GOOD HABITS: MEAL PLANNING

GOOD HABITS: MEAL PLANNING - This Wild Home

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.

MEAL PLANNING

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.

EASY BROCCOLI STIR-FRY

EASY BROCCOLI STIR-FRY - This Wild Home

I love stir-fry, you guys. But I love a fairly particular flavor for my stir-fry. And there’s something about broccoli cooked in a good stir-fry sauce that you really can’t beat.

This can be made so many different ways. You can add beef, chicken, carrots, whatever you want! The magic is in the sauce. The simple sauce that takes two seconds to make that you can add to a dish to make it delicious.

This has become go-to, simply because of how easy it is to make. There are a few moments where you have to really be at the stove, doing stuff. But for the most part you just make sauce and then let stuff cook in it for a bit.

As far as why I choose broccoli specifically when I have so many other things to choose from... we need the iron. Broccoli is a great source of iron and this is one of the few ways I can get Oliver to eat it. Since kids usually don’t take too kindly to things like meat and veggies, it’s pretty easy for them to boarder on that anemia line so this is a simple fix to that iron deficiency.

EASY BROCCOLI STIR-FRY

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 TBLS Sugar

  • 2.5 TBLS Soy Sauce

  • 2 TBLS Sesame Oil

  • 1 TBLS White Vinegar

  • 1/4 TSP Ground Ginger

  • Linguini (or rice or whatever)

  • 2 Heads of Broccoli

DIRECTIONS

THE SAUCE

  1. Mix sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, white vinegar, and ginger in a small bowl with a fork or whisk.

  2. That’s it.

THE REST

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil and throw in linguini. Let simmer until tender.

  2. While linguini cooks, chop broccoli into desired size.

  3. Place broccoli in a skillet or fry pan on medium-high heat. Add about half of the sauce and give one good stir to evenly coat broccoli. Let it sit covered, stirring occasionally, until broccoli is to desired tenderness (about 10-15 minutes).

  4. Once noodles and broccoli are cooked, drain the noodles and them to the pan of broccoli. Add the rest of the sauce over noodles and broccoli. Let it all cook together while stirring to evenly coat everything for about 3 minutes.

  5. Load it on a plate and call it a day!

COOKING STEAK LIKE A GIRL

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I come from a line of strong women.  Each generation has been one women after the other forging her own path to create a life she can be proud of. They’ve all been mothers and wives, and they have all been equal partners within the lives the created.

From my great-grandmother who decided to go back to school in her 80’s to my grandmother who created a household where mom and dad were equal to my own mother who has never let anyone tell her where her place is. They’ve all found their place their own way and stood their ground through whatever storm has come their way.

So I’ve had quite the legacy to follow. Strong wives and mothers and women. It’s hard to know where your place in all of that is. It’s hard to feel like following a traditional path is enough to contribute to the opportunities they’ve created.  

But when I look at the women before me, I realize it’s not about what you do. It’s about how and why you do it. Being a housewife and mother doesn’t mean the patriarchy has taken you down, if you’re doing it because you love it and that’s what you want to do. And if what you want to do changes, it’s never too late to try something new. 

so what does this have to do with steak? 

Well, steak has always been a man’s job in my mind. Not for any particular reason. It’s just how I’ve seen it done most of the time.  

You have that cliche image of men around a grill cooking steak, exchanging tips on how to get it just right. They each have their special way of preparing a steak to make it “the best.”  

But that’s not how it’s done at my house these days. It was, and then one day, Ian and I joined forces and found where our strengths truly lie. His in the prep and mine in the execution. 

We took the best of our methods to create a beautifully made steak that only a girl could cook to be just right. It’s a ritual I’ve taken for my own. A moment when I find some pants, throw them on, and our house becomes my house as we all devour a steak so perfect there is no other option but to sit in silence and take in all the glory in front of us. 

How to cook steak like a girl

  • First of all, throw away your grill. You don’t need it, maybe ever again. Just grab a skillet and get to it.

  • Second, grab some Dale’s (you can get it from any grocery store). It’s Ian’s contribution to this recipe that is honestly a dream.

  • Third, I’m gonna need you to throw a top-of-the-line ribeye in the Dale’s for 30 minutes (15 minutes on each side), not a minute more.

  • Fourth thing you need to do is grab all the butter in your house and slap half of it in the skillet (that should be heating up to about medium heat - the thicker the cut, the lower the heat and vice-versa).

  • Five? Throw that bad boy in that butter and don’t touch it for five to eight minutes.

  • Sixth thing you need to do is flip it and leave it for another five to eight minutes.

  • Last, but definitely not least; put the steak on a plate, throw MORE butter on top and eat it once that butter has melted.

Seriously, this is how to make the most perfect steak I’ve ever had. You don’t need a man or a grill or anything fancy. Just a good chunk of meat and a pan to cook it in. - and butter. Lots of butter.