5 Tips for Hassle-Free cooking
the secret ingredient is always love...
My history with food essentially boils down to dinner-in-a-box (think Hamburger Helper). I have never been taught how to cook properly and have developed unhealthy eating habits. I suffer from picky-eater syndrome (not really a thing, but it does provide it's challenges) and am prone to be lazy.
I say all these things to show that even if you lack knowledge and have developed poor habits, like me, that it is entirely possible to change your lifestyle and cultivate life-giving habits. It will likely feel quite overwhelming to even think about trying to learn how to cook, but I encourage you to just focus on one small thing you can do today that will get you into the kitchen.
While I still have quite a lot to learn, these 5 tips for hassle-free cooking have truly made a positive impact in my progress. I hope that by sharing my journey so far it will inspire you to start yours, or continue pursuing that which matters to you!
why you should learn how to cook?
Just like with anything meaningful and worth pursuing, cooking has a huge learning curve, so it's important to establish your "whys" to keep you in the kitchen when things inevitable don't turn out quite right. Here are a few "whys" to help you get started:
It's important to you | If you are reading this then you clearly have a desire to either implement home cooked meals into your daily routine or at the least want to know how to make cooking hassle free.
It's easy on the budget and waistline | The two biggest benefits to home cooked meals is that it's less expensive in the long run and much better for you health-wise.
It's rewarding | Hard work gets a bad rep these days, but there is nothing quite like enjoying the fruits of your labor.
It tastes freaking GOOD | Home cooked meals, in general, are much more tasty and satisfying than any overly-processed meals you can find in the supermarket or fast-food restaurant.
7 tips for hassle-free cooking
FIND A COOKBOOK that works for you
At the start of my journey of learning how to cook, I scoured the internet for yummy recipes, and while I did find a few I enjoyed, it wasn't until I started using a cookbook that truly changed my experience for the better in the kitchen. I found the simplicity of using a cookbook much more preferable to trying to find a random recipe on the internet and hoping for the best.
My cookbook preference is Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines. The recipes are well-rounded (everything from core meals to appetizers to dessert) and truly the definition of a home cooked meal.
tips for finding the right cookbook for you:
Not all cookbooks will work for you, your lifestyle, or your tastes, so in order to help you with choosing the right cookbook, here are a few things to look for:
fits within your taste | As a picky-eater, I can attest to having a cookbook full of ingredients that you don't like is only going to lead to frustration in the kitchen. Use a cookbook that has enough recipes for you to play with, or at least enough flexibility to swap out ingredients.
inspires you to stay in the kitchen | Cooking should make you feel good and the cookbook you use will play a huge part in that experience.
full of well-rounded recipes | You will want to have a cookbook that has plenty of recipes for several different categories such as your core meals, dessert, sides, etc.
test drive a few | It may be hard to know which cookbook is right for you until you actually use it, or you may find that you enjoy using more than one (at this point in my journey, I just wanted to keep it as simple as possible). You could rent a few from the library, borrow from family, or just buy a few to play around with!
2. Clean + Declutter Kitchen
Nothing has made me want to stay out of the kitchen faster than a messy kitchen.
As much as I hate doing the dishes, I know that if I don't get them washed up before I begin cooking, I am going to be mega-stressed, as I am highly influenced by my environment.
It's helped me to simply get into the habit of washing them either as I am cooking (i.e. when a meal needs to be in the oven for awhile) or at the end of the meal as one meal's worth of dishes is much more manageable than days worth of dishes, am I right? You could also make a deal with the others in your house that if you cook then they have dish duty.
I also took the time to declutter and reorganized my kitchen in a way that made sense to the way I cook. Having the tools and dishes I use most often near my prepping station has increased my efficiency and makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable.
3. Use inspiring kitchenware
It's not necessary to invest a ton of money into new dishes and tools for the kitchen (unless that's within your budget!), but I found that I was more inspired to stay in the kitchen when I had tools that either made cooking easier or just simply made me feel good because they looked nice (is that weird?)
For a well-stocked kitchen, these are some the tools that I recommend investing in, if you haven't already:
a good cutting knife | If you can, I would definitely splurge on a good cutting knife than anything else on this list as there is nothing more annoying than a poor cutting knife.
garlic press | Almost every recipe I make calls for garlic and there is nothing more time-consuming than trying to peal and chop garlic by hand. This is the one I use.
crockpot | Nothing makes cooking easier than a crockpot!
mixing bowls | If baking is important to you, you will definitely want a few different sized mixing bowls, at least one large and one medium.
baking dishes | You will need to invest in a few different sized baking dishes that are oven safe, like these.
pots + pans | This is pretty obvious, but including it for good measure! You may also want to invest in a cast iron skillet.
steamer | I prefer steamed over baked veggies, so having a steam is a must for me. It makes cooking them super easy and yummy! You can opt for a stove-top version like this one or a counter-top version like this one. I actually have both and while I prefer the stove top, it is helpful to have a counter-top version as back up to save space on the stove when I need it.
utensils | This is where you can opt for super cheap, but when I can, I invest in better quality options because they do add to the cooking experience. This would be a great set to invest in!
spices | Spices are an essential tool for cooking, and will take a meal from good to great! These are the spices I use most often: salt + pepper (of course), Italian seasoning, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, garlic salt, garlic powder, onion powder (this is a great alternative to onions if you don't mind the taste, but hate the texture, like me), seasoning salt, bay leaves, and cumin. I use cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and allspice for baking dessert! This will, of course, be highly dependent on the type of food you prefer to cook.
4. PLAN AHEAD + MEAL PREP
There is so much to learn in this aspect of cooking that I know I've only scratched the surface, but if I have learned anything it's that if I don't plan ahead, I plan to fail. I am much more likely to stick to my healthier eating habits when I plan my meals out for the week ahead.
Since I am still quite new to this, I have made it as simple as possible for myself. This is typically my strategy for meal prepping:
For Breakfast and Lunch | I eat the same thing all week (or at least 4-5 days of the week as I am a bit more flexible with those meals on the weekends). As I develop better meal prepping skills, I will venture into diversifying those meals throughout the week, but for right now, that is just where I am at skill wise and time wise.
For Dinner | I look through my cookbook and choose four main dishes + side dishes for the week ahead. There are often leftovers that will make up for the "unplanned" days.
MY MEAL PREP ROUTINE
Once I have all my meals picked out for the week, I use my meal plan + grocery list PDF to write out all my meals and ingredients I need to buy from the store.
I try to keep my breakfast real simple - 2-3 eggs if scrambled, or 2 hard-boiled eggs, 2 strips of turkey bacon, and half a grapefruit. If I am not up to cooking, then I will opt for a bowl of Kashi cereal with almond milk.
Lunch is the only meal that I typically cook in advance, which is often a soup as it tends to last for severals days and reheats very well. So, I will cook a big batch of it on Sunday, and then divvy it out between 3 mason jars. Since I have the 32 oz jars, 1 jar equates to two days worth of lunch (which also means less dishes) for me.
Dinner is my time to truly play and experiment with food. I like to begin with reading through the recipe instructions a few times and then pulling all the ingredients, dishes, and tools I will need out onto my prepping station.
There are a couple bits of advice I have when it comes to cooking a big meal, especially dinner-like foods:
reread the ingredient list in advance | There has been plenty of times where I was confident I had everything I needed only to discover half way through prepping that I was wrong! It's important to slow down and read what the recipe calls for thoroughly.
read the instructions in advance | There are many recipes that will need to marinate or refrigerate 24 hours, or at least several hours, in advance and you don't want to discover that once it's too late.
make the recipe work for you | You don't always have to follow a recipe to the letter! Think of a recipe as a template for you to follow and add your own flair to truly make it your own. If you want to omit or add more veggies or seasoning, go for it!
give yourself plenty of time to prep | Since I am a newbie to cooking, the time it takes me to prep and cook a meal is often much longer than as stated (more so the prepping part than the cooking part). This may not be a huge deal to some of you, but for me, I need to have dinner done by a certain time since my husband works overnight. So, I always like to give myself an extra 30-60 minutes to prep.
From there, my husband and I gather around our kitchen table to spend time and enjoy our meal together before he heads off to work. I also use this time to get his opinion on the meal because after all it's truly for him (and our future kiddos) that I am wanting to cultivate this habit. It helps me become not just a better cook, but a better cook for our particular family by learning what he does and doesn't like about a meal.
5. Keep Practicing
There were quite a few times where I didn't time something right, I was missing an ingredient, or it simply wasn't a great meal, and it just wrecked me emotionally.
It hurts to put so much effort and love into a meal only for it to not turn out right, but you have to embrace that learning how to cook is going to be a messy and imperfect process. What matters most is that you keep showing up in the kitchen and giving it your best effort.
If a particular routine, cookbook, meal, or kitchen layout (or any other roadblock) is not working for you anymore and is impeding your progress, then change it up! There is no need to stick to something if it's not helping you cultivate what matters.
A year from now you will have wished you started today, so get cooking!
Learning how to cook can feel overwhelming, but if you slow your mind down and just take it one day, one meal at a time, you will inevitable cultivate this new habit into your life in no time! If cooking at home is important to you, what is one thing you can do today to help get you into the kitchen?