5 tips to make cooking at home easier

I love cooking at home.  I have more control over food that I prepare myself, so I know exactly what’s in it, I can cook it exactly the way I like it, and I can generally get high quality ingredients for less money than it would cost to have those same ingredients prepared in a restaurant.  But, let’s face it, cooking the majority of my meals myself can get exhausting.  Sometimes, I just don’t feel like cooking, which can translate into not wanting to eat because that means I have to cook.  If you get stuck in this rut sometimes, or if you want to cook more at home but are overwhelmed with the idea of cooking full meals ever day, here are some tips to make the process less stressful.

Tip # 1: Take advantage of your oven.

Are you roasting a chicken for Sunday supper?  Great!  While you have the oven on, what else can you roast for later use?  For things like this, I try to choose items that don’t require a specific temperature to turn out right.  For example, roasted asparagus is delicious, but it needs to be roasted at a very high temperature.  If you’re roasting your chicken at 350º or 375º, then roasted asparagus isn’t the best thing to toss in the oven along with your chicken.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, and maybe even some extra chicken pieces are great things to toss in the oven while that night’s dinner is roasting.  You don’t even need to know exactly what you’re going to do with them yet — just cook them!  Once you have pre-cooked ingredients in your fridge, whipping up delicious and quick breakfasts, lunches, and dinners throughout the week becomes so much easier.

By the way, the same rule applies to the grill.  Especially if you use a charcoal grill, go ahead and grill extra veggies and protein, then save those extras for later in the week.  You’ll save on time and fuel, and you’ll enjoy that tasty grilled flavor for days.

Tip # 2: Make big batches of soups and sauces, then freeze them.

I love spaghetti night as much as the next person, but making fresh sauce every time can get old, especially if it’s the kind that cooks all day.  Instead of making spaghetti sauce every time you want spaghetti, make a big pot of sauce (at least double what your family will eat), then once you’ve eaten, put the rest of the sauce in the freezer for another day.  You can even divide it into single servings if you want to make it easy to grab for a quick lunch or for when you’re alone for dinner.  Just cook some pasta and add a salad and you’ve got a home-cooked meal with next to no effort.

The same goes for chili or just about any other soup or stew.  Just be careful about freezing potatoes — their high water content and starch nature gives them a very grainy texture when frozen and thawed.

Tip # 3: Batch-cook your grains.

Much like saurces and stews, grains can be cooked in large batches, then divided up and frozen for a later date.  Why not make a double-batch of your favorite rice pilaf, then freeze half of it to make the next week’s side dish a snap?  Or, if you’re serving quinoa at dinner tonight, cook extra and use the rest for a delicious quinoa salad that you can use as a quick lunch or a light supper throughout the week.  Grains are generally very flexible, so it’s easy to cook a lot of them and hold them for later use.

The same rule goes for legumes.  If beans are a regular part of your family’s diet, you can cook a big pot of dried beans, use some the day you cook them, use more throughout the week, and freeze some for later convenience.

Tip # 4: Marinade everything at once.

A marinade is a great way to get lots of flavor into protein (or even vegetables), but they can be a hassle to put together on a regular basis, plus, using, then tossing a whole lemon, olive oil, and various seasonings several times a week can get expensive, even if it is delicious.  Instead, throw a couple of extra chicken breasts in the bag with your Simple Lemon Chicken and cook them alongside what you’re going to eat today.  Then you’ll have super flavorful leftovers for salads and sandwiches during the week.

Tip # 5: Embrace pulled pork (or brisket).

If you want a protein that you can cook at the beginning of the week and use all week long, look no further than pulled pork.  One pork shoulder will feed 8 to 12 people easily, so go ahead and cook the whole thing early in the week, then use some for BBQ Puled Pork Sandwiches, just add your favorite BBQ sauce.  Use some of the pork that you didn’t drench in sauce for a delicious breakfast hash, use it in place of pepperoni on pizza night, put it in wraps for lunch, the options really are endless.  My favorite basic pulled pork recipe is Kalua Pig from Nom Nom Paleo, but as long as it’s tender and shred-able, any recipe will work.

If your family doesn’t eat pork, or you just want something different, try cooking and shredding a beef brisket instead.

I hope you find these cooking tips helpful.  What are some of your favorite ways to make meal times less hectic?

Catherine Hall

About Catherine Hall

Catherine lives in Bangor, Maine with her family. She gained her appreciation for food and cooking from her grandmother and learned most of her technical knowledge from watching the Food Network. When not in the kitchen, Catherine can be found outdoors attempting to grow vegetables (not always successfully), practicing yoga, and taking Capoeira classes in downtown Bangor. Catherine can also be found walking around town with her Guiding Eyes guide dog, Caleb.