I was never what you might call culinary-inclined. In fact, the extent of cooking knowledge I possessed was from my eighth grade home economics class and it was the ability to make... wait for it... honey butter. Yes, honey and butter. Mixed. So when I took to living alone in the big city, my cooking skills weren't as developed as I'd have liked.
I felt like the odds were stacked against me. After all, with so many takeaway options available and an insane schedule to adhere to, I thought perhaps young people like me just weren't supposed to cook. But despite my pitiful cooking skills and negative attitude, I was determined to learn.
This is how it began. Does this seem familiar?
- After a long day's work, I'd arrive home and decide to cook.
- Search the internet for a recipe that didn't involve two hours of prep or include ingredients I'd never heard of. (15 minutes of my time.)
- Either get frustrated and order pizza, or write down the required ingredients and head to the supermarket.
- Walk to the store, get what I needed, and walk back. (35 minutes.)
- Start cooking. Run back and forth to the computer to check and double-check the instructions to be sure I wasn't doing anything wrong. (35 minutes.)
- Stress out.
- Eat my meal slightly frazzled, and probably wishing I had ordered pizza.
- Two days later, end up throwing out half of what I made.
Result: 1.5 hours spent, one meal made, half of it wasted. My cooking experience could be summed up in two words: frustrating and inefficient.
I came to belive that cooking at home simply wasn't for me. But despite early failures, I kept at it. And I learned that, while at first it seemed impossible, there is actually a simple process one can follow to cook quickly and cheaply. But before I show you how to do this, I'll explain why it seemed impossible to me.
The Three Mindsets That Are Holding You Back
- Cooking is expensive.
- Cooking is time consuming.
- "I don't know how to cook."
Indulge me for a moment when I say that all of the above are false. I know how much time cooking can take. I know how expensive it can be to purchase groceries for one. And as someone whose recipe knowledge consisted of mixing two ingredients together and calling it a dish, I can say with confidence that I simply believed it took a lot of skill to cook great meals — skills I simply did not have the time to learn.
Truth #1: Cooking at Home is Cheaper Than Takeaway
Simply eating food for lunch each workday can cost up to $3000 a year. If you often eat out for dinner, you can expect that number to double. When I cook at home, I always cook enough to bring to work for lunch the following day. This immediately pockets me that $3000 per year and saves more money in a non-obvious way.
According to a recent study by the Conference Board of Canada, 40 per cent of the food we buy ends up in the trash. The UK Guardian ran a report with similar results: 30-50 per cent of the food we produce ends up in the garbage. By cooking food at dinner to provide for the next day's lunch, I automatically save money that otherwise would have been spent on takeout, or been lost to what is effectively a 40 per cent food tax we place on ourselves.
Truth #2: Cooking At Home Is Quicker
Saving money is great, but time — at least to me — is much more valuable. If you don't agree, I'm sure you at least understand where I'm coming from. In a go-go-go society like ours, time is incredibly valuable. The cost of eating out is an eye-opener, but the most compelling reason I wouldn't cook was because I didn't want to spend the time. Most recipes I found online tended to be time consuming and complex.
However, through some experimentation, I managed to slowly build up a list of recipes that could be made in 30 minutes or less. Simplicity became my number one requirement. As a rule of thumb, when searching for recipes, immediately disregard any recipe that calls for more than 10 ingredients. In my experience, these inevitably take longer than 30 minutes.
Efficient recipes are key. But what made the biggest difference was my decision to break up with the supermarket. I used to waste at least 35 minutes every time I decided to go to the supermarket. This happened multiple times per week, and it was an obvious time drain. Now, I shop only once per week. A quick 30 minutes of preparation on the weekend allows me to grab all ingredients for the coming week in one go, saving me over a dozen hours each month.
Truth #3: Equipment Is Half the Battle
The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was complexity. Cutting recipes with > 10 ingredients had already saved me a bundle of stress. But for a single guy living alone, I found that I was often lacking in essential kitchen equipment. Contrary to popular belief, a few quality items are all that you need to have a fully functional kitchen. You don't need a 12 piece knife set. Or a food processor. Or a rotisserie oven.
What you do need:
Quality kitchen items cost more, but they also last forever and serve multiple purposes. That brightly coloured knife set you got for your birthday may look nice, but it sure doesn't last. Believe me, I know.
Recap: A Small Amount Of Planning Goes A Long Way
Cooking at home is cheaper than getting takeaway. Eliminate waste by cooking enough food to bring to work for the following day's lunch. Save at least $3000 per year by packing your lunch and eliminating food waste.
Cooking at home is quicker than getting takeaway. Simple recipes with 10 ingredients or less is key. Plan your meals for the week ahead of time and go to the supermarket once per week. Save at least 12 hours per month.
Simplicity and the right equipment is all you need. Complexity is the main reason why cooking at home can be so frustrating. Simple recipes + quality tools saves time and makes cooking enjoyable.
And for those who were wondering, here's the one recipe I've known since I was 13 years old:
- 1 tablespoon liquid honey
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Mix well
- Microwave for 10 seconds
Jeffrey Bunn is Co-Founder of Mealime, the first meal planning service exclusively for busy professionals. He is also a freelance copywriter with a focus on blogging, email marketing and conversion. Connect with Jeffrey on twitter @jeffreybunn or @mealime.