People who cook at home have better diets than those who don’t. Seems simple enough, right? Er, right. In reality, while most of us would like to cook at home more often, it can sometimes feel next to impossible: we don’t have time, we’re too tired, we don’t know where to start, it’s so much easier to pick up food, we can’t even make a grilled cheese right—it all just gets to be too much.
The truth is, cooking at home can be much more manageable than you might think. And the benefits—money saved, real food, greater nutrition, lowered risk of preventable diseases, healthier family dynamics—are too important to be ignored. Follow our ten tips to make cooking at home a reality in your own life, and who knows…you might even enjoy it!
1. Start small
Nothing stops a new habit faster than biting off more than you can chew. Take an honest look at how often you’re cooking at home right now and set modest goals from there: Already cooking twice a week? Up it to three. Don’t even know how to turn on your oven? Start with once a week. You can always increase the frequency from there.
2. Keep things simple
Choosing overly-ambitious recipes and menus can leave you overwhelmed, causing you to abandon your home cooking goals. For everyday cooking, especially if you’re just getting started, it’s best to keep things simple. Find one or two sources for healthy, uncomplicated recipes, and make them your go-to’s. Follow a healthy, simple recipe board on Pinterest, buy a highly-rated cookbook of easy weeknight meals (bonus: gorgeous photos!), check out blogs on cooking whole foods, like The Sprouted Kitchen, or join allrecipes.com for free and sign up to receive their “daily dish” or “healthy bites” emails.
Cooking at home takes planning and forethought. Choose one day a week to think through meals for the following seven days and make a shopping list (keep in mind ingredients that can be stretched across multiple recipes/meals—e.g. Use tonight’s grilled chicken to make chicken salad for tomorrow’s lunch). There are various websites and apps that can help you organize and streamline this process—here are reviews on seven of them.
4. Join a CSA
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and when you join one you’re basically buying a share of vegetables from a local farm. Once a week (or bi-weekly) the farm will deliver a box of fresh, seasonal produce, either to your home or a central pick-up locale. Having so much produce on hand (without having to go pick it out yourself) gets you to start planning meals and menus around vegetables, leading to healthier eating. Check out a list of San Diego CSA’s, and then this list of what to do with some of the weird veggies you’ll soon be introduced to.
5. Prep as much as possible in advance
This one can be tough (at least it is for me!), but the less you have to do when it’s time to cook a meal, the better. Do any chopping or pre-cooking you can when you get home from the market or the morning before the meal. For example, if you’re sautéing carrots for a dish, peel and slice them before you put them away in the fridge, or if you buy a head of lettuce you’ll be using for salads, chop it right when you take it out of your shopping bag. If you already know that there’s no way this is going to happen, consider dropping a little extra money on pre-prepped ingredients (e.g. chopped butternut squash (one of my faves), diced onions, chopped broccoli). And don’t forget to delegate prep tasks to other family members, too—these are valuable, healthy skills that kids need to learn—so put them to work!
6. Invest in a few kitchen staples
The more you enjoy the experience of cooking, the more likely you’ll actually do it. Having the right tools makes all the difference. De-clutter your kitchen by taking a little time to get rid of old pans and low quality knives. At minimum, you want to have one good, sharp knife, about five pans (preferably one being cast iron), and, the busy chef’s bff, a slow cooker (more on this in a moment). Other helpful tools to consider are a digital meat thermometer, a knife sharpener, and a food processor.
7. Behold the slow cooker
Throwing stuff into a pot, walking away, and coming back eight hours later to a delicious, warm meal? Yes, please! Slow cookers are an inexpensive, time-saving tool that you can use to make soups, meats, chili, and much more. Get one for $19 at Target, and you’ll be serving up yummy, healthy dishes like these in no time.
8. Make leftovers and frozen meals
Having a strategy in place for those days when you’re just too tired and hungry to cook can keep you from hitting up the drive through. Simply cook more than you need of a recipe, fill up tupperware containers once it’s cooled, throw them in the freezer—and voila!—homemade frozen dinners. Leftovers also make lunch the following day a snap: just throw what you didn’t eat for dinner into a tupperware container (my favorite is Pyrex glassware) and grab it before leaving the house in the morning.
9. Keep some “assembly only” ingredients on hand
Keeping ingredients in the house for no-cook meals in another strategy for eating at home more often. Healthy wraps and salads are easy options when cooking a full meal just isn’t going to happen.
10. Let yourself enjoy it
Cooking for yourself and others can be a truly rewarding and enjoyable experience—it lets you step away from the rest of your to-do list, and gives you a chance to focus on creating something that will nourish yourself and your loved ones. If you don’t feel that way about cooking yet, don’t worry—you will! In the meantime, make it as fun for yourself as possible: put on some of your favorite music or an interesting podcast, pour yourself a glass of wine, and allow yourself to enjoy the process. And don’t forget the best part of all—sitting down to enjoy the delicious meal you prepared with your own hands. Bon Appétit!