Does learning to cook sound like an exhausting, mentally overwhelming task to take to you?
Here’s a little secret. When I got married, I could. not. cook. I’m not exaggerating. Hamburger Helper was a feat. Dry chicken was my specialty. We were not bringing home much money, but I know some months our dining out spending inched a little too close to 4 digits. A large portion of that was due to my husband traveling for work, but still – it was ridiculous.
So what changed? How do I now enjoy cooking and actually cook meals my family asks for over and over? Well, the reason behind it was that I didn’t exactly have a choice. Our location and budget changed, forcing me to get serious about feeding my family (of 5 then) at home. However, I’ve put together a few things that helped me along the way and will hopefully also help to make your journey from drive thru extraordinaire to dinner bell(e) queen a little easier. If I can successfully learn to cook and actually find some joy in it, I’m certain pretty much anyone else can too.
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- Start SUPER Simple
Super duper simple. When I first started cooking, I’d search for things like “3 ingredient _________” or “4 ingredient ___________.” No joke. If it had too many ingredients or steps, I skipped it. Learning a totally new skill is overwhelming enough with 3 kids 3 and under at my feet. I sure didn’t need 15 steps and/or 10 ingredients, 4 of which I had never heard of! You will be surprised how much you can cook with only a few ingredients. You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated dishes for it to taste good.
- Make Your Own Seasonings
Making your own taco or fajita seasoning is a great way to dip your toes into cooking from scratch! The actual cooking process isn’t much different (if at all) from using the pre-packaged seasonings, it’s healthier, and you can tailor it to suit your tastes!
- Get a Slow Cooker
A slow cooker can make many recipes less complicated. There are tons of recipes out there that only require dumping in the ingredients, stirring, and then waiting on that slow cooker to do it’s thing. Soups, pulled pork sandwiches, and bbq chicken, are all quick and very easy with this method. (Check out my Slow Cooker Pinterest board here.)
- Get Organized with Meal Planning
THIS was a huge one for me. The phrase “meal planning” sounds way more intimidating than it actually is. Meal planning just means an organized method to plan out your meals and keep track of what you are planning to eat and cook. Find a calendar arrangement you like, and write it all down, even if it’s just frozen pizza for lunch. Make a plan! I also recommend putting notes on the calendar for anything you have going on that would interfere with being able to spend time in the kitchen. DO NO TRY FANCY NEW RECIPES ON BUSY DAYS. Kids have practice? Not a good day for trying a new recipe with 15 steps. That’s a day for a sandwich, maybe a new hot sandwich. Maybe not.
I’ve done a few articles about the methods I’ve used for meal planning. I started out putting pen to paper, which I still recommend for meal planning newbies, as mentioned here, and more recently I have switched to using an online planner subscription, Plan to Eat, which I shared about here. For both methods I prefer a full monthly calendar layout, even if I’m only planning a week or two at a time. It works best for my life, but feel free to do a weekly layout if that works better for you.
- Do not get too discouraged when that recipe everyone raved about online tastes terrible.
It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Sometimes you follow a recipe exactly, and it just tastes bad. lol I’ve thrown a few in the trash after just a few bites. A couple never even made it to the table. I’m not a picky eater either, so those were rough.
- Get disposable dishes.
This one is probably going to be a bit controversial, but stick with me. I’m not saying use paper plates every meal for 6 months. (Well, if you want to, do your thing, but that’s not what I’m getting at here.) You’re saving money compared to your previous dining out spending habits, so invest in some disposable plates or bowls for nights when you are planning to try a more complicated or time consuming meal. If you finish cooking and you feel proud of the meal you have prepared, you may just decide you would rather eat it on your regular dishes. You also might decide that was a lot of mental work, and it definitely took longer than the 15 minute prep time the recipe claimed and opt for an evening with less dishes.
These are just a few of the things that helped me as I taught myself to cook. Have you taught yourself to cook? If so, I’d love for you to share any other tips you may have in the comments.