I’ve mentioned before that hanging out in the kitchen cooking is not one of my favorite things to do. However, as I’ve worked towards simplifying and minimizing different areas of my life, including daily cooking, I’ve actually started looking forward to making dinner each evening, well, most evenings. Below are some things I’ve done to simplify the process so it’s not such a stressful end to the day for me.
- Prep food in the morning. I actually don’t mind the actual rinsing, cutting and chopping that goes into food preparation, so I get all of that out of the way in the morning if needed, so in the evening I feel more like I’m on the cooking channel as I just dump different premeasured, prepared ingredients together.
- Keep dinner simple. Almost all of my dinners are only three dishes. A protein, vegetable and carbohydrate. This makes menu planning much easier and the time spent in the kitchen much shorter. Our dinners usually consist of proteins like salmon, tilapia, chicken, beans and rice and once in a while steak. Vegetables vary according to what’s in season, but our favorites are broccoli, green beans, peas, spinach salad and sautéed squash. Carbs are usually side dishes of rice, couscous or quinoa, or a mixture of all three.
- Cook extra and freeze. This is one of my favorite ways of simplifying dinner. I have started taking the time to research main dishes that I can cook double of, and then freeze half of it for a future meal. I have found that marinating chicken, fish and steak works well, so all I have to do is thaw it the day before and cook it up in a pan or in the oven. Soups and stews freeze nicely as do fillings for meals like tacos and fajitas. When planning menus, I plan to cook four meals per week, doubling and freezing three of them, and then I use three freezer meals that I have made during prior weeks for the other days of the week. It works out wonderfully that I only have to really cook four days out of the week.
- Avoid casseroles and multi-step dishes. Unless you love cooking, I would avoid making casseroles a part of the menu, as well as dishes that require multiple lengthy steps in preparation, you know, the kind of dishes Alton Brown loves to make that require you to spend an extra hour in the kitchen sifting ingredients together. The truth is, most meals that take a lot of time and are layered, like casseroles, are usually not that healthy for you anyway, and contain more processed and refined ingredients.
- Clean as you go. This was one of the worst parts of making dinner each night for me, until I developed the habit of cleaning as I cooked. I would look around after making dinner and see pots and pans everywhere, food pieces on the counter and a big pile of dishes in the sink from preparation. It made the meal much less enjoyable thinking about the cleanup that would need to be done afterwards. So, I started wiping counters and washing utensils, knives and pans as I went through the cooking process, and it made an amazing difference in my dinner experience. Sure, it took a few minutes longer in the actual preparation of the meal, but it is well worth the relaxation of eating without a mess in view, or on my mind.
Cooking dinner still is not my favorite part of the day, but I can honestly say that I don’t dread it like I used to. There are some days where I may actually look forward to it just a little, since I know I won’t be spending more than a half hour in the kitchen cooking, and what I turn out will be a healthy meal for the family.