you're waiting for things to cook or bake, load the dishwasher or scrub.
Make sure you put away ingredients when. you're done with them, too, or your kitchen counters will be an overwhelming mess after one meal.
9. Have a Drink
Do you really just hate cooking? It's time to associate it with some more enjoyable rituals. Meal prep feels less like drudgery and more like fun when you lighten the mood.
Some things to try:
- pour yourself a glass of wine
- turn on the radio
- put a little bouquet of flowers on your kitchen windowsill
10. Fix Your Attitude
Do you hate cooking because you think you're bad at it? Everyone is bad at first. You'll develop cooking skills by preparing your own meals, not by obsessing over how terrible you are.
Do you feel like it's taking time away from your family having to cook every night? Time in the kitchen together can be a great way to spend time together as a family.
Do most meals you make not go over well with your kids? I have rarely cooked a meal all three of my kids like. Oh well! Sometimes they make a meal out of fruit and rice and I don't worry too much about it. Life is not an endless parade of our favorite foods.
Learn to love cooking
I hope these tips for how to enjoy cooking at home have been helpful. If you're feeling stuck or frustrated, don't give up! You can improve your relationship with dinner and the kitchen by starting small. First, identify what's causing your anxiety - is it a lack of time? Maybe you need help from others in the house so that meal preparation feels like less work. Once you know where to start, try implementing one strategy at a time until things feel more manageable.
For more on managing your kitchen and meals:
- How to keep a well-stocked pantry, on a budget
- Tips on avoiding food waste (Because it's super annoying to throw out food you worked hard for!)
- Frugal kitchen hacks
- How to really save money on groceries
You can start to enjoy cooking. Or, at least, hate it a little less.