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Starting to cook at home is actually starting 4 new habits: Meal planning, shopping, cooking and washing up. This is your gudie to how to learn cook at home: By mastering these 4 simple habits you can create healthy, tasty meals without the stress!
Psst: At the end I will provide you with some short-cuts to make it even easier!
How to Learn to Cook at Home
I think many of us have tried to change our cooking habits and noticed that it’s more easily said than done. We need to figure out what to eat, go shopping and actually do the cooking. And then, once you have done all that, you have to clean the kitchen!!
Is it really worth it when you can just get some food delivered to your door, or heated up in the microwave, through away the container and done! Dinner sorted!
Did you notice that? The list of all the things we have to do to enjoy a home cooked meal? Learn to cook at home is not learning one habit, it’s a number of different habits that all have to work together for cooking at home to be as easy and satisfying that everyone says it!
Forming new habits is a process and when we take on big changes, or try to change a lot of things at onc,e we often get overwhelmed and quit. That is what often happens when we decide to start cooking at home. We try to start several new habits at once and it gets too much.
Instead, we will break down the “how to cook at home” habit into 4 different habits that we can tackle individually and start implementing in bite-sized chunks. (Sorry for the pun!)
Habit 1: Meal Planning
If you want to learn how to cook at home, the first challenge is figuring out what to make. If you leave this to when you are starving you will rarely have the energy to find a recipe, and if you do, there is probably something missing from your cupboard.
By planning ahead, you will take this out of the process and you will know what’s on the menu that day.
By meal planning you can also make sure you have the ingrediencies at home so that you are ready to start cooking immediately. Helpful right?!?
Meal Planning – Habit Trigger
As with any habit, it needs a trigger. You need to decide beforehand when you will do your meal planning and how you will go about it. If you just leave it to “sometime” it’s more likely than not to be forgot.
I personally meal plan twice a week to coincide with our twice a week shopping habit. I do one plan for the weekdays and one for the weekend. This way I don’t have to think up too many meals at once.
I do this on Saturdays and Tuesdays before I do our online shopping. My trigger is the message from our online shopping platform (we use Ocado) that we are approaching the deadline of editing the order.
Others prefer a more time-bound habit, like meal planning every Sunday after lunch or Wednesday after dinner. Think about what would be a good time in your life to plan out your meals and set a reminder!
Meal Planning – Strategies for Success
If you find it difficult to think up a ton of different things to eat there are some ways to make it easier:
Batch cook things like Bolognese, chili con carne or casseroles. Freeze additional portions which will save you from cooking another day.
Designate different types of food to different days e.g.
Cook a main ingrediencies one day like roast a chicken and then use the left-over meat for additional meals that week.
Find a few “go-to” recipes that you can learn really well, that you enjoy and that you can rotate with small variations. You don’t need to eat something completely new every day!
Personally I have perfected the tomato based sauce and now I can put anything in it like, chicken and feta, bacon and mushrooms, tuna and sweetcorn. I then serve it with pasta, rice, ferro and so on, for a number of different meals!
It tastes different but it’s basically just making a tomato sauce and putting different stuff in it!
The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.Julia Child
Habit 2: Shopping
Now you know that you are planning to eat and we need to make sure that you have what you need when it’s time to cook. If you are not used to cooking at home at all it may look like a huge list of things you need to buy but don’t worry, with a bit of effort up front this will soon get a lot easier.
What to Buy?
It’s always good to have some basics at home, but what those are will partially depend on the type of food you will cook. If you already know that you will mainly be cooking Italian or Japanese, take a look at some different recipes and see if there are any ingrediencies or cooking utensils that is used on many or most of them.
Make a list and go shopping!
You don’t need all the fancy special equipment but a shopping board, knife, frying pan etc. will be used for most recipes and you may want to stock up on salt, flour, vinegar and such to make sure you have it at home.
If you don’t yet know what you will enjoy cooking, or you want to try a bit of everything that’s just fine! Expect to have to buy quite a few things for each meal in the beginning but as you get into it you will find that there are fewer and fewer things to buy each time as your cupboard starts to fill up with ingrediencies.
When to go Shopping (Your Habit Trigger)
Now it’s time to create your shopping habit:
When will you write your shopping list?
Will you shop online or in a store?
When will you be shopping? After work? At the weekend?
Think through when you can best fit in your shopping and make sure that you make it convenient and timely. You need to have done your meal planning and shopping list beforehand, but go shopping before it’s time to cook!
Maybe Sunday afternoon is the time for meal planning and writing a shopping list and you then pop to the shop after work on Monday?
Personally, I love having my shopping delivered as it cuts out the need to go to the shop and I can combine making my shopping list and actually ordering the food as I sit with my recipes when I order.
Habit 3: Cooking at Home
All that before it’s time to cook a meal! But now you are all set to begin. You know what you are making, and you have everything at home that you will need. So, what can stop you now?
Timing of Cooking
The time to start cooking is before you’re starving. Make a plan beforehand on when to cook – is it straight after work? When your partner leaves the office? at 6.30pm every day?
Think through when you will want to eat and figure out a time, a trigger, that will work for you (and for your family). Set a reminder and stick to it!
If you’re not on your own this is critical to decide beforehand! Noticing it’s time for dinner and starting an argument about who’s turn it’s to cook is not going to make it easy, nor pleasant, to get into a cooking habit!
Make sure you talk it through before hand and make a plan. It can be that you cook every other day, that one cook on weekdays because the schedule works better. Or one of you may take on the cooking as a part of your overall division of labour.
In our house Mr. Habitista cooks every night except Fridays when he gets a night off and we get a takeaway. (Yes, takeaways are still allowed, just make sure it’s a conscious decision instead of a fallback.)
I will however do the meal planning and shopping so he can just go into the kitchen every night and follow the plan. This works well for us, but every family is different.
And if you happen to be on your own – you will just have to do it yourself for good and for bad!
Technique of Cooking
Finally, it’s time to actually cook! If yo’re not used to it remember that cooking is in itself a number of different skills including understanding the terminology, practically doing things like chopping and frying, learning about seasoning and what tastes go together.
Start simple, take your time learning different techniques. (YouTube is your friend!) Make sure you taste what you make as you go along to learn what happens when you add salt, vinegar or soy sauce.
Cooking is not scary, and it’s not something we should automatically “know”. Approach it with patience, curiosity and most importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not perfect the first time! We all burn the rice in the pot at some point….
Habit 4: Washing Up and Preparing the Kitchen for the Next Meal
This is not as sexy as being a chopping ninja I know, but it’s a critical habit for building a sustainable cooking habit. If every time you come in to start cooking, you have to start with doing the washing up and cleaning the kitchen you will soon tire and go back to the take-away and microwave meal. It’s just too much effort!
The best time to clean up is during the cooking and after a meal.
As you get more proficient with cooking you may start finding that there is some waiting time built in when things cook. Use this time to start cleaning up instead of checking Instagram! By getting a few things out of the way as you go, it will feel less overwhelming to clean up later.
After your meal, remember that mealtime is not done until the kitchen is ready to prepare your next meal.
Mr. Habitista and I always do the kitchen cleaning together but, in your family, it may work better if for example the person who cooked don’t need to do the washing up. Discuss together so you have a plan that you are both happy with and don’t have to argue about the dishes while looking at a big pile of dirty plates!
Make cleaning up a habit that fits into your general meal habits. Mr. Habitista and I usually eat in the kitchen so we clean up as we leave the table.
But if we were to eat in front of the telly (we try not to but it still happens occasionally!) we do it after the episode / the first time we pause the movie for a comfort break. That’s the time to clear the plates and get the cleaning up over with.
Done! Ready for your next meal!
I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food.W.C. Fields
Too Much? Let’s Make it Even Simpler!
Now that you have read all of this you still feel it’s too much? That’s perfectly fine! As I promised you in the beginning of this post there is a way to make the process even simpler!
There are a lot of companies out there that will let you choose meals online. They then send you all the ingrediencies and recipes you need. We use Gousto and are very happy with them but there are many others if you are interested in different kinds of food.
Every week I choose 4 dinners that we will eat the coming week and on the Sunday a box with all the ingrediencies and recipes are delivered to our door. This takes out dinner planning and shopping for 4 nights a week!
Considering that we also have take-away one night a week and that our lunches are quite simple that only leave meal planning and shopping for two main meals a week!
One of those is usually a batch of something we can put in the freezer.
For the final day, we usually have something in the freezer that was prepared in the weeks previous!
All of the sudden the meal planning and dinner shopping has gone from 7 to 1 meal a week! As we know that mealshould be something we can do a batch of we have a few favourite foods that we circulate . We thenthrough in the odd new recipe when we have the time and energy to look up a new dish we want to try!
Start Your Healthy Home Cooking
Remember to be kind to yourself and take this one step at a time. Maybe start by getting into a weekly shopping habit even if you don’t yet cook at home. Or sign up for a meal service so you can start cooking a few nights a week without the big meal planning and shopping elements.
Start small and build your habits, confidence and skill over time and you will develop a new sustainable habit of making homemade food. Finally you will have reached that place everyone talks about, where you are more healthy, save money and do it by eating delicious homemade food most of the time!
Do you know someone else who needs to learn how to cook at home? Share this post!