Cooking used to be a bit of a four-letter word at our house. Neither my partner nor I particularly enjoy it, and when you combine our general disinterest with time constraints and picky palates, cooking becomes a chore. Though I don’t think I’ll ever full-on love cooking, I definitely don’t mind it anymore, so I want to share my strategies with you in hopes that dinnertime can be more enjoyable at your house!
- Plan Your Meals in Advance
I know you aren’t surprised that this is my first suggestion, but this needs to be said. Simply put, meal planning makes cooking go smoothly. We typically plan a week at a time, but you can definitely plan a few weeks’ worth of meals and recycle those plans. Since most people who hate cooking have an extra hard time with meal planning, I want to break this idea down with additional tips:
Objectively evaluate your time, schedule, and appetite. For us, this means I look for recipes with no more than 10 ingredients that can be made (from stove to table) in 30 minutes or less. These limitations often result in meals that are kid-friendly and easy to make, which is helpful when my partner and I need to “tap out” in the middle of cooking to help with all the random things that crop up, like diaper changes and homework. It’s also important that you determine the number of meals your family needs during any given week, and that you consider that against the amount of time you honestly have available to cook. If you know you don’t have a lot of time any given week, you can plan for that by doubling one or two recipes for leftovers, or scheduling a crockpot recipe or “breakfast for dinner” night (pancakes are super quick!).
Limit Your Options
This tip might seem odd, but you can get easily overwhelmed by the sheer volume of recipes, and that can prevent you from completing your meal plans. By identifying types of foods or certain cooks you enjoy, your choices will be naturally limited to recipes that work for your family. I love recipes by Skinny Taste and Gimme Some Oven, so I save my favorite recipes from those sites and check back every once in a while when we want to add new recipes to the mix.
Another great way to limit your options is to have theme nights. Some popular themes include Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Whole30 Wednesday…you get the idea. The benefits to this approach are that the theme dictates your recipe options while also ensuring you have variety in your menu (assuming your themes differ from day to day or week to week).
Maximize Smart Technology
As much as I adore beautiful cookbooks (for the photography!), I source my recipes and conduct my meal planning on my phone. I save and categorize all our recipes in Pinterest, and then when I’m planning meals I cull through my board, pick what I’m going to make, and generate a list of ingredients – also stored on my phone. The beauty of this system is that I can plan meals while I’m nursing the baby, “watching” a movie, waiting for an appointment to start, or riding in the car. You certainly don’t have to use Pinterest, either; you can save and organize recipes in any number of platforms, and there are numerous apps that provide meal and grocery support. The point is to make meal planning as accessible as possible.
Another bonus to using technology is that you can easily share the cooking responsibilities in your household. For example, if my partner gets home first, I simply copy and paste the recipe or a link to the recipe and text it to him so he can start cooking without me. This is also really helpful when schedules change at the last minute!
Categorize your recipes so you can quickly find what you need. I distinguish “favorites” from new recipes we have yet to try, and I delete recipes we dislike. I also separate out recipes based on certain dietary restrictions so that I can quickly find recipes that exclude allergens when needed. Other ways to organize your recipes are by cuisine, theme, or diet (such as paleo or keto). If you’re maximizing your smart technology, organizing your recipes should be pretty simple and easy to set up and maintain.
2. Shop Once per Week
If you don’t like cooking, you probably don’t like shopping for groceries, either. I know I would much rather shop one hour a week than 15-20 minutes a few days a week (or more, if you don’t have a recipe in mind!). If you plan your meals ahead of time, you can easily achieve this goal, which makes cooking much easier and hopefully creates more free time.
On this note, when you generate your grocery list, write down every ingredient from the recipes unless you’re 100% positive that you have enough of each item on hand. (If you want to recycle meal plans, make sure your lists include all the ingredients regardless.) Before you go to the store, run through your pantry and fridge and delete items from your list once you confirm you have them already. This takes literally 1 or 2 minutes and is a sure-fire way to have everything you need when it comes time for strategy #3.
3. Mise en Place – Sort Of
Do the bulk of your meal preparation in advance, whether that’s at the beginning of the week or the night before. You don’t need to measure out all of your spices and oils (although you could if you wanted to!), but I do recommend that you cut, peel, chop, slice, cube, etc. your produce and proteins at least a day ahead of time. This way, when you get home and everyone is hangry and you have 20 minutes to get a meal on the table before you have to start the bedtime routine, you can actually do it. I like to prep on Sunday nights, and it usually only takes me 30-45 minutes to prep everything for the week, which is well worth the convenience.
Another great tip here is to get comfortable with substitutes! We love using jarred minced garlic, pre-cooked rice, basil paste, and other pre-made ingredients that cut down on preparation and cooking time without sacrificing flavor.
4. Final Notes
You might find that your grocery bills are a little higher than usual the first few weeks. This should level out after your pantry is stocked with the primary oils, spices and seasonings from your recipes. We’ve found that, now that we’ve narrowed in on the cuisines and recipes we like, our grocery lists are shorter and our bills are lower than before because we’re utilizing our pantry items more frequently and using produce across multiple recipes each week (plus, yay for less waste!).
Once you’ve got dinners down, try adding in lunches or breakfasts. We typically eat leftovers at lunch, but breakfast planning is fun and a big hit at our house! I love making muffins, energy bites, or breakfast cookies because these recipes are fast and healthy, and one batch usually feeds the kids for a few mornings. As an added bonus, kids can self-serve these types of breakfasts, which helps your mornings go more smoothly, too!
How do you make cooking enjoyable? I’d love to hear your tips!