Home cooking: It’s all in the planning

I grew up in a house where home cooked meals meant Hamburger Helper, Campbell’s Soup, or rotisserie chicken with Stove Top stuffing. Now, I thought those things were great. Sometimes I’ll go to my mom’s house, check the fridge for leftovers, and have a few bites of the Homestyle Bakes chicken meal. No utensils needed.

I really enjoyed sit down dinners. I hated eating in front of the tv or having little to not conversation at a meal. The socialization that came with dinner was what made it special.

Now that I’m all grown up I can have that fantasy. Yes, I may have watched too many episodes of Martha Stewart Living, but making meals at home doesn’t need to come from a box every night. With a little planning and easy preparing throughout the week you won’t need to rely on Betty Crocker or Dinty Moore.

Here are my tips to making home cooking easy:

Planning–
I’ve mentioned before that Doug and I plan out our menus for the week. This really works for us. I like knowing what I’m going to have because otherwise I get frustrated with having to go with what I “have a taste for”. Knowing in advance also means that I can prepare ahead of time and get all the shopping done at once.

Preparing–
Salads: I make a huge salad once or twice a week. I know that a salad will be on the menu as dinner at least once a week so I already have one night of chopping covered. Having the salad prepared for at least 3 days in the fridge also allows for a quick go to side dish or lunch.

Buying fresh–
Taco seasoning, table salt, and ketchup used to be regulars on my dinner plate. Lately, they have been nonexistent. Since buying fresher foods like my own pepper mill, kosher salt, and an abundance of spices I’ve found that flavors are better. It’s also a lot cheaper.

Veggies: When I make the salad I also cut up all the celery, carrots, and broccoli at the same time and store them in baggies. I do not recommend cutting cucumbers up ahead of time; they will get mushy and gross. These should be cut when you know you’ll be eating them.

Fruits: I try to take off the stickers when I’m putting my fruit away (I have been known to accidentally chop through a few). Fruits like apples and bananas can be stored on the counter in a bowl for easy access. This lends for a quick and easy snack. I wedge oranges and place them in a sealed container in the fridge. Don’t wash strawberries ahead of time as they are fragile. Also, if you have rotten bananas, throw them in the freezer. When you have an ice cream fix toss the bananas into a food processor for a few minutes and voila! You have homemade banana soft serve.

I just realized that botanically, these are all fruits:

Meats: Buy what you need. Your menu should help guide you in how much meat you need to buy for the week. I find that people throw away a lot of meat because they just buy too much. If you choose to freeze it, then put a date on it, and make sure to use it within 6 months. After that, it’s probably gross. I have very little meat stored in my freezer– it’s usually only sausages and turkey burgers which I tend to eat more of in the winter.

Bread: Again, buy what you need. Try searching the reduced sale items on the bread rack for a good price on a loaf of bakery bread. The baker should be able to slice it for you. The stuff from the bakery truly is better than the bread aisle. If you find that you have too much bread for the week and are afraid of it getting moldy or hard; then take what you need and freeze the rest. Bread thaws remarkably fast. Same for English muffins.

Snacks: I like snacking. Doritos. Pretzels. Plantain Chips. You name it. These foods offer little to no nutritional value and are loaded in salt and unneeded calories. Now, I’m not here to preach about diets. However, the fewer of these snacks you have in your cabinet, the better off you are. If you do have to have processed snacks, then divide and conquer. When you get home from the grocery store, take some time and put a serving (a serving is about 10 chips– 100 calories) of chips into baggies. If you have to have a snack fix then you can eat a snack sized bag guilt free.

Better snacks to consume: Veggies–follow the same baggie rule as with the chips. You can easily get five servings of veggies in a day just by prepping ahead of time. Fruits– remember your fruit basket? Nuts offer nutritional benefits and satiety, just watch the amount you eat. Plain yogurt– don’t be fooled by yogurt. They are not all created equally. Buy plain yogurt and add honey or vanilla to taste. The difference in sugar is astounding. You can also add granola, cereal, fruits or nuts to make it more suitable to your liking.

Now, these are the building blocks to becoming a true home cook. You don’t necessarily need to know how to cook– that’s what recipes are for. What you need to know is what you are consuming and how to buy the right foods.

For some it may seem overwhelming to plan for a whole week. I’m here to encourage the ten minutes it may take to come up with a plan. Try just a few days. If you know you’ll be home Monday through Wednesday, then plan those days and buy for them. As you get better at planning then add more days. Planning will become a routine, it may seem fun, and it should eventually become less stressful when 5pm rolls around and your tummy starts growling. Take the time (yes you do have the time! Ten minutes!), and plan next weeks meals for more satisfying dinners.

She’s in on the fun too:

The internet has plenty of free recipes, and I will post some of my favorite recipe sites soon.

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