How to make home cooking part of your lifestyle
If you’ve had a chance to visit my healthy cooking page, you’ll know that I’m an advocate for home cooking. Making an effort to cook more food at home might sound like a chore, but it really is one of the simplest, most straightforward ways you can eat more healthfully.
If you’re new to cooking, or looking for some inspiration to get back in the kitchen, then you’re already off to a great start! The first step in making a key life change, like cooking your own food most of the time, is to do some research so that you can find ways to make it work for your life.
To help you incorporate home cooking into your lifestyle, I’ve compiled a list of simple tips. Read on for inspiration and then let me know your thoughts in the comments section.
Stock a smart pantry
You don’t need to have every ingredient under the sun to cook at home. Just a few basic condiments, herbs and spices, as well as staples like beans (black beans, lentils, chickpeas) and grains (brown rice, quinoa, millet), form a solid framework that you can build on to create healthy meals. Buy small amounts of dried herbs and spices from a bulk store so that they’re fresh tasting, not stale, when it comes time to use them. Read my previous post on cooking with herbs and spices for tips.
Gather the right tools
There are, like, a gazillion kitchen tools on the market, but you really only need a few key things. These are:
- Chef’s knife
- Paring knife
- Serrated knife
- Large cutting board
- Wooden spoon
- Box grater
- Rolling pin
- Vegetable peeler
- Mixing bowls (small, medium, large)
- Pots (one large, one small-to-medium)
- Pans (one large, one small-to-medium)
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Baking sheets
If this list seems long (and perhaps a little pricey), keep in mind that the vast majority of the above items can be found at second-hand stores for a fraction of the cost. I visit the cooking section of thrift stores regularly to find unique pieces to style my food photos, so I can tell you that most of the stuff there is of surprisingly great quality.
If you’re a home cook wanting more (or have a wedding coming up and want to fill up your registry – hah!), here are some additional cooking tools to add to your kitchen arsenal:
- Full knife set
- Immersion/hand-held stick blender
- Stand mixer with various attachments
- Food processor
- Heavy duty blender
- Mortar and pestle
- Muffin sheets
- Pizza pans
- Cake pans
- Loaf pans
- Cooling racks
- Grilling pan/grill top
- Slow cooker
- Salad spinner
- Spice grinder
Find recipes you’ll actually want to eat
Think about the kinds of food you like to eat, and then browse healthy recipe websites, blogs and Pinterest to get ideas (follow my boards for some ideas). Recipes are very accessible nowadays and many of them usually don’t require any special skills, hard-to-find ingredients or strange equipment. Curious about a certain dish or cooking technique? There are tons of instructional videos on YouTube.
Getting started can be as easy as frying an egg or two, cooking some brown rice and dressing a plate of mixed greens with extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. This was the general basis for this shaved asparagus salad with millet and hard-boiled egg. Keep it simple at first and know that you can build up to more complicated dishes later. The point is to just do it already!
Think about what you want to eat ahead of time – for lunch later today, for dinner every night for the rest of the week, for Sunday brunch at home. And then stick to it as best as you can.
Planning out meals mentally, or by writing them down in a meal planner, can help you stay on track.
Knowing what you’re going to be cooking in advance makes shopping trips easier and alleviates some of the stress involved in making a meal from scratch.
Prep ingredients in advance
Buying and prepping fresh produce, whole grains and lean proteins in advance is one of the most important things you can do to ensure you have healthy, nutritious ingredients at your fingertips each day. Check out my Sunday food prep tips for healthy meals all week post for a detailed plan. It takes a bit of time, but the resulting full fridge is totally worth it.
Bring a lunch most days of the week
If you work outside the home, you are likely faced with the same old what should I eat for lunch today? dilemma. You can either dine out at your favourite sub shop yet again (boring!), or make the effort to pack a lunch most days of the week.
My go-to lunches include hummus and vegetable sticks, tortilla wraps with chicken and vegetables, tuna salad lettuce wraps or bean and vegetable soup (check out my What I Ate Wednesday post, typical workday edition for examples). There are tons of options, and if you’ve prepped accordingly (see the previous tip), you’ll have lots of ingredients with which to build healthy lunches.
Make restaurant food an occasional indulgence
This one’s a toughie for most of us. Dining out is a fun way to spend time with friends and family, but doing it too often can put a damper on your otherwise healthy diet.
If you eat out a few times per month, try to limit restaurants to once a month at first and see how you feel.
It may not be easy initially, but once you get into the habit of making your own food at home, you might just find that you like your own cooking better than restaurant food.
Miss out on the socializing part? Host your own casual dinner party at home. Might I suggest a DIY pizza toppings bar?
Try homemade versions of your favourite indulgent foods
Have a favourite treat you just can’t give up because it’s just too darn good? Get creative and find a way to make a healthier version. I’m willing to bet that this is how kale chips were invented in the first place.
For example, if you like nachos, try layering tortilla chips with shredded vegetables, black beans and crumbled feta cheese instead of greasy beef and heaps of full-fat cheddar cheese. Even if you’re generous with the toppings, you’ll still be saving hundreds of calories compared to restaurant nachos.
Have fun with it!
Unless you’re a contestant on Iron Chef, try not to take cooking too seriously. Regardless of your skill level, making food should be a playful, enjoyable experience. Try new things, experiment with different ingredients, make mistakes and learn from them. You might have a few mishaps, but it doesn’t matter. Just try again…and again and again!
How do you find ways to cook more meals at home? Leave a comment and let me know!
Jennifer Andrews, B.Sc., M.Sc.
Nutritional scientist // Marketing professional // Food blogger