When living alone one of the hardest things to do is staying fed without going broke or getting scurvy. A lot of people have an issue with that not because they do not want to eat properly but because they lack the skills necessary to make food they enjoy and become lazy not wanting to put the effort into cooking.
It is a growing issue in our world were prepared food is easy to come by so people relinquish the skills of cooking. Just walk in somewhere, pick up a phone, or click a button, food glorious food appears in front of you with minimal effort and, if you chose correctly, maximum reward. If it is that easy why bother making the effort to chop and stir and blanch and saute or simmer?
The main reason, I learned over the last few years, is money. It gets crazy expensive going out for dinner, meeting people for brunch, grabbing something on the way to work. You can be spending $20 to $40 a day just on your meals and that is being very conservative. That does not include nights out with friends when you get a little more extravagant spending $50 – $100 in one shot which is surprisingly easy to do. If I use the low end of that spectrum that adds up to a whopping $176 a week, over 9 grand a year! It adds up so quickly. I haven’t even mentioned holidays, special celebrations, and days you just wanna treat yourself. What about fluctuating costs, changes in location, and access? Those may detract from the expense but in most cases it adds to it. Just a $1 a day difference adds $365 a year.
This cost can be cut in half by going to the grocery store and preparing your own food. Yes it takes some effort but in the long run it is worth it. You keep some more of your money to spend in other ways – save for the future, go on a trip, buy a house, increase your boardgame collection; it’s up to you – and you will eat healthier which in turn makes you feel better overall.
Here are some tips I use to help keep me cooking.
Have food at home.
A lot of my friends who live alone have empty fridges and cupboards. It is mostly booze and condiments that are on their shelves. You can’t make yourself a meal if you have nothing to make the meal with. And when I say food I don’t mean have chips and cookies and ice cream (that is a child’s dream, a child’s glorious, glorious dream) but things that have nutritional value not just empty calories. Have fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, pasta, rice, couscous, things you know you like and will eat on hand. What you have will be the basis of what you will be eating for at least the next week or 2.
Also, when you open a cupboard or the fridge and it is full it makes you feel kinda rich. When you open it and it is stacked you have choice, you know you can find what you want and it feels good. Like, “Damn son! I ain’t doin’ bad at all!”.
I hate meal planning. In theory I don’t really do it but I kind of do at the same time. When you put yourself on a meal plan/schedule that can get boring very quickly but it does make grocery shopping easier. When it comes to food I am too flighty for that. If Taco Tuesday comes along and I don’t want tacos (as if!) then what do I do? That is what I have and that is what I will have to cook. Boo!
What I like to do is have a general idea of foods I will eat during the week. I do that by buying
- several bases – These are usually the starch in the meal, rice, pasta, potatoes
- vegetables – this is the healthy portion. I like my food colourful so I often get something red, white, and green like peppers, mushrooms, and asparagus
- meat – beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, fish…
- sauce – tomato, teriyaki, soy, barbecue, there are so many to choose from.
- seasoning/spice – you always need to add a little flavour/kick to your food. Have the basics like salt and pepper on hand but also things like rosemary, thyme, curry, basil.
- oil – I usually have 2 on hand, olive oil and canola oil. The use depends on what I am doing with it, adding flavour or frying. Because olive oil has a lower flash point do NOT use it for frying. It will smoke and burn very quickly.
Having the options available is key to having freedom in what you are making. Now this may seem like a hefty and expensive list but remember most of these you do not have to buy every time you go to the grocery store.
Breakfast is also a meal you have to plan for.
I am the worst at this! I am not a breakfast person and that is mainly because I am not a morning person so the idea of waking up and making something is not in my wheel house. I get up and go in the morning and it isn’t until 10 or 11 that I get hungry so I often don’t think about it until it is too late. I don’t really eat eggs or bread or drink milk and these are staples to breakfast. What I do like is fruit so I always have plums, apples, pears on hand as they are good grab and go foods for when I want something to eat. I love cereal, well dry cereal. I often have as many as 5 kinds readily available and often shove a small container of it in my bag as I leave for work. And yogurt. Yogurt is super handy to have around. You can throw cereal or fruit or both in and it makes a great meal to start the day.
Tools of the trade
You gotta have at least the basic tools needed for cooking to be able to cook. Without the correct tools, cooking becomes a MacGyvian task (yes I did that) which may sound like an exciting challenge for some but just frustrating and discouraging for most. Here are some of the things you will need.
- Pots – I have a bunch of pots but I mainly use 2 for my meals, a saucepan and a frying pan. One for boiling and one for the frying/sauteing/searing and whatnot.
- At least one good knife. You need this to do all your chopping and dicing and julienning and mincing…you get the picture. I mean it is good to have more than one but if you have at least that one you will survive.
- A Chopping board. To do all the stuff mentioned in #2
- Spatula for the flipping and stirring
- Strainer – to get rid of the excess water when you boil your pasta or potatoes or for washing your fruits and vegetables.
- Measuring cups – I don’t use them, that is just how I learned to cook, but they are very useful especially to the beginner cook who will follow recipes.
- A dish that can go in the oven – This can be a cookie sheet or Pyrex dish just something you can shove in there when you wanna roast something. Roasting is no where near as hard as it sounds
- Mixing bowl – at least one medium to large sized one for, you know, mixing.
One thing I like to do, especially when it comes to meat, is to separate it into meal size portions and freeze. When you do this you can partake in family packs that are often much cheaper than smaller pack sizes saving you money and additional trips to the grocery store. When it is time to cook you just defrost a single portion making it easier to cook your meal. Yes fresh meat is best, hands down, but there is also nothing wrong with freezing for reasonable periods of time. When you season and seal containers properly there will be no freezer burn to ruin the integrity of the meat.
Also when it comes to portions, I tend to cook enough for 2 meals at a time. Enough for dinner and lunch the next day. As I dole out my meal I have a container that I slip a portion into, seal, and throw in the fridge. That way, in the morning in the rush I just grab it and go. There is no trying to figure out anything in the sleepy morning haze or the hectic rush when you press snooze a few too many times.
I always have what I call “lazy foods” on hand. These are canned or frozen goods that are easy to make when I just don’t feel like putting in all the effort. This includes things like frozen fries, perogies, pizzas, dumplings, canned soups, canned vegetables, ramen, you get the idea. Things that you can shove in the oven or warm up in a pot for a few minutes and are ready to go. To make them a little better for you add some fresh ingredients to them to add just a little extra. The key to this though is to not depend on these foods. They are often high is sodium and have many preservatives but if you eat them sparingly then they are a good substitute for when you are having a blah day.
Learn a couple recipes
Go online, ask a parent, ask a friend, find and learn to cook something you like. Once you do that the feeling of accomplishment, especially when something comes out good, is very motivating. Start with something simple and as you get more and more comfortable in the kitchen work your way up to something more complicated. It really isn’t hard to do. You just have to pay attention to what you are doing and it will turn out just fine.
Its not as hard as you think
One road block you have to get over is, “Cooking is hard.” It really isn’t. I mean easy is a strong word to describe it but it is no where near as difficult as you think it is. Sure it takes a bit of technique and finesse but once you have the basics you are good to go. Don’t watch the crazy cooking shows where they do all these fancy complex dishes, that can be discouraging. Don’t try to live up to or meet that standard just do what you can do and you can make it there. Like with any skill, to be good and get better, it takes practice. If something doesn’t work the first time don’t give up, try again. In that process you will learn what you like, what you don’t like, what flavours go together, tricks to make things easier, how to fix mistakes, and so on. Before you know it you don’t need the recipe book and you can make your own creations.
I think that covers everything. I do hope it helps. Keep in mind that when you first start, your trip to the grocery store will be a long expensive one. You gotta buy all the things, that takes time and money but after that you’ll be set. I think you will realize how much fun and satisfying cooking can be and you can show off your fancy lunches to friends.