I know, you might not believe me but TRUST me when I say you DO have time to cook.
Let me start this article off with some background info and a story….
My name is Stephanie Hnatiuk. I’m the owner of my own Nutrition Counseling and Personal Training Company. I work as a Diabetes Educator and a Clinical Dietitian. My work often takes me all over this lovely province of Manitoba teaching fitness and nutrition workshops to community groups. I also see private personal training clients at my studio, and teach bootcamp classes two evenings per week.
I do all of my own “behind the scenes” business work, like bookkeeping, scheduling, website management, and writing articles like these. I’m a busy lady. Busier than you? Maybe, maybe not (completely subjective in my opinion). Yet, as a Dietitian I know the value and benefit of eating a healthy balanced diet, so I somehow in all of that make the time to cook.
No… I have a fantastic partner who doesn’t think that cooking is only “women’s work”. I don’t believe cooking should ever fall to only one person in the household, unless it’s by choice. Even your kids can contribute to meal planning and age-appropriate meal preparation.
Now, I’ve been careful in my phrasing. I make the time to cook. Not ‘find’ the time. Because to me, finding the time is an exercise in futility. How often do we find ourselves just sitting at home wondering what on earth to do with all this free time we have?Like never. On the other hand, making the time is a more proactive task. It involves prioritizing something in your life and adjusting other factors to ensure that task gets done. If we just sit back and wait for all this extra time to magically appear, it ain’t. gonna. happen.
So how do I do it? What steps do I take to make cooking a priority, and ensure that healthy eating is the easy choice in my house?
Struggle #1: Not knowing what to cook and going in blind
It all starts with having a plan.
Each week, I sit down and take a look at my weekly work schedule. What days am I working late? What days do I have some gaps between clients? What days does Dan have hockey and won’t be home in the evening either? From there I create my meal plan for the week.
Usually just Sunday-Thursday since we are more likely to be out over dinner on the weekends, or need to use up leftovers and clear out the fridge. The plan is key because from that I create my grocery list, and head to the store. I know I have everything I need to make my meals for the week, and I better use those ingredients to avoid spoilage and waste!
Meal planning can be done anytime, anywhere. Waiting for your kid at hockey practice? Work on your meal plan. Absentmindedly scrolling through Facebook while waiting at the Dentist? Work on your meal plan. At first, it might take a little longer, but after a few weeks you’ll be a pro and whip up a solid plan in under 20 minutes.
Apps like Pinterest are also good resources for meal planning, as long as you pin more actual meal ideas than dessert recipes and fashion. When I’m trying to think of new ideas to keep from getting into a dinner rut, I like to check out the recipes I’ve saved on pinterest to get some inspiration.
For more of my meal planning tips, click here!
Trying to decide when you get home from work what to make for dinner is going to backfire. Who wants to start pulling meat out of the freezer and backtracking to the grocery store when they’re already hungry and tired from a long day at work? Even I’m liable to pick up a pizza instead of preparing a homemade meal when it’s late and I’m already hungry and tired. When I meal plan I make sure to include really delicious stuff that I’m excited to eat. If we plan things we don’t really want to eat we’ll find any excuse to avoid it!
Pro-tip: Save Money
Having a plan and doing one weekly shop can also save you a big chunk of change. Every time we enter a grocery store we are likely to make a few impulse purchases. Go shopping when you’re hungry, and that chance increases dramatically. So if we stop at the store on our way home from work every day, and each time we spend an extra $10, that’s another $50 every week tacked onto our grocery bill that we otherwise would have saved.
Struggle #2: Not having the time to cook
Ok, so we’ve got our plan made….great! Now, the tough part. Following the plan!
I get it, maybe you hate cooking and feel like it’s a chore. You’re tired at the end of the day and just want to put your feet up and catch up on your shows once the kids go to bed, not head back to the kitchen to do meal prepping. But let’s get real for a second here. It isn’t truly a matter of not having the time, it’s a choice in how our leisure time is spent.
To some people, cooking is relaxing, fun, and a source of enjoyment in their lives. For most people though, cooking is seen as a chore, and something that is happily delegated to Skip the Dishes.
But let me be completely blunt about this, if you have time to:
- Scroll on social media, you have time to cook
- Pin new dessert recipes to your pinterest boards, you have time to cook
- Catch up on your netflix shows, you have time to cook
- Wait 45 minutes for your Skip the Dishes to arrive while you read Buzzfeed articles online YOU HAVE TIME TO COOK
If this is your struggle, my advice is to look at two areas in your life where we can often find a few minutes to be more efficient in the kitchen.
1. Unsurprisingly, our screen time.
On average we watch 2-3 hours of TV daily. Yes, it’s true that the average “TV” time has decreased since the ’80’s, but that doesn’t mean we’re actually decreasing our screen time. That 2-3 hours per day does not include the time we spend staring at our phone screens, ipads, or computers.
Compare that number to the piddly 21 minutes per day we spend on average cooking. Including cleanup.
Sometimes I honestly surprise myself with how time just seems to speed by when I’m caught up scrolling through my Instagram feed. It’s amazing how one notification popping up quickly turns into 15 minutes of browsing. Social media is a productivity killer. Want to find more time in your day? Turn that darn thing off!
If we cut our screen time by even 1/3, we would find ourselves with almost an extra hour every day that could be spent cooking a healthy meal. That’s no small amount of time given the plethora of 30-minute recipes out there and the potential use of time-saving devices like slow cookers and instant pots. Planning to set aside time for cooking every second day and making enough for another meal of leftovers is a great use of time as well if cooking every day is just not gonna happen for ya. Meals like tacos, asian noodle bowls, or a veggie-filled pasta bake are simple, delicious, and can easily be made in well under an hour.
2. To spend more time cooking when I’m already cooking.
Huh? How on earth do you do that?
By doubling up on tasks and making the time you spend in the kitchen more efficient.
For example, you’ve got a pot of rice on the stove, and some chicken and vegetables in the oven. While you’re waiting, why not boil some eggs to put in the fridge for breakfast, or chop up the ingredients to go in the slow cooker for dinner tomorrow? Or cook a double batch of something like potatoes to use for another meal later in the week? A lot of times if you’re cooking a small amount of something, it takes very little time to prepare extra for another meal.
I also might spend this time portioning out containers of fruit and yogurt for lunches, or cut-up veggies. A lot of people like to dedicate separate time on the weekend to do their “meal prepping” for the week, but I’d much rather just use the time I’m already spending in the kitchen to get more things done. This is another fantastic opportunity to get other family members involved in some kitchen tasks, turning what might be a sole person’s mundane chore into an opportunity for some conversation and family time.
When I make something in my slow cooker I always make a large batch so I can portion out a few containers to freeze for another meal. That way on nights when you are really truly too busy to cook, or just want a night free, you’ve got some ready-to-go healthy meals.
New technology like the Instant Pot has also given us some serious advancements when it comes to cutting down on cooking time. These devices are the new generation of pressure cookers, which due to being able to cook at very high temperatures under pressure, can cut down on cooking time significantly. But they aren’t your grandma’s pressure cooker! These new models are what we call “multi-use” appliances, meaning they can also function as a slow-cooker, a rice cooker, among other things. Definitely something to consider purchasing if you want to do more in less time.
Struggle #3: You’re a terrible cook
I am very fortunate to have a mother who is a wonderful cook. I was always eager to help in the kitchen from a young age, and a lot of that basic knowledge and confidence in the kitchen has served me very well as an adult.
That definitely isn’t everyone’s reality. Not all of us grew up on home cooked meals and have enough confidence in the kitchen to just ‘whip something up’.
Even as someone with solid food skills, trust me, I’ve had some real F****-ups over the years. Ask me about the great bean soup catastrophe of 2009, or that REALLY awful chicken marinade last year. Like almost everything in life, practice makes perfect! The more you cook the better you’ll become at it, knowing what flavors go well together, and what to do to amp up a dish that’s a little dull.or that beans need to be soaked before cooking, even when making soup.
Simple to start
If you’re a newbie cook, choose simple recipes to start. Look for things with a fairly short ingredient list, and a small number of straightforward steps. Diving into overly challenging recipes that don’t turn out well is only going to deter you away from doing more home cooking. There are many online resources and video tutorials that can help you with step by step instructions for creating your meals.
When I’m encouraging my clients to do more home cooking I also tell them to pick recipes and meal ideas that you can get excited about. If my only options for dinner are overcooked chicken with plain rice and boiled broccoli, I’d want to call Skip the Dishes too! Food should be one of the best, most exciting parts of our day. If we choose exciting, delicious recipes that we actually want to eat, we won’t feel like we’re missing out by reducing our takeout frequency.
Healthier eating is definitely important, but a huge majority of the things we would typically cook at home is going to be healthier than takeout food. Simply by cooking we are going to be doing our bodies a big benefit(and our bank accounts!)
You can read more about why home cooking means healthier eating by clicking here.
The Bottom Line
No one is really too busy to cook if we plan ahead, get organized, and make it a priority in our lives. We’re all busy, but making time to do some make-ahead meals, or dividing up kitchen tasks between family members can prevent all of the duties from falling to one person. Even people with no cooking experience can gain skills and confidence in the kitchen with the amazing array of online recipes and cooking tutorials. The more we cook the better we’ll become at it, and the investment in our health, and the health of our kids is immeasurable.
Maybe, just maybe you’ll learn to actually enjoy cooking, and see it as a positive use of leisure time and a relaxing activity, rather than such a drudgery. Hopefully.
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