Cooking at home is a great way to save money and eat healthy. But let’s face it, between work, school, after-school activities and all of the other events that make up our busy schedules, meal planning isn’t always easy. And it can be hard to get into the habit of cooking meals at home.
While you may think that you’re too busy to cook—or are simply too comfortable with the convenience of takeout—preparing home-cooked meals is a great way to monitor your intake of processed foods, fat, salt and sugar. And you can make it a fun family activity that your children will help plan and look forward to each week.
Here are seven tips to help you to begin your journey to delicious home-cooked meals:
1. Make sure you have the essential tools.
- Sharp knife
- Vegetable peeler
- Cutting board
- Large pot
- Roasting pan
- Baking dish
2. Build an herbs and spices collection
Spices and herbs, dried or fresh, can really bring your food to life.
- Spices: Cumin, paprika, garlic, onion powder, oregano, chili powder, turmeric, ginger powder, cinnamon and adobo seasoning.
- Herbs: Cilantro, parsley, mint, rosemary and basil.
3. Create a weekly meal plan.
Meal planning is simply a system of determining your meals in advance. Include your children in the meal planning process. Find out if they are interested in themed meal nights such as Taco Tuesday or Stir Fry Saturday. Try to plan your week of meals with recipes that contain similar ingredients to get more use out of your groceries and reduce food waste.
Flip through cookbooks for ideas. Or if that’s too intimidating, think about meals that are similar to what your kids like to get when eating out and make them at home. Nothing is too hard with the internet. Even chicken tenders can be made from scratch—Google it!
4. Make a list.
Head to the grocery store armed with a list of every item that you’ll need to cook a few healthy meals. Some people like to shop for the entire week while others prefer making several trips a week. Over time, you’ll figure out what works best for your family. Focus on in-season fruits and veggies, because they’ll be fresher and are often less expensive. Also, keep an eye out for good deals on cuts of lean meats that you can purchase and freeze for later.
5. Do your prep work.
After your trip to the grocery store, spend some time prepping food for meals. This will save time when you’re ready to cook. For example, if you purchased a head of lettuce, you can separate, clean, and dry the leaves to be used for salads or lettuce wraps later. Also, chop any vegetables you’ll use for stir-fries, soups or salads. Your kids can help with this! Just be sure to assign tasks by age.
6. Prepare bagged lunches.
A packed lunch is a great way to incorporate homemade meals into your children’s diet. It doesn’t have to look like the bento boxes you see on Instagram! Start simple with a salad with fresh veggies and chicken, or tuna salad wrapped in endive leaves, or even a slice of last night’s casserole. Add a small serving of fruit or sliced veggies and you’re all set!
7. Try Batch Cooking
Even if you’re diligent about meal planning, it may not be convenient to cook every single day. Batch cooking can save you time during your busy week by cooking several meals at once. Set aside a few hours to prepare several full meals on a weekend or an afternoon day when you won’t be rushed. Parcel the meals into containers and refrigerate or freeze them so they’re ready when you need them.
Incorporating home-cooked meals into your family’s routine will not only improve your family’s health, but you may discover that you really enjoy cooking meals from scratch.
Ingrid Hoffmann is an author and host of Top Chef Estrellas (Telemundo, NBC), Simply Delicioso (Cooking Channel), and Delicioso (Univision). Ingrid is passionate about cooking, entertaining, and helping families lead a healthy and balanced lifestyle.