We all know that one of the easiest things we can do to save money on one of our largest expenses–food–is by cooking at home. Yet many of us find ourselves kicking and screaming like a little kid when it comes time to cook ourselves a damn meal.
It’s a pain in the butt.
In order to cook at home, you need to have a basic understanding of what to do in the kitchen, deal with the chaos that is the grocery store, make time to cook, and then clean those pesky dishes. With all of this to deal with just to cook a meal, it’s a wonder that any of us actually manage to do it.
Making it a habit to Cook at home consistently has always been a struggle of mine. I’m indecisive so trying to figure out what to eat after a full day of work was the last thing I wanted to spend brainpower on.
But I knew that trying to figure out how to cook at home regularly could help me reduce my expenses and get me closer to reaching my savings and debt pay-off goals. I would also be meeting another goal of eating healthier. Cooking at home seemed like a win-win situation, but I still approached it kicking and screaming.
But the good news is that we try our best to stick to our plan of cooking at home. We aren’t perfect but feel pretty good about our progress.
Here is what helped us start cooking at home more. And I hope these tips can help you, too.
How to Start Cooking at Home
Find Your Inspiration for Wanting to Cook at Home
I’m starting to learn that the first step in forming a new habit is determining why you want to make a change.
So ask yourself “Why do I want to start cooking at home?”
The answer to that question is your inspiration—your “why” for making the effort to form this new habit.
Do you want to eat healthier? Do you want to save money on your food costs? Do you want to make those delicious meals you see on the Food Network? It doesn’t matter what your individual reason is. All that matters is that you have a firm grasp on your why.
Our own motivations were mostly to start saving on our food bill. But in addition to that, we want to feed our bodies nourishing food. Cooking at home helps us eat healthier since it’s easier for us to make healthy food choices when we are limited by the food we have at home.
Once you have your inspiration, you can dive a little deeper and look at why you currently struggle to cook food at home.
Determine What is Preventing You From Cooking at Home
We all have our own reasons that prevent us from cooking at home. Knowing what your reasons are will help you figure out what the roadblocks are and remove them, paving the way to start cooking yourself a delicious meal at home.
Here are some common reasons people don’t cook at home:
- You get hives thinking about grocery shopping
- You hate cleaning the kitchen after cooking
- You consider yourself a clown in the kitchen
- You have limited time to dedicate to cooking
- You don’t know where to start
- You struggle to figure out what to cook after a long day of work
- You don’t like the food you have at home
- You find it pointless to cook for only one person
- You love delicious restaurant food
Before I met Mr. Taco, my biggest struggle was making a decision on what to eat at home after a long day of work. Therefore, I often ended up either eating snacks and calling it dinner or picking up take-out on the way home.
As a couple, we struggle to cook at home if we don’t plan ahead. We have found that if we leave our meal decisions up in the air for the week then our visions of cooking at home fly right out of the window.
So why do you struggle to cook at home?
With this knowledge of why you struggle to cook at home, you can now figure out what you need to do to break down those roadblocks.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you start kicking ass and taking names in the kitchen—or at least get you to start making some delicious and cost-conscious dishes for yourself and/or your family.
Make a Meal Plan
When you have a plan for how you are going to meet a goal, you will be that much more likely to succeed. That is what your meal plan is—your guide for how you will drive by that Chipotle and instead make yourself a delicious burrito bowl at home.
A meal plan does so many good things:
- It helps you plan out your grocery shopping so you only buy what you need. This helps save money and prevent food waste.
- It takes the stress out of deciding what to eat for each meal, especially those after-work dinners.
- It adds some accountability since you already bought ingredients for a specific meal.
Meal plans have been critical for us in making cooking at home a habit. We even have a dry erase board on the refrigerator with our dinner plans for the week. We found if we didn’t have a written-out plan we would either end up eating out or end up buying too much at the grocery store.
Learn a Few Kitchen Basics
It’s really hard to want to cook at home when you believe that you aren’t a good cook. Learning a few kitchen basics will help build some confidence in the kitchen and maybe you’ll find that you even like it.
Here are ways to start building your confidence in the kitchen:
1. Take a Cooking Lesson or Two
Taking a cooking class can help you feel more confident in the kitchen. By increasing your confidence, you will be more willing to try to kick ass in the kitchen.
A few years ago, I took a knife skills class and now I’m not afraid of cutting my finger off! Total win.
You can look for cooking classes in several places:
- Your city’s recreation department
- Community centers
- Cooking Stores (Sur La Table)
- Online cooking schools (America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School)
2. Find a Few Good Beginner Cookbooks
Cookbooks are a great way to get to know your way around the kitchen. Sure there are a lot of fancy cookbooks out there trying to get you to make a 5-star meal, but there are also many books that cater to beginners and teach you how to feel comfortable in the kitchen.
What I like to do when I’m looking for a new cookbook is to borrow it from the library first to see if it’s something I like. Not every cookbook is written for every cook. You need to find the ones that work for you, and that will take a little trial and error. So for me, the library is my best friend here.
Here are a few good ones to look at:
- How to Cook Everything The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food–With 1,000 Photos – I love this one for all of the pictures.
- Betty Crocker Cooking Basics: Recipes and Tips to Cook with Confidence – My mom gave me an older version of this book after college and it was a great starter cookbook.
- America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Become a Great Cook – A bit overwhelming, but is full of all the information you can use if you are serious about building your kitchen confidence.
- The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook: A Fresh Guide to Eating Well With 700 Foolproof Recipes – A recommendation from a friend who loves making low-cost vegetarian meals. I’ve had a few of her finished products and they were scrumptious.
Stock Your Pantry with Ingredients for a Few Easy Delicious Meals
Find a few simple meals that you know you love and use ingredients you could easily have on hand in your freezer or pantry. These meals will become your go-to meals when you are strapped for time or just don’t feel like cooking.
Finding our easy delicious meals has been a key reason why we have been able to get the cooking at home habit to stick.
Sometimes we just don’t feel like cooking or running to the grocery store. In these cases, having a stash of ingredients that can be used to whip up a few easy meals has been key.
Some of our favorite staples for quick meals include:
- Cans of tuna for times I don’t want to make a lunch for the week
- Red lentils and rice for an easy lentil soup
- Frozen Shrimp, coconut milk, and Zatarain’s Caribbean Rice Mix
- Rice and cans of beans, green chilies, and corn for burrito bowls
- Curry paste, coconut milk, and frozen veggies for easy Thai Curry
This is where we don’t shy away from some of the convenience items like the Zatarain’s. We don’t eat it for every meal, but it is great to have around for times when you don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking. It definitely serves its purpose, and it’s amazingly delicious.
Prepare Meals Ahead of Time
Prepping meals ahead of time is basically your own homemade version of convenience food. And it makes sticking to your meal plan that much easier.
The only downfall is that is does require a time commitment, and for us, that is usually on the weekend.
It’s up to you how you want to tackle your meal prep. You can choose to prepare an entire meal or just make a few aspects of a meal such as a sauce. The decision is all yours.
For example, we like to fully make our breakfasts and lunches for the week while often leaving dinner “half-prepped”. This frees up time in the morning and prevents us from going out to eat for lunch. And knowing that we’re coming home and only have to heat something up or quickly assemble a meal, makes cooking at home during the workweek that much more palatable for us.
Pro Tip: Egg bakes are a great way to make breakfast ahead of time and also get some veggies into your diet. And they are pretty simple to make—scramble some eggs, cut up veggies and/or meat, mix everything together, season and bake. Easy peasy.
Find Recipes You Absolutely Love to Cook at Home
When you love the food you make at home, you will be that much more likely to eat it.
In the past, I would work hard on the weekend to prep my weeknight meals only to have them go to waste because I didn’t want to eat them.
I found that the trick was to make food that I was excited to go home and eat. If I absolutely loved the food I had waiting for me, I was much more likely to stick to my plan of eating at home.
It may take a while to find those recipes you love, but once you do it will be a complete game changer.
If you don’t know of a recipe you love right now but really want to start cooking at home, start with taking a few of your favorite foods (pizza??) and finding a simple, delicious way to make it at home.
Pro Tip: Homemade nachos are the best!
Order Groceries Online
Does your hatred of grocery shopping prevent you from cooking at home? Or is it just hard for you to get to the grocery store with your busy life and a family in tow?
One amazing way stores are making things easier on us (thanks global pandemic) is with their order online and pick-up options. It may cost a bit more upfront and you may be drowning in plastic bags, but it will help avoid going into a grocery store—all while saving time and avoiding those impulse purchases.
If grocery shopping is your nemesis, then selecting your groceries online may be your way of taking down the beast.
Use Freezer Meals to Make Cooking at Home a Breeze
Freezer meals are a lifesaver when…well…life happens.
Unfortunately, we can’t always predict how our weeks are going to go and things inevitably pop up, preventing you from cooking at home.
Here comes freezer meals to the rescue!
Again, it will take time to prepare the freezer meals, but you will be grateful they are there to help you in times when life gets crazy.
Our go-to freezer meals are frozen burritos for both breakfast and dinner and leftover meals we froze because weren’t able to eat all of it. If you typically don’t have leftovers, consider making a double batch of meals that can be easily frozen for future enjoyment.
And if you are cooking for one, freezing leftovers is a great way to avoid eating the same thing all week.
An amazing kitchen tool that helps with keeping freezer meals delicious for an extended period of time is the good old Food Saver
You Got This
Cooking at home is a great way to cut back on one of your biggest expenses—food.
Unfortunately, our lives are busy and cooking at home takes time and a little skill. But with a few simple changes and tricks, you can start making cooking at home one of your favorite past times.
Do you have any other tips or tricks that have helped you cook at home more? Or do you have other struggles?