cooking from scratch

3 tips for easily cooking from scratch more often

“Uggghhh. I know cooking from scratch is better for me, but it’s just so hard!”

When I ask people why they don’t get back to the kitchen and cook from scratch more often, that’s the response I normally get.

If I dig deeper, we normally get to the top 3 reasons it’s so hard, usually in this order:

  1. Time
  2. Money
  3. Skills

As in lack of.

I’ve blogged and podcasted a lot about the reasons cooking from scratch is healthier and about how to buy whole, close-to-nature ingredients on a budget. And I have a whole online course about meal planning efficiently.

So let’s talk about your skills in the kitchen.

who inspires you?

Ask most TV-watching (I guess now we have to say “show-streaming?”) American who their kitchen idol is, and they’ll immediately toss out a name, from Julia Child to Guy Fieri, Anthony Bourdain to Mary Berry. Sorry, those may well be very outdated—can you tell I don’t watch cooking shows?

As a country, we do love those cooking shows. We’ll spend an hour—or go down a rabbit hole and binge for hours—on our favorite while on average, we spend 27 minutes on making dinner.

Let’s set aside the question of why you don’t have time to cook from scratch and take a look at what these people dish up “right in front of our eyes”—with hours of pre-prep and a large number of staff. Or did you think reality television means it’s real?

Oh, you don’t get your inspiration from cooking shows—you go to Pinterest and Instagram?

Big mistake. Big. Huge. (Kudos to you if you can nail that quote.)

Why is that a mistake?

Because that tells me that when you need to make dinner, you’re going to browse all those beautiful photos (and probably go down another rabbit hole for hours), find a recipe, go to the store (where you’re highly likely to spend more than you planned on things you don’t need), come home, unpack the groceries, and either realize you forgot something or you’re just too tired to start now. Besides, takeout is so easy.

If you do make dinner as planned, chances are pretty good that it won’t turn out as beautiful as the photograph that caught your eye: there are way too many people posting recipes who have no business doing so, and unless you’re savvy enough to catch the mistakes and make the adjustments on the fly, you’ll be very sad that you “failed” and really unwilling to try again.

what’s the alternative?

The alternative is to learn a few really basic recipes (or even kitchen formulas) and use them—over and over again.

Who said that no meal should ever be repeated? If you have kids who are picky eaters, finding a (healthy) meal they love is a gift, not a curse: Repeat it. Often. I promise they’ll eventually move on.

Where can you find such recipes? My favorite place (other than in my own cookbook) is in the older cookbooks—the ones that were given to women when they were getting ready to set up their own household: Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, Betty Crocker….

The added advantage of these cookbooks is that in their earlier editions, they don’t use a lot of processed ingredients, and their instructions are very basic.

The biggest advantage of having a repertoire of simple recipes—some of which you make weekly, especially if you hit on one the kids like—is that your grocery shopping becomes simpler and you can stock up on dry goods that you will need every week. Once you have them in your pantry, you won’t have to run to the store each time you want to cook.

If you find a recipe that can be made ahead in whole or in part and frozen, that’s a double bonus: save yourself more time by making a double or triple batch—it won’t add much time, and it’ll save on dishes.

cooking from scratch as a practice

Cooking from scratch really does get easier: think of it as a practice, like your yoga practice, like practicing the piano, like practicing for a presentation at work.

My top tips for developing a successful practice?

  1. Be gentle with yourself: you don’t need to develop this cooking from scratch practice or even your list of recipes overnight—just keep them handy in your kitchen or on your tablet, and keep adding to them. I prefer recipes on paper because I can write notes and make adjustments all over the place. Who says you have to follow it to the letter?!?
  2. Consider designating each day of the week so “What’s for dinner?” becomes less of a challenge when your fuse is short at the end of a working day: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday (isn’t that Prince Spaghetti night?)…. And don’t forget to include a night where you finish all the leftovers in the fridge and a night for takeout—you deserve it after cooking all week!
  3. Save the Iron Chef/Pinterest recipes for the weekend, when you don’t have hungry hordes breathing down your neck as you wrestle with unfamiliar ingredients and methods.

make the connection

I’m populating my Recipe page with the basics—this week, it’s Basic Pesto. Check it out, and start your cooking from scratch practice tonight!

Pesto is the Italian word for “paste.” We’re most familiar with the basil + pine nut variation, but you can make it with just about any leafy herb or green you have on hand. (My favorite? Kale, of course!) Four ingredients not including salt + pepper, ready in minutes, and with so many uses! Not just for pasta: pesto goes beautifully on grilled or broiled meat, poultry, or fish/seafood; it dresses up steamed or grilled or roasted veggies; and it’s delicious on eggs in the morning—and you KNOW I’m all about getting dark green leafies in at every meal if possible!

Looking for simple, repeatable recipes? You can buy a PDF version of Fl!p Your K!tchen® on my Shop page, and my online Meal Planning Made Simple course (which includes a downloadable copy of the Fl!p Your K!tchen® Workbook) is 50% off through August! Use the coupon code SUMMER2020 to claim your discount.