Learn to Love Cooking (and Save!) With These 11 Kitchen Tricks
Those takeout pizzas, lunches at the cafe, and weekend dim sum splurges really add up. It's true — one of the best ways to lower your overall monthly budget is to cook most meals at home. An added benefit? It's also better for your waistline and general health. If putting the pan on the stove gives you shivers, however, you have some work to do. (See also: How to Find Time for Home Cooking)
These tips will help you bust through your cooking anxiety so you're slicing and dicing in no time!
1. Learn the Basics
A lot of people hate cooking simply because they don't know their way around a kitchen or cooking tools. Invest some time in learning how to use a knife, saute veggies, or cook a perfect soft boiled egg. It may seem like a lot to take on, but you really can teach yourself to cook. The more you know, the more pleasurable the experience becomes. (See also: How to Make Perfectly Cooked Eggs)
2. Create a Fun Atmosphere
A kitchen alone might not be very inspiring or inviting, especially if cooking isn't naturally your favorite activity. Good news: You can change that! Pop open a bottle of wine, light candles, start up some music, call a friend, or even play a cooking show to get yourself in the mood.
3. Cook Through a Cookbook
Sound like a familiar concept? If you've ever read (or watched) "Julie + Julia," you know the drill. Basically, go to the bookstore (or even browse online) and choose a cookbook that excites or otherwise motivates you. Set a goal to try a new dish at least every week, if not more frequently. After a while, the whole practice may become more automatic. (See also: Classic Frugal Cooking With Little Old Lady Recipes)
4. Keep It Simple
Recipes can seem daunting if they are complicated and involve exotic ingredients. So, find ways to simplify the routine and pare down the grocery list. A nutritionally complete, home-cooked dinner can be as simple as a protein, roasted vegetables, and rice. No need to get overly fancy, unless you feel inspired.
5. Find Shortcuts
If your goal is to cook in every single night of the week, just understand that there will be times when your schedule will get hectic, you'll be sick, or you just won't feel like cooking no matter what. Have a back-up plan in place — like spaghetti and tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese, or a freezer vegetable stir-fry — in case of culinary emergency.
6. Use Your Tools
Homemade meals don't have to mean hours spent in the kitchen. Even passionate and practiced cooks use slow cookers, bread makers, and other convenience appliances from time to time. I love cooking complicated entrees and sides from scratch, but I also make at least two soups or stews in my crock pot each week. Dig around to find what works for you. (See also: 5 Best Slow Cookers)
7. Prepare Ingredients or Entire Meals in Bulk
If the idea of cooking all month long isn't appealing, consider condensing the experience into a few days. Bulk cooking (or assembly cooking) isn't for the faint of heart and does require some freezer space, but it will surely cut down on hours spent in the kitchen — all while allowing you to streamline and lessen your trips to the grocery store.
8. Take Turns
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. If you have a spouse, significant other, or roommate, consider splitting cooking duties, so the work doesn't fall on your shoulders alone. Write up a schedule at the beginning of the week marking assigned nights. This is a great way to plan meals and write grocery lists, which can mean even more cost savings. (See also: A Month of Frugal Meals)
9. Recreate Favorites at Home
Many simply like the restaurant's final result better than their own from-scratch attempts. Taking the time to master a certain dish can be not only rewarding, but also surprising. You may discover that you like your own take better because you can customize it to your specific tastes and preferences. Plus, the web is a great source for copycat recipes from your favorite eateries.
10. Make It Social
Stay with me on this one. Consider hosting a dinner party (I know, it sounds intense!), but don't take on all the work yourself. Potlucks can be a great opportunity to break bread and share recipe ideas. You may discover that some of your friends or family have quite a talent in the kitchen or specific techniques they can share with you. (See also: 23 Cheap and Easy Potluck Dishes)
11. Practice the Habit and Reward Yourself
If all else fails, just going through the motions time and time again might make something click. And a little incentive goes a long way. So, if cooking at home is a big-time goal of yours — figure out a reward system that works for you. Seven for seven in meals at prepared at home? Indulge in a matinee, for example — you have saved more than enough to justify the expense!
Still stuck? Here are a few places to start your adventure:
- 10 Recipes for Kitchen Newbies
- 25 Great, Cheap, and Easy Crock Pot Recipes
- 35 Slow Cooker Recipes for Lazy Vegetarians
- Save Time and Money with Monthly Assembly Cooking
- Turn Off the Oven: 25 No-Cook Meals
How did you learn to love cooking? Share your recipe in comments!