One of the most common challenges that people experience when it comes to food is making the decision to cook more at home versus opting for fast food and other on-the-go options. The benefits of eating home-cooked meals are clear. Studies have shown that home-cooked meal eaters are more likely to eat smaller portions, more fruits and vegetables, and less sodium. Additionally, it goes without saying that eating at home is better for your budget than eating out.
Last but not least, my favorite perk of cooking at home versus eating out is that it allows you to connect more with your food. When you’re eating out all the time, you don’t get to experience the creativity that comes with putting meals together. You miss out on the chopping and the mixing and the stirring, which can be meditative if you let it. And you miss out on knowing exactly what’s going in your food (which is okay sometimes, but every once in a while it is a good thing to make that connection).
I want to mention that I am definitely not immune to eating out. Just because I’m a RD and writing this post doesn’t mean that I home-cook every meal or am completely against eating at restaurants. Trying new restaurants is actually one of my favorite things to do – it allows me to explore and try new foods and connect with my loved ones. However, I recognize the importance of getting back in the kitchen which is why TODAY I’m sharing some of my tips to help you do the same!
A few weeks ago, I posted a call for questions on social media asking you guys what holds you back from cooking at home. The responses I got are what I’m focusing my tips on. Do you have a challenge that’s not listed here? Let me know in the comments and I can brainstorm some more ideas to help you out.
Cooking For One – This is hard! When you’re cooking for yourself only, finding the motivation to cook can be incredibly difficult. Additionally, many recipes out there are family-sized and the thought of having tons of leftovers & food waste is enough to scare anyone away.
- Make less. I know, easier said than done. But just because a recipe calls for 8 servings doesn’t mean you have to make 8 servings. Simply use a measurement converter to cut recipes into your desired amount of portions, and you’ll be all set.
- Embrace leftovers. If you don’t want to convert a recipe, just make the whole thing and enjoy leftovers for meals throughout the rest of the week. You can also freeze any leftovers you have to eat at a later day, week or even month! Another way that you can embrace leftovers is by bringing them to work the next day and sharing with your co-workers, if you’re able to.
- Simplify. You don’t need to make complicated meals for yourself (or anyone, for that matter!). Omelets, wraps, smoothies, stir-fries, soup, oatmeal…these are all healthy EASY options that you can add fruit and/or veggies to to up the nutrition content. Still not sure what to make? Here are some easy recipes that you can try.
- Invite friends over. There’s no better way to get rid of excess food than sharing it with your friends. Show off your cooking skills AND spend time with your loved ones (score!).
Too Tired – I totally feel you. When you’ve had a long day, the last thing you want to do is make a meal. Here are some things you can do to overcome the tiredness that depletes your kitchen motivation:
- Meal prep! Meal prep! Yes, it’s a trend right now, and it’s a trend that I can get on board with. Do you have an hour or two of free time on the weekends, or even during the week? Why not spend that time pre-chopping veggies or cooking up a batch recipe that you can portion out and eat throughout the busy week? Meal prep does require a bit of work, but being able to just pop something in the microwave when you’re too tired to cook makes it worth it. Need inspiration? Here are some healthy meal prep recipes for you to try.
- Take a rest. I think a lot of us struggle with cooking in the evenings after work because of the notion that we “have” to cook immediately after work, which isn’t true. One way to overcome this is by taking a breakwhen you get home. Take a nap, do some yoga, read a book, take a walk – anything that will help re-energize you and put you in the mood for cooking. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes of relaxing to replete your energy levels.
- Get some help. If you’re cooking for a significant other/spouse, roommates, kids and/or other family members, that can be exhausting. Know that you don’t have to do it on your own! Put those who you are cooking for on dish duty, or have them help you with the actual meal preparation. This will save you some energy and makes it more fun when everyone is involved.
Not Enough Time – It’s no secret that prepping and cooking meals takes time. We all have a million things on our plates, yet we forget about the importance of putting actual real food on that plate (see what I did there?). Here are some ways that you can overcome the challenge of not having enough time to cook:
- Prioritize. Let’s face it: when we say we don’t have enough time to cook, we’re not making it a priority. Sure, cooking does take some extra time. But it doesn’t have to take hours upon hours…and if you truly want to start cooking more, you will find the time. If you have time to check social media, watch Netflix, pick up takeout, and even read this post, then you have time to cook! Once you make cooking a priority, figure out a way to schedule it in. Maybe you set aside 2 hours on a weekend to meal prep, or 20-30 minutes on a few weeknights to cook something quick. Really all it takes is a mindset shift, where you start thinking of cooking as an important part of your life rather than a burden.
- Meal Prep. This is probably the 10th time I have mentioned meal prep in this post, but it’s truly a solution to many healthy eating challenges, including lack of time. See above for more of my thoughts on meal prep.
- Make it easy. While you are trying to figure out how to make time to cook at home, a potential solution is to purchase pre-prepped foods. Several grocery stores offer pre-chopped fruits and veggies, in addition to meats that are already cooked and seasoned. Additionally, you can find lots of healthy options in freezer sections these days, especially at stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. One downfall to purchasing pre-prepped foods is the extra plastic, packaging, and cost that comes with it, so I do not think this is a long-term solution. But it’s a good place to start!
But….I don’t even know how to cook!
That’s okay! You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to figure out how to put simple, healthy meals together. Below are some tips to help you jump-start your cooking skills. Before you know it, you’ll be a pro in the kitchen.
- Get inspired by finding recipes you’d like to try online and in cookbooks.
- Invest in a cookbook or two that is focused on cooking skills for beginners or simplistic recipes.
- Subscribe to a meal delivery service, such as Hello Fresh or Blue Apron. These handy services deliver ingredients for easy-to-make recipes directly to your door. They provide you with step by step instructions so you won’t be completely lost. These are a great place to start if you are new to cooking. Many of them offer free trial meals or a few free ones after you subscribe.
- Take a cooking class. Many grocery stores and community education centers host these. Cooking classes will teach you basic cooking skills to help you feel more comfortable with cooking on your own.
- Reach out to a friend or a family member who cooks. See if they would be willing to share some of their kitchen wisdom with you by cooking a meal together.
- Talk to registered dietitian (hi!). Not only are we nutrition experts, many of us are also passionate about cooking and we all have our own tips and hacks for preparing more meals at home. If you’d like even more advice to help overcome your cooking challenges, don’t hesitate to reach out to me!