The Reluctant Chef: Tips that Make Cooking Easier


I’ve always been a proficient cook. I grew up helping my mom in the kitchen. Although, to be fair, I was usually the vegetable chopper or sauce maker. I didn’t have the starring role. In college, I loved going out to eat with friends. Or the real fancy microwave meals. When I got married, my husband did most of the cooking. He did most of the cooking even after I stayed at home with our daughter. I really didn’t start cooking until we had our second kid and I felt like a bum. (He never said anything other than that he enjoys cooking and is always happy to do it.)

I learned that I don’t really love cooking. I don’t make complicated meals. I don’t like to cut up or use a million ingredients. I also hate trying failing recipes. My kitchen always looks like a tornado went though after I make a meal. But I do it because I like to provide healthy meals for my family. I like to eat dinners together and talk about our days. It’s a simple way to feel like I provided for my family. It also makes the most sense since I am at home, while my husband works elsewhere.

If you are like me, and you want to eat good food, but you don’t want to spend forever meal planning and cooking, this is for you.

Meal Plan Every Week

I have tried monthly, bi-weekly and weekly; weekly works best for my family.

I have go-to sources for recipes. I had a lot of Pinterest meal fails, so I don’t consistently use them. I love the Food Network app because you can save your meals to boards on your phone. They do have a fee, but I’m on the free plan and find it easy to use. Rachael Ray is for fancy meals, but she is fail proof. I have never made one I didn’t like. Chicken parm patties are a favorite. So is her sloppy joe mac and cheese. Just know her 30-minute meals are closer to 45-minute meals. I also love Half Baked Harvest. Some of her meals are complicated, but she also has a lot of simple ones too!

I need a recipe. I have a menu board on which I write our meals and where the recipe is from. I save them to notes in my phone as I get ideas throughout the week and then it makes sitting down to meal plan quick and easy. We also ask the kids what sounds good to them. And I keep staples on hand in case I change my mind so I am not running to the grocery store every day. We usually have an extra pound of ground beef and a few chicken breasts in the freezer for changes, as well as an extra box of pasta, canned tomatoes and chicken stock.

Prep Ahead

I usually try to do my dinner prep in the morning or while the kids are napping/having quiet time. It makes dinner go a lot faster. I chop up vegetables, make sure sauces or meat don’t need hours to marinate, etc. When we cook meat, we usually do extra. Grilled or baked chicken works great leftover in soups, salads, pasta, casseroles. Taco night also works great for taco salad, or taco stuffed potatoes a few days later. Cook once, eat twice. If you don’t like leftovers, it keeps them from feeling too leftover-y.

Involve your kids. My kids love stirring. My daughter is big enough to actually keep foods from burning to the pan. My son isn’t quite there, but supervised stirring works well with him. Sometimes, he helps by whisking water. Sometimes, it is throwing all the cans, peels, etc., away. They make a giant mess every single time, but they love eating what they make and telling daddy all about what they made when he comes home. It’s not easier with little helpers, but it’s important.

Keep Family Favorites on Hand

We love Mexican and pasta. So we usually have a few packages of pasta and a pack of tortillas, and tortilla chips on hand. When we need a quick meal, its easy to make spaghetti, nachos or tacos. And everyone likes them!

We don’t always eat healthy, but we try to minimize pre-prepared foods. I graduated from microwave meals after college. We still eat out or get take out when we don’t feel like cooking. It’s not always easy, but when you plan ahead a little bit, it definitely makes it easier to stick to a plan!