When's the last time you cooked at home every night for a whole week? For a lot of us, I bet the answer is "I can't even remember!" And yet, how often do you watch cooking shows on TV? My Netflix "Watch Again" queue is a lineup of Parts Unknown, Chef's Table, Chopped and Mind of a Chef, but my Eat24 past orders page is basically a comprehensive guide to every restaurant that delivers vegan food in the Valley.
I recently talked to Check, Please! host Chef Catherine De Orio, and she thinks that watching cooking shows on TV can actually make it harder for people to get in the kitchen.
"There's such a proliferation of food TV right now — we're all watching it. I think people that haven't cooked before can find it very intimidating. The recipes have become very sophisticated," she told SheKnows.
So how can we bridge the gap between the four-course meals shown on TV and the cooking that's actually possible within our limited time and budget? Here are some of her tips.
The biggest benefit to cooking at home? It's a lot cheaper.
"When you see how much you can buy in groceries for what you spend on takeout and see how many meals you can make out of that, it really, meal per meal, is so much less expensive," De Orio shared.
Another benefit? It's more nutritious.
"Eating out is great. I'm a restaurant review show host, and I eat out a lot. But you have to have balance, because eating out every day, the reason the food tastes so good is that it's full of salt, oil, sugar and cream. It's really nice to cook at home and know exactly what you're putting in your food."
If you don't cook at home often, start thinking about what you want to cook.
"Look for inspiration first," De Orio suggested. Pinterest and Instagram offer a wealth of options, as do farmers markets and in-season produce. What do you want to be eating at home? What ingredients do you want to cook with? Use this as a starting point when you're researching recipes and heading to the grocery store.
"No matter who it is, we all are so strapped for time," De Orio told SheKnows. The best way to fit cooking into your schedule? "Strategize what you're going to be eating in the week ahead."
She elaborates: "When you don't have a plan for the week ahead, that's usually when you end up driving home from work and being like, 'I don't have anything in the fridge, I'm so tired, I don't want to go to the grocery store,' and you end up eating out."
Make a meal plan over the weekend, write out a list before you go grocery shopping, and you'll be set for success.
One of the best ways to save time when cooking is to do some prep work ahead of time and make your favorite staple foods in batches.
"Double up on things. If you're making a sauce, double or triple that batch, and then freeze it." That way, the next time you're strapped for time, you can just use one of the portions you froze instead of having to start from scratch.
You can also try using ingredients in multiple meals. For instance, bell peppers can be used in omelets, stir-fries, pasta and more. Save time by chopping all your peppers on the weekend, and then add them to your meals throughout the week.
Make batches of quinoa or rice, tomato sauce or a big roasted chicken, and then turn those staples into different meals throughout the week by incorporating new ingredients.
"It's kind of like the little black dress that you can add different accessories to," De Orio explained.
One of the best ways to make sure you don't have to resort to takeout is to make sure you have plenty of go-to ingredients on hand.
"I'm Italian. I always cook with garlic, olive oil, onions... I always have canned tomatoes in my pantry — always — and tomato paste. You can make some pasta sauce in 10 minutes, and you always have something warm, comforting and delicious," without having to run to the store.
And the recipe is versatile. Add red pepper flakes for a spicy sauce, chipotles in adobo for enchilada sauce or a Moroccan spice blend to make baked eggs. The possibilities are endless.
If you're feeling the pull of the kitchen and want to cook at home more, then join the Great American Cook In Challenge. Make all your meals at home for one week, and share them on social media using the hashtag #GreatAmericanCookIn.
You can browse the hashtag to see what other people are making and feel good about joining the movement to make nutritious, cost-effective meals at home.
Ready to start the challenge? Check out our quick and easy recipe collection.
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