Why Should We Cook?
Having no time to cook is a big problem for many of us. Some don’t have regular schedules, others lack skills and tools. You can buy healthy prepared food, but you pay more for it.
I believe cooking is a skill everyone should have! Knowing how to cook, meal plan, and store healthy meals means more money saved, as well as meals available at home at any time.
One of the benefits to buying local is that it forces us to cook from scratch regularly. Sustainably raised local meat and produce are usually healthier and tastier than what you find at the grocery store.
But whether you buy local food or not, avoiding precooked and processed foods is important. They have preservatives, artificial ingredients, higher amounts of fat, salt, or sugar, and cost more.
Cooking seems to be a lost art for many. We work longer hours for less pay, and often have long commutes, kid activities to chauffeur, and have grown up in a culture of ready-to-eat meals. It’s easy to tell ourselves we have no time to cook if we don’t plan ahead.
If you weren’t raised in a family that cooked regularly, it may be intimidating to start now. After all, we can get restaurant food, frozen food, and fast food so easily! There are those that believe it is expensive to cook, and simply not worth the time and effort.
Telling yourself you have no time to cook is much easier than learning how to do it well. There are many ways to get delicious local meals on your table even if you don’t have time to cook when you get home!
Most people here appreciate local food, but may have no time to cook. Yet you know that making food from scratch is the only way to know what ingredients are used, so you know you are getting the healthiest, freshest food possible.
Finding ways to cook healthy meals with busy schedules is difficult. Remember, you don’t have to cook every meal from scratch, but every meal you make yourself saves you money, packaging, preservatives, and undesirable ingredients.
Quality ingredients cost less than quality restaurant food. A homemade hamburger will likely cost more than fast food, but it will be so much better for you!
Americans as a culture have been removed from the “chore” of cooking over generations by processed food manufacturers. We have been taught that it is better to cook a frozen meal or open a can of soup. Companies make more money off processed foods than fresh ones.
As we have moved to processed food options, we have moved farther away from real food. Learning to cook helps us have healthier relationships with our food.
In a world where kids don’t know how potatoes grow, where few know dandelions are edible, I prefer to cook local meals instead.
Improving your Cooking Skills
If you came from a family that didn’t teach you or show you the benefits of cooking at home, you have a steep learning curve. But anyone can learn! The internet is full of free and paid resources to show you techniques and good recipes.
Cooking classes are also options, if you prefer to have in person instruction. Community colleges offer many cooking classes. There are many private cooking classes offered in Maryland as well!
I assume most people here know the basics of how to cook meat, vegetables, and simple recipes. There are resources out there like How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, to show you simple recipes and how to prepare food.
Knowing the basics is helpful, and having the right mindset to keep learning is key. You don’t have to make pasta from scratch, but knowing how to make delicious homemade sauces and how to make enough for multiple meals is important.
Saying you have no time to cook often means you haven’t planned ahead, or lack the skills or energy to learn them. So start small.
Look at what you already make and like to eat, whether it is from a restaurant, a frozen meal, or something from scratch. How can you make it better? Can you make it from scratch? Does it freeze well?
Are there certain cuisines you prefer? What parts of them can be prepared ahead of time? Eating homemade food regularly with busy schedules may mean prepping foods for quick cooking later, or making large batches when you have time so you can reheat and enjoy them later.
Identifying what you like to eat is important. Learning how to make sauces and spice blends will save you money and time. Having a bunch of ingredients that you can mix up rather than a jarred sauce will teach you how to tweak your recipes to your taste, save you money, and allow you to substitute local foods.
Cooking is a journey, not a competition. A processed marinade might be easier at first, but look at what you buy and how you could make it yourself.
Having the Right Tools
If your schedule is unpredictable, you don’t have time to take an hour to cook for each meal. That means you are better off cooking ahead of time. That could mean making a lot of chicken to use in tacos, pasta, soup, stir fry or salads later in the week.
You might prefer making a large batch of stew or soup and freezing it for quick meals later on. Or you might want new tools that help you cook without you there.
A slow cooker can be very helpful for people who have no time to cook occasionally. If you know what your schedule will be, you can prep a bean soup, a beef stew, or even a whole chicken or pulled pork for an easy meal later.
Instapots are popular, but are meant to be used when you get home. They can cook foods that typically take a long time (tough meats and beans, for example) much faster.
If you have limited time for cooking, an Instapot could work for you to make larger batches of long cooking ingredients for later.
Your freezer is invaluable when you have no time to cook. You can prep all kinds of foods and freeze them for later. Double up on a soup or stew. Cook a lot of meat at once, then portion it out for later. Frozen vegetables roast well, so if you can’t get out to the farmers market often, you can buy more and freeze for later.
Well sharpened knives are a tool many overlook, but will help you chop and dice food faster when prepping. You might wish to prep vegetables for soups or stir fries later in the week, and keep them in your fridge, ready to go.
Mason jars are fantastic for freezing soups, pasta sauces, and homemade sauces or spice blends. Get some plastic lids to put on top, and you have an endless supply of food storage containers that can use the same replaceable lids.
Looking for solutions, rather than excuses, will get you thinking of lots of ways to make sure you have healthy homemade foods at home.
Pantry organization and lists can help make sure you have ingredients on hand at all times. Cooking is much easier when you don’t have to run out to buy something at the last second.
Getting local food can be a challenge if you don’t plan ahead. You might find a CSA that delivers. You might plan to visit your local farmers market each week or every two weeks. You could buy meat and certain vegetables and fruits in larger quantities if they last longer.
Prepping your local food may help. If you wash and cut your vegetables ahead of time, you will have one less step when it is time to cook. Putting frozen meat in the fridge a few days early will help thaw it.
You can also cook batches of meat for later meals. Cooked chicken, pork, and beef could become tacos, be added to pasta sauce, or put on a salad. A stir fry is much faster with meat that is already cooked.
Buying quality ingredients means simple meals are delicious with basic spices and sauces. Fresh vegetables and meat become healthy and tasty meals without complicated recipes.
Meal planning is very important. Especially if you know your schedule ahead of time, you could cook on less busy days and have leftovers on the busy ones. You can plan meals around sales as well.
Even if you have an unpredictable schedule, meal planning a week or more at a time means you have ingredients on hand. Knowing what you have at home and what you plan to make with it will help prevent decision fatigue that sends you to convenience foods.
Meal planning is easier if you have themes to choose from. You might do a beef night, a vegetarian night, a fish meal. You might prefer planning by cuisines, like Asian, pizza, Tex Mex, or breakfast nights.
Having a few meals in the freezer will help you avoid the expense of going out. Make larger batches of foods that freeze easily. Freeze pasta sauce, beans, and casseroles for quick meals.
Create a list of easy, quick meals. Have those ingredients on hand. Keep a list of what is prepped on your fridge so you can easily make pasta, or tacos, or just breakfast for dinner.
Double batches of easily frozen meals should also be listed, so you don’t lose them in the back of the freezer.
If you find yourself craving restaurant meals because you want pizza, or burgers, learn to make your own options that taste better and can be in the freezer for those nights. A prebaked pizza crust can be frozen with toppings for later.
Fresh herbs can make good meals become great ones. Growing some herbs inside or out is easy to do, and saves you money and time. Fresh herbs are highly perishable, and are expensive because they don’t last long.
Growing your own food might seem silly when you already have no time to cook, much less garden. But a fresh herb garden saves you time and makes your meals even better.
I’m sure you have friends or neighbors who also are time crunched. You might reach out to them. Maybe you could trade off cooking by picking different days to make larger batches, then sharing them with each other.
Buying in bulk, joining a CSA, growing your own herbs, all can help save you money. Even if you can’t buy local food right now, learning to cook fresh ingredients from the store will save money. A well stocked pantry will save both time and money.
It can be difficult to think outside the box when you are swamped with little free time. It’s worth it to start small. Eating healthier meals will make you healthier as well, giving you more energy during your free time.
If cooking sounds hard, or like a chore, you won’t want to do it. Changing your mindset can help. Planning ahead of time makes it easier, and building better habits around food prep will also help.
Make cooking fun for you! Share with friends and family, take time to taste ingredients, learn new skills, perhaps try new tools. Look at it as a fun challenge rather than a chore.
As you get better at cooking, it becomes easier and faster to do. You’ll realize you can make better food at home than you can get at a restaurant. It takes time to learn new skills, but they are valuable.
Of course, all of us will end up eating food out some of the time. The better you cook, the less you’ll enjoy restaurant meals, but sometimes you’ll appreciate the convenience. Aim to cook more than you go out, and your body and wallet will thank you!
If you don’t have time or skills for cooking, start small. Pick a meal or three and plan them out. When you eat out, ask yourself how you could make it yourself.
Search online for advice – there are always copycat recipes to look at, and tutorials out there for anything. There are sites dedicated to batch cooking for the week or month. There are sites for slow cooker recipes.
Finding time to eat healthy homemade meals isn’t hard, once you learn the skills of planning and cooking. Meals don’t have to be fancy or expensive to be delicious and healthy.