How to Make Cooking Easy When You Don't Really Know How to Cook
I recently shared this photo on Instagram (are we friends there yet?!), and a friend commented saying, "You make everything look so easy!"
I ALOL'd (actually laughed out loud) when I read that. Because if you're like me, the kitchen can feel intimidating. Up until a few years ago, my kitchen was a place where I heated up Lean Cuisines and where I made pasta every night because all I had to do was boil water.
I had very little experience in the kitchen. Everything felt foreign to me. I wanted to make healthier meals, I just didn't know how.
Then I started reading food blogs, which made cooking seem cool. Some food bloggers broke everything down step-by-step. They helped me to feel braver in my own kitchen and made me feel courageous enough to attempt recipes I would never have considered before. Free education!
At first, it was A LOT of trial and error. There were a lot of meals that I threw out because even *I* couldn't bring myself to eat them. But over time, I gradually got better.
Now, I am nowhere near a chef, or even a food blogger, but I can make healthy meals that are delicious (sometimes even good enough to serve to other people!). It took time, practice, and a lot of patience. But now I enjoy cooking. It's relaxing, and I even find that it's now a creative outlet for me!
What helped is that I created a process that works for me. And that's what I'd like to share with you today.
Step 1: Decide What You Want to Eat!
Food bloggers and books on Kindle are my favorite ways to find recipes to try because they are easy to access, store and consume.
When I find a recipe I like I save it to Evernote via Evernote's Web Clipper. You can also save it to Pinterest, but I prefer Evernote because I can still access it without wifi (if wifi isn't available). To organize my recipes in Evernote, I use tags like, "Breakfast", "Sweets", "Seafood", "Vegetarian" - you get the idea.
In the past, I only saved recipes that were simple (easy-to-follow directions and the fewest amount of ingredients). You may do this too, depending on your level of comfort in your kitchen.
For me, I feel comfortable enough now where I'm able to tailor a recipe to meet my personal preferences and skills, so as long as somethings sounds appealing to my palate, I save it!
Step #2: Plan When You Will Cook
No one wants to cook every night. What I prefer to do (and I've incorporated this into my programs) is to "batch cook", meaning, cook once, eat 2-3 times!
Every week I set aside an hour (it usually takes less time that that) to plan out my meals for the upcoming week. Breakfasts are the quickest meals to make (99.9% of the time a smoothie for me) so that's a no-brainer.
I always plan dinner first. I look at my calendar and see if there are any social plans that I have - those are nights I don't have to cook! I count how many remaining nights there are, then decide what foods I want to eat.
I schedule what recipes I want to make on my designated nights to cook. I actually add this to my calendar. In fact, I have a color-coded Google calendar just for meals! This way, I can add in links or notes to recipes in the "event."
As for lunches, if I have leftovers I will have that for lunch. Otherwise, my lunches are very simple - a protein and some greens. That can mean a stir fry, a salad, or sometimes it's merely another nutrient-packed smoothie.
Step #3: Go Grocery Shopping
Once I have my gameplan for the week, I make my grocery shopping list.
I have a love/hate relationship with grocery shopping. I love going to the Farmers Market and grocery store and seeing all the pretty produce that's in-season (seriously, I do).
I hate having to battle crowds of people, bumping into other grocery carts and screaming kids running up and down the aisles (#sorrynotsorry). To avoid the chaos I try to grocery shop during off hours. I used to grocery shop on Friday afternoons, but lately, everyone else seems to do that too. So now I grocery shop on Monday afternoons. I'm fortunate that I have a flexible schedule where I can do this. If you don't I suggest Friday evenings (aka my favorite time to go to Target).
As for my shopping list, again, I use Evernote for it. I have a running list of staples that I buy every week. And that list is organized according to the layout of my grocery store (my local Whole Foods).
Before I go, I take inventory of what I already have in my kitchen.
Then I bold what I need that's already on my regular list. Then I go through the recipes that I'm going to make and add anything else that I didn't already have listed.
When I'm at the store, I can breeze through my list (since it's organized according to the store's layout)) and check things off as I go.
I use Evernote for this because:
1. It syncs across all devices, so if I'm at my desk (on my laptop), or sitting on my sofa (on my iPad) and think of something I need, I can quickly add it to my list and it will sync to my phone.
2. I can access the list even if I don't have wifi.
After I get my grocery shopping done for the week, I uncheck and unbold everything, remove "non-staples" and I repeat the process next week.
Step #4: Create Your Game Plan
When I get home from the grocery store, I unload my groceries and organize them in my fridge and freezer.
Just kidding, I don't do that. In fact, I need a better system for storing produce in my fridge, so if you have one, please share!
I do, however, create a game plan. Meaning, all the little stuff, that takes a ton of time? I try to do that in advance, if possible.
If something needs to be defrosted, I take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge (or sometimes leave it in the sink) in the morning. If something needs to be marinated, or a ton of produce chopped up, I try to do it the night before.
Because in reality, that is the stuff that takes up a ton of time and makes cooking tedious and less fun.
But schedule it on your to-do list so you don't forget! I can't count how many times I walked into my kitchen to cook dinner and realized I forgot to defrost the main ingredient. And then I ended up having to improvise, usually with something that's less than ideal.
Step #5: Cook!
I'm not an expert chef, so I have no magical things to reveal here. I'll leave that to the food bloggers. All I can say is you don't get better unless you practice. Yeah, you'll make stuff that only you will eat (or maybe not even that), but eventually, you'll get better.
And when you do, you'll learn how to simplify recipes and personalize them to fit your individual needs and palate.
I used to disregard recipes that had eight or more ingredients. Take herbs and spices for example - I mean, who wants to buy a $7 bottle of spice for 1/8 tsp?! Over time I've learned what herbs and spices I like and now substitute or eliminate the ones in the recipes that I don't. By doing so, I've been able to save money by only investing in the stuff I like - the stuff I actually use. And I threw out that bottle of curry that's been sitting in my cabinet for the past four years (sorry, not a fan of curry - but I love Steph Curry :p ).
Now I'm open to all kinds of recipes from many sources, because now I know how to personalize (and make it healthier if need be) for me.
This is my process that's helped make cooking easier for me. Find a process that works for you, then refine it until it becomes seamless! Once you do, you may find that cooking can be enjoyable and possibly even therapeutic!
Want to learn more time-saving tips?
Hi I'm Naomi!
I help smart and savvy women who suffer from chronic stress, unexplained weight gain and burnout, breakthrough their healthy blind spots and relieve symptoms through natural healing with whole foods and by making lifestyle and environmental changes. Why feel tired when you can feel fired up and ready to go every single day?
I love running outdoors, connecting with like-minded people, and exploring the San Francisco Bay Area with my pup, Coco Pop.