One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to come up with monthly “resolutions” for myself and for anyone who follows this blog. Cooking Light magazine (which is one of my favorite sources of recipes and ideas for healthy living) had the same idea, so I am shamelessly borrowing their healthy habits!
Last week I had a fairly common conversation with one of my residents. She told me that with her schedule it’s almost impossible for either parent to cook for the family. Secondly, she said when she does shop for food, she buys everything she thinks she might need… and half of it goes bad in the refrigerator. They have resorted to picking up take-out as their solution to the problem. There are at least two major problems with this strategy (and a lot of other minor problems): 1) It costs a LOT more and 2) It is clearly not going to be as healthy.
I know this is a common scenario, hence why this month’s resolution is to cook at least 3 meals a week at home. It’s doable! Here’s how to get started:
Change your mindset about cooking.
Cooking is not hard and it doesn’t take as long as you think. There are some basic skills you have to know, but you can start small and add new skills one at a time. Make up your mind that you are going to acquire this important skill and practice! Start with one simple act – sautéing an onion. Here’s how to cut up an onion and how to sauté. If you get this one simple skill down, you’ve learned the beginning of many, many recipes!
Make a plan
Decide ahead of time what you are going to cook and write it down. You can map out the whole week if you are a “gunner” – but, at a minimum a) find 3 recipes for the week b) make a shopping list for the ingredients in those three recipes and c) go shopping. If you plan ahead, you’ll have everything you need – but not a lot more (so no more growing interesting molds in the back of the refrigerator). You’ll also be able to really eat well when you are on call (which is the hardest day to plan for).
Remember the pizza rule.
No one who is really busy has time to do fussy cooking. You should look for recipes that take less than 30 minutes (the time it takes to order a pizza). I’ve posted a lot of recipes that meet this requirement (use the tag marked “recipes” to the left of this web page). Another strategy is to pick a cookbook, one issue of a magazine, or a website (some of my favorites are listed below) to choose the week’s recipes. Another option is to subscribe to a site that will send you weekly menus (and will also automatically make your shopping list) – like Six O’Clock Scramble ($54.50/year) , Send Me Recipes ($65/year), Dinner Planner, ($60/year), or Make Dinner Easy (free).
Cook ahead for the week
It’s boring to eat the same thing over and over… but it beats buying fast food on the way home. If you cook a big casserole or stew on the weekend, you’ll have it for meals on call, late at night or lunches. If you really want to cook just once for the entire week, you can double the recipe or make two different dishes at the same time, and freeze portions for later in the week.
Supplement your main dish with lots of fruits and vegetables
If you don’t have a steamer basket, this is a cheap piece of kitchen equipment that is really worth having. Almost any vegetable can be sautéed or steamed and it’s really easy to do. Buy vegetables fresh, wash them, dry them and then store (clean) in the refrigerator (one less thing to do when you are tired). Refrigerator to plate will be less than 10 minutes for most veggies. (Here’s a table of cooking times for vegetables.) Leftover steamed vegetables make a great “salad” by themselves (just add some olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper) or as an addition to other salads. You can also toss them into scrambled eggs or an omelet. Having steamed potatoes in the refrigerator is particularly helpful – they are great in salads, with eggs, or just as a snack. Frozen vegetables are more expensive, but are perfectly fine, too.
Make a list of “emergency” meals (<5 minutes) for nights you are completely exhausted and really, really don’t want to cook. (And keep these items in your pantry and/or refrigerator.)
Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Scrambled eggs or egg whites (with leftover veggies and/or cheese if you have them) with toast.
2. Angel hair pasta (takes 3-5 minutes) with bottled spaghetti sauce with a green salad
3. Veggie (or regular) hamburgers (from the freezer) with a green salad
4. Couscous with canned beans, canned tomatoes and any leftover (or frozen) vegetables you have
Websites for “pizza rule” recipes
My favorite magazines to cook from
Cookbooks worth buying