What comes to mind when you think about your kitchen? For me it is peaceful, tranquil, a stress reliever. It brings me joy: where creativity is housed. It is the place where both my belly and soul are nourished.
Not everyone shares those same emotions though. Not everyone sees a kitchen as a happy place. Cooking at home can be scary, tiring even. It can be filled with negativity. For some it can be merely the place where coffee is hurriedly chugged on the way out the door. Where granola bars and yogurt live.
Cooking at home does have its benefits. It can be almost five times more expensive to order delivery than to cook a meal from scratch in your own kitchen. Homemade meals can also be prepared in more nutritious manners than take out or store-bought meals. Ingredients can be controlled more easily when prepared at home, yielding meals that are specifically tailored to individual needs. In addition, an overwhelming majority of kids’ meals (93%) served at chain restaurants fail to meet basic nutrition standards. That’s right, they do not even meet the basic requirements, let alone have enough nutrients for optimal health.
Cooking can be very simplistic. It does not have to be five-course meals every night. There are ways to make cooking easier and a little less stressful (maybe even fun). A huge overhaul does not need to happen in order to be effective. Small, simple steps can be taken to make homemade meals easier to accomplish.
Here are six tips to make preparing meals at home a little easier:
Focus on Macros – Macronutrients are the three fundamental building blocks of human nutrition: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (micronutrients are vitamins and minerals). Although the ratio of the three will vary based on diet, ideally all three should be present at every meal and snack as they are essential for proper health. If you are having trouble figuring out what to include in a meal make sure all three macronutrients are being represented on the plate. Aim to get all three from whole food sources as much as possible, (i.e. carbs from vegetables and fruits; protein from meats and eggs; fats from olives and avocados, etc.). In order to not get overwhelmed, just focus on ensuring you have a protein, fat, and carb source on your plate. Do not stress about preparation as that will fall into place.
Meal Prep – Preparing a meal when you are tired, hungry, and overwhelmed may not be the most enjoyable. So why not save some time by chopping up ingredients when you do have the time and energy to do so. There is nothing wrong with chopping the entire onion, even when you only need a quarter for one recipe, or slicing up zucchini to have on hand for soups or sautés. Having ingredients ready to go will make cooking easier (and quicker). It can motivate you to cook more meals at home when all you have to do is toss a few things into a pot or pan.
Choose Versatile Ingredients – I cannot stress this enough. Choose ingredients that can be prepared in a variety of ways in order to avoid meal boredom. Cauliflower can be roasted, riced, steamed, mashed. Avocado can be made into guac, used to top salads, as a sub for mayo in spreads and sauces. Spinach can be the star of a salad, thrown into smoothies, sautéed with garlic. If you choose ingredients that can be altered and used in a variety of ways, there is a better chance you will never be bored of it.
Simplify Recipes – Recipes are guides, not rules written in stone. Feel free to alter recipes as needed to suite your needs and availability. Spoiler alert: usually not all ingredients listed in a recipe need to be added. Most spices and herbs can be omitted or interchanged with others. Using five types of vegetables instead of seven in a soup will probably not change the end result of the soup. Using red wine vinegar instead of balsamic in a vinaigrette recipe will not be the end of the world. If the thing stopping you from trying a recipe is the fact that the ingredient list is extensive, simplify it to a place you are comfortable with. Often, there is space for wiggle room.
Spices Rule – Spices add so much flavor to a dish. They may be a little pricey, but always remember that a little goes a long way. Experiment with spice blends as needed. They can change the flavor profile of an ingredient easily. Your chicken can take a Moroccan turn one day and a Cuban twist the next, simply by switching out the spices being used.
Love What You Love – No judgement. No reservation. Love what you love to eat and accept it. Do not stress about learning how to make something you don’t like to eat. If you can’t stand steamed vegetables, then don’t steam them. Roast them, bake them, sauté them, munch on them raw. Trust me, it will be fine. Don’t throw away your opportunity to prepare a meal simply because you dislike making something the way a recipe calls for it, or because it is the “right” way to prepare it. Experimenting with food is only fun and enjoyable if you find it so. If not, then it will be torturous and that will only lead to less time cooking and more time ordering delivery. Embrace the things you do like to eat. Remember, cooking is about making food enjoyable. Once you feel comfortable enough to try a new ingredient or method you will, but until then keep making what you feel comfortable making.