I am fully prepared to listen to the uproar that follows this post. And this post is a direct response to an e-mail question that I received after last week’s post about allowing yourself to spend more on some items that enable you to cut corners in the kitchen in order to make it do-able for you to actually eat at home more often.
The question came more in a whine than an inquiry and I can say that because I already shared that with the question poser herself. (That is one thing that I can guarantee as a coach. I will require you to take responsibility for your choices.) Her question was, “But Trish, what if I don’t know how to cook?”
OK let’s first jump right into the simple answer. You can throw a pre-made turkey burger patty in a pan. You can buy precooked bacon and heat it up in the microwave. Hamburger helper has instructions on the box. Grilled chicken breasts come cooked and pre-stripped and salads come in a kit with all the toppings right in the bag. You can still eat at home without having to be a gourmet chef.
Even though I can and do enjoy cooking, if I’m in that month of life that leaves zero time for major food prep I can buy a bag of cooked chicken breasts, some buns, sliced cheese, and a jar of pesto or other gourmet sandwich spread and whip together grilled chicken sandwiches for my entire family and add an Asian Salad kit for over half the price it would cost me to feed them take-out pizza or drive through.
You can do that too. I know you can. Could you save more if you buy chicken on sale grill up a bunch yourself and then freeze them ready to be thawed and thrown on the chicken sandwiches? Of course you can. That’s totally irrelevant.
When it comes to being successful in your efforts, reality over delivers perfection every time.
But what was my actual response to this reader?
So! Learn to cook.
I know I just lost a ton of you non-cooks out there. But honestly the way to ensure long term control of your food budget really is to learn how to cook. So how can a novice cook get a bit further ahead on the learning curve?
Find a few beginner cookbooks. Two that I recommend and often give to high school graduates are: How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food and The America’s Test Kitchen Series. You get a few good basic cookbooks and can read and you are in business.
Keep some basics on hand.
Having a pantry and kitchen well stocked with a handful of items really will allow you to make a huge variety of dishes. Here’s my list of what must be on hand: garlic, onions, ginger root (jarred crushed is fine) olive oil, eggs, pasta, rice, milk (powdered will work if you don’t normally use milk), shredded cheese (can be kept frozen), flour, brown sugar or honey, and some basic spice blends. (But bother to buy your spice blends at an ethnic or specialty market and be willing to pay a few dollars more for them.) By having these on hand you can pick up a piece of meat or fish at the store and throw together a meal you can be proud of.
Beware the beginner cook’s biggest mistake.
Attitude is everything. Don’t start out expecting to whip up a meal that Julia Child identified as difficult. Cooking itself isn’t difficult. You learned to play baseball when you were a kid. You learned to ride a bike. You can learn this too. Learning anything takes practice. The amazing thing about cooking is that once you do learn a few basic techniques the sky is the limit. Don’t sell yourself short just because you haven’t taken the time or put the effort into attempting to cook in the past. And don’t assume if you failed in the past you are just not going to be successful. You fell down when you first tried to ride your bike too.
And if you find yourself saying, “I don’t really like cooking,” learn to cook your favorite dish. When you can whip up your favorite meal you are more likely to do it and you are going to feel confident in experimenting with other stuff as well.
All I am going to say is; smartphone apps that make your grocery list and you tube. Every single “I wonder how to do ________” is there.
So it’s time to start identifying excuses for what they are. All they do is keep you where you don’t want to be.
So if you’ve been cured of cooking overwhelm, how did you do it? Or how did you originally learn to cook? Leave a comment below.