Do you live a busy life - at work and at home? Does the idea of making nutritious, healthy and tasty meals at home seem daunting? You're not alone. We totally get it. It’s not just about cooking the food, but also getting yourself organized to get the necessary goods beforehand, and cleaning up the kitchen after you’ve cooked. So yes, there’s some labour involved, and doing it all may not seem like an easy feat. But, hang in there... it can definitely be done!
Here’s our take on what makes an effective home chef:
- Cook big
Love cooking? Sure, although you may not always be in the mood to do it. Sometimes, at the end of a long tiring day, you probably just don’t have the energy or desire to cook. To save yourself from these situations, you could develop a habit of cooking large batches of food, particularly meat entrees, so that they’re good for multiple meals (e.g. at least 4) for you and your household members.
Once you've cooked a large batch of dish, you could split it into two smaller batches - one batch for immediate consumption and good for about 2 meals, for example, and the other similar sized batch for storage in the freezer for future consumption.
Want to know the best thing about this? Whenever you pull your freezer open and just pick from a selection of yummy, home-cooked dishes, it feels like “stealing” someone else’s dinner entree!
A few things to keep in mind:
- Meats generally freeze well, as well as dishes like macaroni and cheese. Just make sure you properly thaw and warm it up before serving, and you wouldn’t be able to tell whether the dish was just freshly cooked or otherwise, unless perhaps you’re very particular or you’re a sophisticated food connoisseur!
- We suggest following the hot>lukewarm>cool>frozen cycle in freezing and thawing cooked food. After cooking, allow the dish to cool down to room temperature, immediately store in the fridge for a few hours or overnight, and then move it to the freezer. Conversely, when thawing, take the dish out of the freezer and keep it in the fridge for a night or so until it is no longer frozen, and then warm it up on the stove, conventional oven or microwave oven.
- Choose storage containers that are safe for use in the oven, microwave, fridge, freezer, and dishwasher.
- Store cooked food in the freezer for no longer than two months, to ensure food quality and safety.
- Be disciplined
Plan to cook 1 or 2 key entrees per week. For example, you could use one of your weekend days to cook a large batch of food. Yes, that's following habit #1. Weekends can be busy with a gazillion of activities, chores and/or social events. So this is where discipline comes in. You have to set aside time to cook, especially for dishes that are more involved or take more time to prepare and cook. Find the time that works best for you.
Just before mealtime on weekdays or weeknights, you could then just cook a side dish or two (e.g. a vegetable dish, and a starchy food like rice or potatoes) that are easy, less involved and can be ready from preparation to cooking within 15 minutes.
- Stock up
Keep a good supply of ingredients and pantry items that would allow you to make quick meal solutions, like a pasta dish. Here’s a sample list of items to keep in stock at all times:
- Aromatics like garlic, onion, ginger
- Peppers and mushrooms
- Vegetables like green beans, carrots and broccoli
- A pack of frozen shrimp (great for stir-frys or adding to a pasta dish)
- A pack of Chinese dumplings, or perogies (dumplings filled with potatoes, cheese, etc.)
- A bag of frozen green peas, carrots and corn (useful for making fried rice, or as an instant side dish)
- Instant, pre-made sauces (e.g. Indian butter chicken, Thai curry, etc.)
- Dry pasta and several jars/cans of pasta sauces
- Chicken broth (great for making soups or for adding flavour to dishes)
- Keep a List
Maintain a list of grocery items you need to get on your next shopping trip on a rolling or ongoing basis. You could do this by using a pen and paper, and sticking the paper in a common area so that you (and others) can continue to contribute to it.
If you’re tech savvy, you could find a mobile app such as Flipp that helps you do this, organize your list by product or by aisle, and more!
Screenshot of shopping list by grocery department, from the Flipp mobile app
Keeping an active list of grocery items to buy helps to you stay organized and efficient, and eases the task involved in pre-cooking.
Be open to culinary “discoveries”. Exploring new recipes, including a different take on preparing a certain dish, and new cuisines, would certainly help expand what you (and your taste buds) are familiar with, which could allow you to become more savvy, inspired and creative in your cooking.
- Choose healthy
Expose yourself and the folks in your household to healthy yet tasty dishes, if you haven't started doing so. Think Dr. Seuss’ green eggs and ham, and give yourself and everyone else (including young kids) a chance to develop a taste for it.
Also, your task as a home chef will become easier when everyone you cook for has an appreciation for common, healthy eats!
- Take a break
Yes, taking a break is an important, re-energizing habit. It’s just like taking a “sabbatical” every now and then. If financially manageable, order in food, or go out to eat.
The side benefit of this is that you could get inspiration from food made and presented by others.
What do you to stay on top of home-cooking? We’d love to hear your thoughts!