Nurturing a Cook-at-Home Habit

While some headlines trumpet the demise of home cooking (there are even government study data that show we all consume less home-prepared food than we used to), other sources indicate that Millennials are more interested in cooking—not just ideas for what to make, but how—the processes and details they can get through YouTube videos. Videos for cooking “hacks” are also popular, and who can look away from those speedy Tasty videos?

Quick Veggie Stir Fry Bowl
Recipes like this Quick Veggie Stir Fry Bowl can be overwhelming to shop for, but they shine as templates for pulling together whatever odd veggies you need to use up.

It’s not a mystery as to why we are cooking less than we used to. There are many reasons: we have more convenience products available, more restaurants/takeout/delivery options, more women in the workplace, a bigger lack of cooking skills/knowledge, and more demands on our time while at home, to name a few. But if you’re among those who long to get back to home cooking and see its value, I’ve got some ideas for ways to help make cooking at home a habit again. (And if you want to learn more about trends in home cooking and the many valuable aspects of cooking at home, check out the Guiding Stars webinar on the topic here).

Make a “game” out of using up what you have on hand.

Using up what you have in your fridge and pantry is budget-wise, cuts down on wasted food, and can make for a fun challenge. Indeed, my sisters and I love to tell each other about the meals we produce out of seemingly nothing. (Must have something to do with being raised by parents who were young during the Great Depression and therefore wasted nothing.) Looking at a few random ingredients in my fridge and pantry cranks up my creative juices, and when I have a good (read edible, even tasty) dish at the end, I feel accomplished and delighted with my frugality, too.

When faced with things that don’t immediately look like dinner, keep these general ideas in mind and just give something a try:

  • A quick soup (good when you have leftover cooked vegetables, vegetables a bit past their prime, some cooked meat/chicken)
  • Scrambled eggs (or make a frittata if you know how—not much harder than scrambling really)—use the same ingredients as above, plus eggs of course
  • Got tortillas on hand, too? Burritos to the rescue (I like mine with cooked beans, some cooked rice or a pouch of microwavable rice, whatever cooked meat is around and some cheese)
  • Something plus rice/quinoa/barley etc (sauté some onions, whatever veggies you have around (including canned veggies), and a protein of some sort—shrimp is awesome if you have some around, season and toss it all together.

Choose 2 or 3 recipes you want to make in the week ahead.

I know that having a menu plan is not a revolutionary idea by any means, and yet, most of us don’t do it. Instead, we wing it every day and when faced with random items in our fridge and pantry, we chuck the whole idea and dial for pizza instead. My suggestion is to not overwhelm yourself with a week’s worth of new recipes right off the bat. Instead, choose two or three simple recipes that you will work into your schedule on those nights when you will have time to cook. Even better, choose items that will result in leftovers that can be utilized on other nights. For example, roast chicken, slow-cooker pulled pork, meatloaf, stir-fried meat, veggies over rice, a roasted salmon or skillet sausage, peppers and onions.

Invest in your cooking skills.

It’s easy to make calling for takeout a habit—not as easy to make home cooking a habit, especially if you didn’t grow up in a household where home-cooked meals were the norm. If you didn’t grow up with someone who taught you how to cook the basics, there’s a good chance you just need some instruction and you’ll be on your way to more homemade dinners. When I say “invest,” I don’t mean necessarily spending money on cooking classes (though if you can, they are inspiring and fun). You can invest time, too. Study some videos, ask a friend or relative to show you how to make his or her specialty, watch cooking shows that provide actual instructions and tips, purchase a cooking magazine that catches your eye, or subscribe to one.