5 Tips to Eat More Home-Cooked Meals
Hey, I know home-cooked meals aren't all candle-lit relaxing evenings with a nice bottle of wine. Ours are more like kids jumping on the table, entire mountains of food dropping on the floor and a half-drank glass of wine if we're lucky (which we are!). But I wanted to use this photo as a reminder of how our home-cooked meals can be at least some of the time. Cheers!
Cooking is messy and time-consuming. You don't want to spend every evening cooking some fancy meal then be forced to clean up a huge mess before bed. It's not that we don't like cooking, but doing it day after day is exhausting.
Enter: batch cooking (also known as: leftovers!). Some people batch cook once a week and others once a month. The secret to successful batch cooking is to make it work for you!
Personally, I prefer to batch cook every 3-5 days because I'm not great at sticking to a weekly plan. When I cook I automatically double or triple the recipe and freeze the extra in yogurt containers...or eat it up within a few days. My laid-back form of batch cooking doesn't require hardly any planning, which works great for us.
The point is, when you're putting effort into cooking, that is the best time to put in a little EXTRA effort and take care of 2-3 or even 5 more meals. Nearly every recipe has some part that lends itself to batch-cooking. So do your future self a favor and batch-it!
#2 Freeze it
The real secret to making batch cooking work for you is your freezer. If you're like me there's been more than a few times when you've made a huge batch of something that you're absolutely sick of by the 2nd or third day (moo-oo-oom, chili again??). Your freezer is the secret to transforming your batch-cooked leftovers from totally over it to home-cooked heaven!
How to Freeze and Thaw Foods in Liquid (soups, marinades, beans, etc.)
All you need for storage is yogurt containers. When the food is surrounded by liquid you don't have to worry about freezer burn. Make sure to leave an inch or so at the top of the container for expansion.
When it's time to thaw, place the yogurt container in warm water for 2-3 minutes until the frozen chunk can slide out of the container into your pot. Put a little water in the bottom of the pan and start heating it. You can thaw a quart of soup in about 15 minutes this way!
How to Freeze and Thaw Everything Else (casseroles, meatloaf, etc.)
Double-wrappe before freezing. Saran-wrap is your best friend for the first layer, as it clings to the food and displaces almost all the air. For the second layer a ziploc bag, butcher paper, aluminum foil or even yogurt container works well.
When it's time to thaw, place the frozen food in water (in a plastic bag so it doesn't get soggy) and wait 1-2 hours. Refresh the water when it gets cold to speed the process up.
Quick tip: Many foods, such as casseroles, meat pies, enchiladas, fajitas and lasagna, can be frozen in aluminum baking sheets and go right from the freezer to the oven.
Pro tip: make sure the food is fully cooled before touching it to plastic storage containers or saran wrap. You don't want to leach plastic chemicals into your home-cooked meal!
#3 Build a Recipe Repertoire
Half the battle is figuring out what to cook. Every household needs a few simple recipes that are quick to make and have 10 ingredients or less. Imagine having 7-10 recipes/meals that you know how to cook quickly and easily. These become your go-to recipes for those days (or seasons) when you're tempted to order take-out (I'm looking at you pregnancy and parenthood!).
Now you can take those recipes and put them into your week, which could look something like this:
- Sunday: Slow-Cook or Oven-Roast a Whole Chicken for Soup or Salad (batch-prep and freeze 2-3 marinaded chickens, or turn it all into a big soup to freeze)
- Monday: Pork Tacos (batch-cook and freeze taco meat with beans for the next 2-3 taco nights)
- Tuesday: Spaghetti with Beef Tomato Sauce (batch-cook and freeze pasta sauce)
- Wednesday: Easy-Oven Casserole (batch-cook 2-3 at a time and freeze extra)
- Thursday: Hamburgers (make a dozen or so patties and freeze)
- Friday: Bake a salmon filet - fast, easy, healthy for friday night yummy-ness!
- Saturday: Leftovers!
With this schedule, you could end up only having to cook (and clean) 2 or 3 times in a week. It works brilliantly for us! When we stick to it ;-)
#4 Start a Serious Relationship with Your Slow Cooker!
Your slow-cooker is your new best friend for home-cooked health. If you're committed to batch-cooking, I'd say you need at least an 8 quart slow-cooker for a family of 3-4. You may want to have a smaller one as well (or 2 large ones is even more flexible!).
Your slow-cooker is going to work hard. It should be going almost every day. From bone broth to mac and cheese, to "roasted" chickens, slow-cookers make a variety of home-cooked meals easy and delicious. The main appeal to a slow cooker is that you can safely leave it on while you're gone for the day, then you come home to a dinner that has basically cooked itself!
#5 Let Go of the Control and Embrace Your Helpers
If you're like me, you think life would be easier if you could just do everything yourself and not have to think about showing someone else what to do, but that's a lie our brains are telling us! You can accomplish so much more when you work together with your kids, partner and family - and you can have fun doing it, too!
If they can eat it, they can help cook it. Yes, even your 18-month old can do simple jobs such as wash and tear lettuce in the kitchen. I know some of you are shaking your heads and thinking 'this girl is crazy.' And you're probably right, but hear me out:
Our number one job as parents is to train our children to be capable, confident adults. Do you think you're helping them achieve that when they sit in front of the TV while you cook dinner? All because you're afraid of having them do it wrong? No judgment there - my kids sat in front of the TV while I cooked dinner just last night. But I've had to take a good hard look at my controlling ways and realize it's not doing anyone any favors. We're cooking together a few times a week right now (not every night - I'm not that crazy!) and it's been wonderful.
The key to enjoying it is to let go of the end result, which allows everyone to enjoy the process. Let your kids (or partner) make mistakes. They're going to do it 'wrong' A LOT, but that means they're learning! Don't make them feel bad for putting in effort. They're working hard, even if they do it wrong. Mistakes happen and that's ok.
Instead focus on what matters: be grateful that you can be together and that you have an abundance of food to cook. If you do this, cooking and eating at home could become one of your families favorite past-times.
The family that eats together, stays together. The family that cooks together eats a lot more home-cooked meals!