I used to hate cooking.
That’s probably one of the reasons why I used to avoid it at all costs. The result? I was flat broke damn near all the time and living paycheck-to-paycheck. As much as I hate cooking, I hate being broke more.
Still, cooking was tough for me. So, I took a little bit of time to research ways on how to do it better.
If this stuff doesn’t come naturally to you either, then read on! These are my top tips for how to make cooking easier.
Set Reminders For Pre-Prep
Imagine coming home at the end of a long, hard day at work. All you want to do is relax, but then you realize that you forgot to thaw a pot roast in the fridge three days ago and put it in the slow cooker that morning. D’oh!
I used to do this all the time, but I’ve found an easy way around it: I set reminders to myself. I use my handy-dandy to-do list each day to keep myself on track. I didn’t used to like to do lists either, but now they’re my lifesavers once I figured out a system that worked for me.
If you’re not hip with the kids these days and their cell phones and fancy technology, don’t despair. You can just as easily set up email reminders, use a calendar, or even use an old-fashioned pencil and pad of paper. We also have a whiteboard on our fridge, which helps out tremendously.
Related post: How To Battle A Dining-Out Addiction…And Win!
Hone Your Knife Skills
Dudes, seriously. No one ever taught me how to chop stuff. I’m still surprised I’ve lived almost 30 years and I still have all my fingers.
Learning how to chop stuff properly will help you in a lot of ways. It’ll make your food tastier because the chopped pieces will cook more evenly. You’ll waste less food. It’ll be less stressful. Balloons and confetti will fall from the ceiling when you master a good cut.
It isn’t hard to learn. I took this free online knife skills course, practiced with a few veggies in a stir-fry, and now I’m golden.
Mise En Place
It’s all come down to the final moment.
You pull out the chosen recipe, chopped up whatever it says goes in the pot first, and off you go.
This is how I used to do it, but I always found myself rushing to chop food faster as different ingredients needed to go into the pot, searching for seasonings, trying to find the damn measuring spoons, etc..
Instead, there’s a better way. The French call it mise en place, and it basically means that you have all your shit together before you start cooking. Chop up all of the veggies, and then the meats. Measure out all of the spices. I even bought wee little bowls to hold the spices and chopped foods. They’re cute, and it makes me feel like a fancy chef.
This one trick has changed my life and made cooking way easier. It’s way less stressful. I burn less food now and save a ton of money as well. I can’t not do this anymore!
Batch-Cook Your Food
The best way to avoid cooking is to not cook at all! How, you may ask?
Let me introduce you to one of the little-known wonders of the home culinary world: batch-cooking.
It works like this: each time you cook a meal, make more than one meal’s worth. Save the rest for later. You can either put them in the fridge if you’ll be eating them soon, or freeze them.
You can even repurpose stuff you’ve already cooked. For example, we love to cook pulled pork in the crock pot. One pork shoulder will feed us for 4-5 meals between the two of us. After we cook it on the first day we’ll usually make BBQ pulled pork sandwiches. When the pork cools down we’ll bag up the rest in quart-sized bags, then freeze it. After that we’ll have pulled pork tacos, pulled pork enchiladas, you name it. Boom.
One extension of this idea is called freezer cooking, and it’s the most amazing thing since double rainbows. You have to look out for freezer-friendly meals (MyFreezEasy is my absolute favorite), and then basically you just batch-cook as many meals as you want and pop’em in the freezer.
Some people go hog-wild with this and dedicate one weekend day to freezer cooking and they’ll whip up like a month’s worth of food. We don’t get that carried away because we have a small apartment freezer. Even having just a few meals in the freezer gets rid of the we-don’t-have-anything-for-dinner excuse.
Leftovers: Your New Best Friend
I used to hate leftovers. (I used to hate a lot of things apparently)
Why should I deign to eat old food when there was a world of fresh, new food to taste?
Over time, though, I realized I have two options with leftovers. I can throw them out and buy takeout for $40, or I can eat the food I already have and essentially get a free meal. Then I thought about those $40: I could stockpile those into a savings account. I could pay off debt, or save up so I can afford a house someday.
My leftovers could literally be my ticket out of this shitty apartment if I actually eat them!
So, celebrate your leftovers! Raise your forks proud and high, oh ye frugalites! You’re on your way to less cooking and more progress towards your financial goals.
Besides, who would really chose to be in debt longer for the sake of eating takeout all the time anyway?
The Crock Pot: Your Second New Best Friend
I’ll be honest. Cooking can be tough. I have yet to make a good crispy fried fish fillet despite trying my damndest.
There’s a time and place for high-falutin’ cooking, but the truth if your crockpot can take you a long way. It’s especially helpful if you’re short on time. Just plop the ingredients in, give it a good stir, and Bob’s your uncle. Plus, it’ll save you on electricity costs compared to running your big oven for hours and hours.
Here’s our favorite crockpot. We like it because you can set it to turn off when your food’s cooked to a certain temperature. That way we don’t come home to dried-out cardboard if we set it to start in the morning before work. For some cool recipe ideas, we like this cookbook because it has more than 2,000 recipes just for crockpots. I mean seriously, do you need any more?
Do The Dishes As You Go
Aside from the actual cooking, one of my most dreaded chores was washing dishes. I’m not gonna lie; I don’t have any earth-shattering tips to give here aside from hiring Fabio to come do your dishes. Unfortunately I’m not that rich, but I’ve tried a few other (free) things that seem to work well and at least make it a little less painful.
First, start each cooking session with an empty dishwasher, if you’re lucky enough to have one. If not, draw up a sink full of soapy water.
This step is important because I always try to put the dishes into the dishwasher as I am finished them—as long as I have a second or two break from cooking, of course. I give them a quick rinse if needed, and into the dishwasher they go. That way, I don’t have a Mount Doom of dishes waiting for me at the end.
If you do find yourself too tired to finish doing dishes when you’re done cooking, then at least soak the dishes. Squirt a bit of soap into the pots and pans or on the plates, and fill with water. That way, the food doesn’t get all crusty and gross. It takes forever to scrub off, and it’s no fun to clean up. It might not make cooking easier, but it’ll make cleanup easier.
Why The Hell Even Bother With Making Cooking Easier?
These techniques have had a big impact in our lives. I’m not gonna say that I am totally in love with cooking, but at least today I can say it’s somewhat enjoyable.
Once I figured out what was going wrong in my cooking process, I was able to fix it so now it’s less stressful, healthier, and more fun, especially when I get to try new recipes and knock it out of the park. Unfortunately, that’s still quite rare.
Now, remember the reason why we’re doing all of this? To save money, of course.
Our food bill (groceries + dining out) went from $1,475 per month to $1,000 per month. We’ve been following this routine for a year now, and in that amount of time, we’ve managed to save an extra $5,700! Hot damn!
Now, how much can you save by cooking at home?
Do you have any tips or tricks to make cooking easier and less stressful? Leave a comment below!