There was once a time I thought I hated cooking. The idea of getting in a kitchen and making a meal only made me think of dishes and cleaning and lack-luster food that was barely edible. I mostly ate out, but I didn’t have enough money to eat from actual restaurants who might give me a real vegetable. So fast-food became my go-to for a very long time, and even that wasn’t as budget friendly as I hoped.
Fast forward to now and I’ve learned that I really enjoy cooking. I’m at a point where I can look in my kitchen at random ingredients and find a way to put them all together in a way that tastes good. I have a pile of recipes I can turn to when I can’t think of what to make and I have staples that are favorites amongst my family that I can always turn to when I don’t feel like putting in much effort.
This didn’t happen overnight, of course. It wasn’t something I just woke up and realized I could do. Cooking is a skill and it takes practice. Coming up with recipes on your own takes a lot of trial and error and reading of other recipes that others have made. It’s not as easy as going on Pinterest, finding some stuff that looks good, and becoming a master chef who makes creative meals every night.
Making your own food is definitely a habit you have to intentionally add to your life. There are mindsets you have to work on, things you have to learn, and an admiration you need to develop in order to make cooking at home something you do regularly. That may be why so many people opt for frozen dinners or take out.
IN A WORLD THAT REQUIRES YOU TO GO GO GO ALL THE TIME, YOU LOOSE ROOM FOR MONEY SAVERS AND HEALTH BOOSTERS LIKE HOME-COOKED MEALS.
So now that I’m at a point where I feel weird when I don’t cook at home and I’m able to cook all three meals for us every day, I’ve looked back on how I got here and what it really took for me to start cooking at home.
In order to meal plan, there are a few things you need to let go of in order to do it easily without the pressure of feeling like you need to have an exciting, gourmet meal for every single meal every day. Honestly, the best part of meal planning is you start to know your staples. Things that everyone likes and ingredients you know you can throw together anytime your tired or just not feeling up to it.
GET IN THE RIGHT MINDSET
BUY WHAT YOU LIKE | There were so many times when I started cooking that I’d go to the store and pass some spinach and think, “I should eat more salad so I’ll get that.” Then, of course, it wound up in the trash all soggy and gross, never even opened.
You have to trust that you’ll get there. One day, cooking will be so second nature and healthier options will be so regular that you will eat a salad frequently enough to actually warrant purchasing a whole bunch of spinach. But in the beginning, just buy the stuff you know you like. Even if it’s just ground beef and hamburger helper. Whatever gets you moving around in the kitchen is key.
KEEP IT SIMPLE | I feel like it’s really easy to get wrapped up in Pinterest and social media. It feels like people are making complex, beautiful, healthy meals all day every day all the time. But they’re not. Some nights they have leftovers. Some nights they throw things together in a giant pot and call it a day. Some nights they make the same thing they’ve already made four times that week.
Meal planning doesn’t mean that every meal turns into something fancy all the time. It doesn’t mean you’re suddenly a master chef that makes fancy restaurant quality meals all the time. It simply means you’re making stuff that keeps you fed. That should really be your only goal: Can I eat this and is it good enough to keep us alive and energized for a few more hours?
VARIETY IS OVER RATED | The biggest thing that held me back, in the beginning, was feeling like I had to make something extremely different for every meal every day. I’d try to make sure we were having a different vegetable, meat, side, whatever every night. It was exhausting and way more expensive than necessary. But the reality is, food is only supposed to be fuel to keep your body running. You should try and eat healthy as much as possible and get a good variety of proteins and veggies and things every once in a while. But if you have the same smoothies every day for breakfast, the same avocado toasts every day for lunch, and the same power bowl for dinner, your life will be easier.
Of course, it’s good to switch things up and you may even have fun trying new things every once in a while, but that doesn’t need to be the priority. The only thing you truly need to focus on is getting yourself and anyone else fed.
FORMING THE HABIT
So once you let go of the idea that meal planning and cooking at home is some big flashy thing you have to do, starting the habit really just takes practice. It takes starting small and working your way up to it. For me, creating better habits requires no pressure. I have to make it fun and I have to make it easy or else it’ll never happen. So here’s how I got into the habit of cooking at home and meal planning.
START SMALL | If you go from 0 to 100, you’ll probably wind up with hundreds of dollars worth of food in the trash. Simply having the food at your house will not teach you how or motivate you to make it. It’s also hard to know how much of something you truly need until you’re already cooking consistently. The amount of food I over bought when I first tried to get in the habit of meal planning was such a waste for my wallet and just food in general.
The best thing to do is to start with one meal. Find a recipe that looks delicious and do-able and buy what you need for that. Then, the next week, make two meals and so on. This is a good way to build your recipe portfolio, learn what you like and what you don’t like, learn what’s too much work and what’s easy, and build your pantry inventory over time.
INVEST IN PREP | When I first started meal planning, I’d make giant batches of stuff. So one day I’d make enough spaghetti to feed a family of 10 (for two of us) and reheat that for the next couple of days. Or I’d make a giant batch of soup (seriously the easiest meal to make) and have it for lunch for the next week.
I don’t love overcooking to the point of needing to freeze because a lot of stuff just isn’t the same after it’s been prepared and frozen. But making big batches, especially in the beginning, can help you get in the habit of actually eating at home without having to be in the habit of cooking every day.
TRY A MEAL PLAN SUBSCRIPTION | No, they are not quite as budget-friendly, but they are so helpful with getting yourself in the habit of cooking at home. In a way, it’s almost like a cooking class right in your home. You get all of the ingredients you need, the exact amount you need, and all the recipes are made and decided (with a little help from you) so all you have to do it cook.
I think my biggest hurdle when getting into meal planning was simply just getting in the habit of cooking and building my confidence in that. So when I got a meal plan subscription, I already had the food at home, it was only three meals a week, and the instructions were so clear that I felt like I knew what I was doing. I learned different skills, different techniques, different pairings. All the things I needed to learn to really get in the habit of cooking consistently and planning my meals every week.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need to be learned.
Building your recipe book, getting stocked on some staples, and really getting in the habit of preparing your own food every day are all things that need to happen to build this habit. If you work at it and go at a comfortable pace, eventually you’ll be at a point where you feel the urge to get in the kitchen and cook up something good.