Healthy Living: Say Goodbye to Fast Food and Master The Cooking Habit in 3 Simple, Stress-Free Steps

The killer of great cooking is the fear of preparation.

In fact, the killer of a great many dreams is the fear of preparation. How many things are on your bucket list that you haven’t started because you were frustrated with what had to come first?

Similarly, how many times have you been tired of takeout and resolved to cook a great meal, only to spend half the night frustrated and end up ordering a pizza?

Cooking at home requires preparation; there’s no way around it. But the truth of the matter is cooking at home is cheaper and healthier than takeout.

It can also be quicker than takeout.

Using the pareto principle, (which states that 80% of an effect comes from 20% of the cause) I’ve found that the vast frustration people experience cooking at home (80%) is the result of the obstacle of preparation (20%).

I’ve removed this obstacle for myself though three simple steps. These steps require a small amount of work beforehand (work you can do once), but the payoff is drastically less prep, zero time wasted, and a healthy, exciting cooking experience.

Here’s how.

The Three Simple Steps to Cooking Success

 #1: Always Have Kitchen Staples On Hand 

Cooking great food is as much about taste as it is about function. Even if you’re prepared with the proper ingredients, it’s demoralizing if the meal doesn’t end up tasting good.

Fresh ingredients are an important part of any great meal. But it’s the items you always have on hand that really make the difference. I’m talking about spices, oils, sauces and grains. In every recipe you’ll ever make, spices and oils will always be called for. They’re that important!

Yet when many of us go grocery shopping, we’re only concerned with the big items. We’re always preoccupied with purchasing the meat, vegetables, and canned goods that are needed for the meal. The items that really make a difference in our cooking, however, tend to be forgotten.

Spices Make All the Difference 

Every recipe calls for spices. They’re cheap, healthy, and make food taste delicious! Some of the most common spices that you’ll use over and over include: salt, black pepper, basil, coriander, curry, oregano, paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, rosemary, chilli flakes, chilli powder, cumin, ginger, and dill.

Fresh spices are always better than dried or powdered, but for the efficient kitchen, dried are good enough. They’re easy to use, stay good for a long time, and pack a great punch of flavour.

Pick up these spices at your local grocery store, or grab a spice rack here.

Spice charts are handy, but this type of knowledge isn’t necessary to cook a great meal. Simply adding a couple spices to a dish can make it go from bland to delicious. Go ahead and experiment!

Pick Up Frequently Used Oils and Sauces

From marinating to the cooking process itself, oils and sauces have a variety of uses in cooking. The extra flavour and enhancement to the cooking process make them very valuable indeed. Here’s what you’ll need.

Cooking Oil 

You need to have oil for basic cooking and oil for salad dressings and marinades. My preference for high-temperature cooking is coconut oil. It doesn’t have a strong flavour, has some promising health benefits and tends to last a long time. Pick some up at your local grocery store or here. A good alternative is sunflower oil.

If you prefer cooking oil with a stronger flavour, a couple of my favourites are sesame oil and peanut oil. These oils are especially great to have on hand for Asian dishes.

Dressing and Marinade Oil 

Virgin or extra virgin olive oil is the way to go for dressings, marinades, and low-temperature cooking. You can use it to make simple salad dressings (instead of getting store-bought dressings full of preservatives) and it’s a perfect base for quick meat and vegetable marinades. Olive oil also has tremendous health benefits and it’s full of healthy fats.

Sauces 

Much like with oils, it’s difficult to cook a tasty dish without adding any sauce. Having the most commonly used sauces on hand will make cooking easier and will save extra trips to the grocery store.

Stock up your kitchen with balsamic vinegar, low-sodium soy sauce, dijon mustard, chilli sauce and honey.

Keep Various Grains On Hand 

Rice, quinoa, noodles and pasta almost never go bad. It’s always a great idea to keep these on hand as they’re easy to make and are an important part of a whole meal.

Stock Up the Essentials Periodically

To keep your kitchen stocked with essential ingredients on a regular basis, simply check your cupboards and refrigerator before heading to the grocery store. Periodically stocking up on the essentials will help eliminate those stressful moments when you realize you’re missing an ingredient while cooking a meal.

#2: Purchase Quality, Multi-Purpose Equipment. Once.

Even the best chef’s would have trouble cooking a great meal with mediocre equipment. Low quality equipment simply isn’t worth the frustration. Take it from me – I’ve been given several sets of knives as various gifts (one was even colour coded), but they inevitably died a low-quality, early death.

Pick up one high quality item in each category below and your cooking frustrations will evaporate. You’ll need:
one good knife
lunch containers (for leftovers)
strainer & salad spinner combo
one frying pan
one pot 
one baking dish

Each item above is versatile and can be used for multiple steps in the cooking process. You don’t need a ton of equipment to have an efficient kitchen.

#3: Plan and Grocery Shop Once Per Week

Having the right spices, oils, sauces and equipment on hand will clear up a ton of cooking frustration you experience. Unless you want to always eat out of a can (ew!), however, you’ll have to regularly pick up groceries from your local grocery store.

This is, unfortunately, an ongoing issue. However, if you can batch your grocery shopping to only once per week, you’ll save a ton of time and will have no excuse not to cook when you get home from work.

Preparation time that you’ll have to do before heading to the grocery store includes planning your meals for the coming week and compiling a list of required ingredients. Then, head to the grocery store and get set for the week. Believe me, this is liberating!

However, this does take time. In order to automate the planning process entirely, take a look at Mealime – the first meal planning service exclusively for gen-y’s, singles, and busy professionals. And, Dumb Little Man readers can receive two months of meal planning from Mealime for free using this link.

Recap: One-time Preparation is Half the Battle. Batch Meal Planning & Grocery Shopping (the other half) to Once Per Week for a Stress-Free Cooking Experience. 

It’s a demoralizing experience trying to cook without being prepared. And on the contrary – it’s an empowering feeling getting home from work with everything ready to go.

The cooking habit is a lifelong skill that not only serves a noble purpose (it feeds us!), but it’s also a much healthier and cheaper alternative to takeout.

Do you have a set cooking process? Are there any kitchen items not listed above that you can’t live without? Any cooking tips that make your life easier? Write your comment below!

Written on 6/11/2013 by Jeffrey Bunn. Jeffrey Bunn is Co-Founder of Mealime, the first meal planning service exclusively for busy professionals, gen-y’s, and singles. He is also a freelance copywriter with a focus on blogging, email marketing, and conversion. Connect with Jeffrey on twitter @jeffreybunn or @mealime.” Photo Credit: Olle Svensson

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