Bust out the apron! April is all about cooking.
Do you like to cook? If so, what’s your favorite part about cooking? If not, why don’t you like it?
I love to cook. Mainly because I love to eat (haha). My favorite part about cooking is experimenting with new recipes or trying to re-create a meal that I had at a restaurant.
Cooking is a big part of my life, but I acknowledge that it isn’t for everyone. Some people find it difficult to follow recipes, or simply don’t like it because the amount of time it takes to prepare the ingredients and then actually do the cooking. However, you don’t need to fear cooking any longer! Below are some strategies and tips to help you streamline meal planning, prepping, and cooking as well as some of my go-to meals for those busy weeks when cooking every night isn't an option.
Deciding what to cook:
The first step in the process is deciding what you are going to make. There are a lot of factors that go into this:
you and your family’s preferences, allergies, and food sensitivities
the food that’s available to you
how much time you have
your cooking skills
If you are new to cooking, then I’d say start with some basic recipes and build from there. Go through your recipe repository and cookbooks to find some old favorites, or hop over to Google for some new inspiration. Maybe think outside the box and try “Meatless Monday” or make your own “Taco Tuesday” to keep things fun and interesting. When finding recipes online, aim for ones with the best reviews, and make sure you check out the ingredient list and nutrition information (if provided) before making your selection. Here are some good websites to get you started: The Food Network (healthy recipe section), Delish (healthy recipe section), EatingWell, Gimme Some Oven, and Love & Lemons. In addition, below are a few of my recent favorites:
Black Bean Brownies (this one is even kid approved, which says a lot in this house!)
Once you’ve identified the recipes you want to make, you need to start the meal planning process.
Once you know what you want to make, it’s time to gather the necessary ingredients and make your plan. Start by surveying your fridge and pantry to see what ingredients you already have and then make a grocery list for what you still need. When starting out, I’d recommend avoiding recipes with really unique ingredients that you aren’t sure you will use again. Determine when you are going to get groceries and when you are going to begin prepping and actually cooking. For many, planning and shopping over the weekend work well because they have more time than on a weekday. If you can’t physically get to a grocery store, consider a grocery delivery app/service if that fits into your budget. I’m a big fan of Instacart. I’ve been using it for years, since pre-COVID, and I love how it saves my previously bought items to streamline the process. I also like how I can compare nutrition labels. Finally, it also helps me stick to my list, versus walking up and down the isles where additional foods might mysteriously make their way into my cart!
Once you have your groceries, decide which days you want to make which meals. For those of you new to meal planning, I’d recommend starting with one meal at a time. For example, plan out your dinners. Once meal planning becomes more of a habit, I recommend planning out all three meals a day, plus snacks. Just remember to build in some flexibility to account for when life happens, and you need to adjust. When determining which day of the week you plan to make which meals, take into account if there will be any leftovers (and when you plan to eat them). I’m a big fan of the “cook once, eat multiple times” strategy as a huge timesaver during the week. Now it's time to prep and cook.
Meal prepping and cooking:
Once you have your recipes, ingredients, and plan/menu for the week, it’s time to think about meal prepping and cooking. Start by determining how and when the best time is to do the prepping and cooking. Some meals can be prepped in advance (where you cut everything up, marinate, etc.), while others may even be able to be fully cooked and stored in the refrigerator/freezer until you're ready to eat them. Depending on your schedule, Sunday may be a good day to prep and/or cook some of your weeknight meals.
For meals that you cook in advance, consider dividing them up into separate containers to help with convenience and portion control. It will also confirm how many servings of leftovers you have so you can decide if you’ll be able to eat them all or if it makes more sense to freeze some for another week.
Once it’s laid out like this, it seems more manageable right? But what about those weeks when you know you have to stay late at work or when your kids have activities every night and you know that home cooking just won’t be an option? For those super busy weeks, I’d recommend finding a healthy meal delivery service or two to keep in your back pocket.
Meal delivery services:
Now I know this blog is about home cooking, so talking about meal delivery services might seem a little counterintuitive, but even the most diligent meal planners and cooks need a break, get sick, or have weeks when there just really isn’t any time. For my local NoVa readers, I highly recommend MightyMeals. MightyMeals is located in Burke, VA and not only are the meals cooked fresh and delicious, they have tons of healthy options (regardless of dietary preferences and sensitivities) and all meals are fully cooked and can be re-heated in about 2 minutes. For those of you who don’t live in NoVa, there are tons of national companies you can try, but I’d also encourage you to look in your area to see if you can find something local. I’ve been able to find some really good options for my clients in other states.
Hopefully these tips and strategies have inspired you to give meal planning and cooking a try!
Until next time…Eat Well. Live Well. Be Well.