What is one of your biggest challenges to home cooking during the week?
Time? Resources (cost, food items, help)? Energy?
Is a recipe from Rachel Ray's 30 Minute meals or an elaborate one from Bon Appetite realistically achievable for the average working professional? Do you find yourself trying to juggle too many activities post work (hit the gym, cook, do a little more work and catch your favorite TV show) all before 10pm because of that New Year’s resolution to get more sleep? With a laundry list like that, one of these activities is destined to get short changed. Why set yourself up for sabotage by choosing to prep and cook a meal that consumes half of the evening and possibly ends in frustration? Frustration often leads to relinquishing a goal. Instead, set a realistic cooking goal and leave those fancy recipes from magazines, social media sites, and friends’ blogs for the weekend. If your goal is to cook more frequently during the week, try easier recipes with minimal prep time.
A good friend of mine set a goal of cooking 3-4 times per week and found herself choosing recipes that were too elaborate for her weeknight schedule. I encouraged her to cook simpler meals during the week and focus on those fun, experimental recipes on the weekends. Yes, they may not be as "entertaining" after a long, stressful day at work or as a celebratory mid-week treat, but they will allow you to focus your energies on replenishing your body without sacrificing your whole night. More importantly, cooking simpler meals will allow you to achieve your goal more frequently and will aid in making cooking a sustainable habit.
Weeknight cooking should follow these simple guidelines:
- Few ingredients(under 6 based on your experience level) and ones that don't require an extra trip to a Dean & Deluca or specialty gourmet store. If an ingredient is out of your usual repertoire and one you wouldn't use again, consider omitting it. Check out my Cabbage Farro Kale soup in which I omitted the "fancy" ingredient to make it a more cost effective, weeknight meal.
-- Not necessarily "entertaining". Focus on meals that are simple and nutritious, with less than a one-hour cleanup. Leave the party food for the weekend. Anticipation creates excitement. Look forward to that new, elaborate dish with a good glass of wine enjoyed with a friend as a way to unwind from the week.
-- Use up your kitchen. Focus on ingredients that are already at home. Don't waste time stopping at the grocery store every day after work for that random ingredient. This usually leads to splurge purchases such as a dip or cookies on sale, which affect your waistline and your wallet, and it takes up time.
--Focus on cooking time. Choose recipes citing 20 min cooking time or less. The prep could take anywhere from 10 - 20 min making your full active time 40 min.
--Pre-prep. Do you want a daily salad? Have your greens chopped in one big bowl, raw veggies in another. Take a handful of each, combine in a bowl with dressing (homemade preferably) and serve. Make salad dressing for up to 3 nights. Cook chicken for 3 servings - dinner, lunch the next day, and dinner re-purposed the next night.
--Enlist help. Have a spouse, partner, child, or friend take part in the cooking process by assisting with prep work, such as chopping or even setting the table.
--Plan. Yes, a plan! Not a major one, just some forethought. Pick 2 or 3 recipes to cook this week. Buy your groceries on the weekend or Monday night and then use up all of those ingredients. Having the plan removes one step from the nightly process. Thinking about what to cook often leads to not cooking especially if you’re tired or short on time.
--Commit. Commit to what you can realistically achieve. If cooking only two nights is feasible, only cook two nights. Commit to it and remember you have given yourself the margin of error to allow for success.
So take a look at my recipes and choose something for yourself this week! Let me know what you think.