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A guide to learning to love cooking

18 August, 2016
PREP-THUMB

Learning to prepare and cook your own meals is one of the surest ways you can start eating healthily, and minimise the amount of processed foods in your diet. As you become more confident in cooking your own meals, you will begin to develop a sense of self-sufficiency from being able to prepare nutritious meals for yourself. 

Many people want to learn to cook, but they put it off because they simply never find the time. However in reality, if you turn cooking into a habit and start by mastering a few go-to recipes, it can be a quick, easy and super fun task! 

Here are some of the benefits of preparing your own meals, and some easy tips to help you create this habit for life. 

Tips for preparing your own meals 

Integrating meal preparation into your everyday life has wide-ranging consequences – all of them beneficial for you. Some tips to make the most out of your food prepping include: 

  • Better health – Knowing exactly what you are using as ingredients and what you are flavouring your meals with allows you to control and minimise processed foods, salt, oil, and other ingredients that should be eaten in moderation. It also allows you and your family to eat more healthfully, reduces the risk of common health conditions and diseases, and gives you more energy every day.
  • Self-sufficiency – Learning to cook gives you a strong sense of self-sufficiency that comes from being able to prepare your own meals the way you like them.
  • Time savings – By using meal planners and planning ahead, you can actually save time by cooking at home, rather than ordering take away or delivered meals.
  • Save money – Eating out can be expensive. Preparing your own meals saves you money and allows you to budget effectively while eating well.
  • Weight control – By avoiding processing foods and eating plenty of freshly prepared meals, you are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.

Start with one night a week 

If you find the whole prospect of making your own meals overwhelming, why not start small with just one or two home-cooked dinners a week? After the first week, you can start working your way up to at least five or six dinners, and start preparing your own lunches. Setting small and achievable goals helps you take the first step without pressure, and it gives you time to adjust to a new habit.

Prepare ahead on Sundays

Do what you can to prepare ahead one or two days a week. This could be Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, or any other day(s) that are convenient for you. Use this day to wash and chop up your vegetables, prepare a few frozen meals, make a big batch of beans for refrying, and cook and freeze some rice or quinoa for use in the week ahead. This simple step will significantly reduce your cooking and meal preparation time during the rest of the week. 
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Work from weekly meal plans

Working from weekly meal plans lets you do your grocery shopping more effectively, and is a great way to make sure you use up all your ingredients. Compared to when working on a day-by-day basis, you have more flexibility to change what you decide to serve and substitute ingredients if necessary. You’ll also know what to do ahead of time, and avoid dinner procrastination or be tempted to eat takeout or delivered meals. 

Master a few basic recipes

Learn a dozen easy recipes that incorporate ingredients that are easy to deal with and allow you to prepare your meal in under 15 or 20 minutes. These manageable recipes can include stir-fries, salad meals, gourmet sandwiches (for lunches), rice bowls, and one-pot meals. As your cooking skills improve you can add more complex and time-consuming recipes to your repertoire, for when you have more time to prepare meals.

Use easy-to-prepare ingredients 

As you start out, focus on using ingredients that are easy to prepare. For example, if the idea of dissecting an artichoke seems too complicated, it’s probably best to start out with eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, and other easy ingredients. 

Serve raw and roasted vegetable

Explore different chopping techniques to prepare raw vegetables, and keep a ready supply of roasted vegetables in the fridge for serving. Not only are prepped raw and roasted vegetables healthy, they make wonderful side dishes, save you time, and are easy to prepare. Keeping a bag or two of frozen vegetables in the freezer is also as good idea for emergencies. 

Make your own frozen meals

Sometimes you will simply be too busy or tired to prepare a meal from scratch. Have your own frozen meals on hand, so you can easily resist buying takeout or pre-packaged meals from the supermarket. Great homemade frozen meal ideas include vegetable lasagne, ready-made pasta sauces, pot pies, fried rice, soups and stews. 

Explore the world of one-pot meals 

One-pot meals and slow cookers are wonderful for those just learning to cook. There countless easy one-pot-meal ideas including pasta, braised meat, soup, and curry recipes. One-pot meals are easy to prepare and easy to clean up, and are less intimidating for those learning to cook. 

Collect recipes and cultivate curiosity 

shutterstock_250750660Start a collection of recipe cards and store these in your kitchen to look through at mealtimes. Another way to cultivate your curiosity about cooking is to look for recipes online and buy cookbooks that captivate your interest. You could even look on YouTube for video tutorials on making your favourite dishes. 

Identify possible triggers for eating out 

If you find you are still tempted to eat out frequently, check the triggers that set you on the way to grabbing those take-away meals. Often it is a lack of confidence that you can prepare a tasty meal, lack of ingredients, poor planning, or maybe not having the right equipment. Or perhaps you just lack a little self-discipline each time you pass your favourite Thai or Italian restaurant. Make sure you identify these triggers, so you know how to deal with them when they arise. 

Reflect on and track your food prepping habits 

Each week as you set out your meal plans, take five or ten minutes to review what is working and what is not working with your efforts. Take note if you are still struggling to make and enjoy your own meals. If so, find out what is causing the issue and work out what you can do to fix it. Remember, developing a new habit takes time and effort, but this is one that is well worth the extra attention you devote to it.

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