You could search the internet and find hundreds if not thousands of resources, studies and surveys that all show that cooking at home rather than eating out is less expensive and better for our figures and our health. Yet, even when armed with all this knowledge, we are still tempted to partake in take-out. Why? It’s quick and it’s easy. But, guess what? Cooking at home can be quick and easy too and a lot healthier.
The reasons we head to the drive-thru are many but here are 10 things that are probably the most likely to influence you to choose take-out along with some tips to help you get out of the car and back in the kitchen.
1. You’re LAZY
You know it, I know it and we’ve all been there before. There are just some nights when it seems easier to get in the car, drive 10 miles to the McDonald’s drive-thru, load up on burgers and fries and come home. The meal is then followed by possible guilt over the money you spent or the amount of calories you ate. You scarfed down that burger in 3.2 minutes and you find yourself wondering if it even had flavor. Did I even enjoy that thing I practically swallowed whole? On the surface, maybe, but when you really think about it, probably not. The truth is you probably had the makings of a quick and easy dinner that would have been more healthy and more flavorful. (See the quick and easy recipe below.)
2. You Don’t Know how to Cook
Don’t be ashamed! There are lots of people who just don’t know what to do when it comes to the kitchen. I have heard so many people tell me they can’t even boil water or toast bread. My response? LEARN! It’s not hard, I swear! I think sometimes we watch cooking shows and become so caught up in what we don’t think we are capable of doing that we can’t learn anything. First of all cooking shows are just that…SHOWS! My kitchen is NOT a pretty place when I am in the midst of preparing a meal. I don’t have a staff that does all my prep work for me or one that cleans the dishes when I am done. I am the one man show and it NEVER looks like what I see on TV. My best advice to you is to step away from the TV and learn how to cook from a real person.
If you have a friend who is an amazing cook as her for some pointers. Ask her to help you prepare a meal or if you can help her prepare a meal. Ask her for her favorite recipes, for a list of her favorite kitchen tools. Ask her to tell you stories about when she learned to cook. Not everything in the kitchen is always picture perfect and even the most highly trained chefs make big mistakes in the kitchen every now and then.
If you can’t find a friend to help you out, take a cooking class. There are so many options and opportunities available all around the country and some fabulous opportunities right here in Arkansas! One such place is the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute in Morrilton. I will be attending one of their cooking demonstrations next Monday and look forward to sharing my experience with you. Other places that offer cooking classes and demonstrations locally are KitchenCo. in Little Rock, Eggshells in Little Rock, Nibbles in Fayetteville, the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View and many of our State Parks offer Dutch Oven cooking classes. I attended one of these last year at Jacksonport State Park and it was excellent. (You can read about my experience in this article I wrote for The Renegade Farmer.)
3. You’re Meals are Too Complicated
One of the mistakes beginning, inexperienced or under-experienced cooks make is choosing recipes too complicated for their current skill level. Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon may be your fiances favorite recipe but if you have little or no kitchen experience you have no business trying to make it! Set your self up for success not failure. Google “Recipes for the Beginning Cook” and you will likely find something more on your level.
4. You’re Afraid of Criticism
Nobody wants to slave away in the kitchen to have their family curl up their nose at what you made. It happens and its happened to me a lot. Instead of getting your feelings hurt and storming off to the bedroom to cry, listen to what your loved ones are saying. If they think the chicken is too dry, it’s probably too dry. If the soup is too salty, taste it as you go next time. Let your mistakes be your guide and don’t be afraid of them. Laugh and say “You’re right it is too dry, next time I’ll reduce the cooking time.” And hey, if worse comes to worse we’ve already established that you know the way to the closest drive-thru, right?
5. You’re Family (or You) is a Picky Eater
I grew up in Vermont where the style of food is DRASTICALLY different from the food of the south where my husband is from and where I now live. When we first got married he didn’t like any of the foods I cooked and I didn’t like any of the greasy, fried southern staples he grew up on. Finding a balance of what we both loved and trying new things was a challenge but also a fun adventure. Encourage your family to set aside their preconceived notions about what they do and don’t like and pick one day a week or even every other week to try something new and different. You will be surprised at all the new favorites you find. (See #4 Above.)
6. You’re Not Using a Meal Plan
Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated and doesn’t have to take a long time to do. 5 or 10 minutes of meal planning can save you loads of time in the kitchen each night. No more repeated trips to the freezer to see if something good has magically appeared. No more worrying if you have time to defrost the ground beef before your family goes insane with hunger. Glance through your freezer and pantry and make a list of 5 – 7 meals you could make using things you already have, making note of items you may need to pick up. You don’t have to schedule a specific meal for a specific night but knowing you have 5-7 possibilities will keep you further from the drive-thru. Additionally, keeping a list of meals can help keep you out of a rut and encourage you to try new and different things.
7. You’re Kitchen Isn’t Well Stocked
A well stocked kitchen is directly tied to meal planning. If you know what you are planning to make during any given week you can check your pantry and make sure you have everything you will need on hand. Nothing is worse than thinking about that spaghetti you are going to have for dinner all day than to get half way through cooking and realize you don’t have any sauce. Last minute trips to the store are frustrating and costly and since that grocery store is probably right next to several fast food joints it’s no wonder we are tempted just to eat out.
8. Your Kitchen is Unorganized or Dirty
Nothing turns me away from wanting to cook more than walking in to find a sink-full of dirty dishes. This is by far my biggest weakness in the kitchen. I HATE doing the dishes and I have been known to leave a sink full of dishes for the next day. This really only compounds the problem. Enlist your significant other to help out with the clean-up or better yet have your kids do it!
Secondly, not having the tools you need when or where you need them to be can also be frustrating. If you have a small kitchen with inadequate storage like I have, this can be a constant issue. I have found that a few minutes of prep before hand to gather all the tools I will need will save me from a frantic search while three different things are boiling over on the stove top.
9. You Don’t Have the Right (Adequate) Tools
A well-crafted sharp knife can do wonders in the kitchen. A simple change such as this one can change everything about the way you cook. A good knife will save you loads of time and give you something to be proud of. You might want to read about the 5 Kitchen Gadgets I Can’t Live Without or you might want to check out this list by my friend Beth.
10. It’s Too Hot
Cook SEASONALLY! Summer is a time for fresh, quick cooking foods not the hot, thick, slow-simmering stews and casseroles we enjoy in the winter. Visit you local farmer’s market. Buy local and buy in season. Ask the farmers how they prepare the food. Most summer foods lend themselves to quick cooking methods so take advantage of them and get in and out of the kitchen faster.
A Meal you can Cook Tonight: Panzanella Salad
1/2 a french bread loaf, cubed and toasted (Any bread will do except for “soft” sandwich style bread)
1 Red or Yellow Pepper, chopped
1/2 large Red Onion, sliced thinly
2 Fresh, RIPE, Tomatoes, chopped
Ham, Turkey, Canadian Bacon, Pepperoni, and/or Salami, chopped into bite-size pieces (optional)
10 fresh Basil leaves, chiffonade
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
Italian Salad Dressing
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Add Italian Dressing to coat to your liking. I usually use 4-6 Tbsp depending on the amount of bread. Let sit in fridge 15-30 minuted before serving.
Substitute the bread with your favorite bite-sized pasta noodle.
Serve with grilled chicken to make it more of a meal.