I’m finally, finally getting to this.
Here are some things I’ve learned over the past couple years. Feel free to chime in with tips and tricks I’m missing.
- Dedicate some time to getting your food ready to cook after you bring it home from the store. I shop on the weekends, so I always have an extra hour or two to prepare vegetables. Chop and wash lettuce and salad toppings, prep some vegetables for a stir fry (then you can just throw them right in the pan), etc.
- Make food in larger batches. This could mean doubling your dinner recipe or making a pot of grains or beans to use throughout the week. If you don’t mind eating the same meal over and over, dishes like chili and soup are great. If you need more variety, prepare basics (brown rice, some black beans, grilled and chopped chicken) that you can spice up in different ways.
- Use your freezer. This will help you get in more variety, especially since you’re usually making food for just one person. You probably can’t eat a whole pot of tomato sauce before it goes bad, but you can save our two or three portions and freeze the rest in a muffin tin. Pop out a couple frozen … sauce muffins (ha) and you’re on your way to dinner.
- Make stock. I’ve been saving the bones every time I roast chicken, even if it’s just a few drumsticks or one chicken breast. You can save them in the freezer until you’ve got a good stash built up if you want to make a big pot of stock, or just throw what you have into a pan with some onion scraps, carrot shavings and celery tops. I usually add a smashed garlic clove or two and some peppercorns, too. Simmer it while you do other things (even half an hour is fine), and use it for risotto, sauces, soup or in recipes that call for stock. You can freeze this in small portions too.
- Save your vegetable trimmings for stock, too. Broccoli and cabbage give it a funky flavor, but most other things are great.
- Multitask. Stock is a good example. If you’re babysitting something on the stove anyway, why not let another pot boil? Baking a casserole? Might as well throw in some vegetables to roast.
- Keep cooked protein around to go with those grains, vegetables and beans I mentioned above. Roast some bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, bake or saute tofu cubes, steam slices of tempeh or brown a pound of ground beef. I keep the seasoning to a minimum — just salt, pepper and garlic — so I can mix up the flavors for different meals.
- Always keep frozen bananas and spinach around. Smoothies!
- Don’t always rely on recipes. Cooking doesn’t have to be fussy. Too many recipes can mean too many ingredients and lots more work than you want to deal with. Focus on having vegetables, protein and carbs around to build meals instead.
- One of my favorite meals is a “bowl of stuff” (see above). I usually brown some onion, add a little garlic, then whatever vegetable I’m going to use. Once it’s cooked through I add enough grains/beans/lentils/meat/whatever to feed Scott and I. I usually wilt some spinach in at the end if I have it.
- Buy a good spice blend. I like Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute. That’s enough to add some flavor when I’m feeling lazy.
- Go for shortcuts. Broccoli slaw makes a really easy stir fry, a lot of jarred tomato sauces are pretty darn good and there’s no shame in buying a rotisserie chicken. One thing I can’t support, though, is pre-chopped garlic.