Cooking seems to be the new norm – and while take out was still an option under “Stay Home, Stay Healthy,” chances are most folks were doing it for themselves more than they have in a long time. How’s it going? Discovering a new love or counting down the days? We’re all about food here on the farm: growing, cooking, preserving, eating. Even before COVID-19, eating out was the exception rather than the norm, mostly because we’ve worked out a system so there’s never a question about what’s for dinner (and we happen to love leftovers for lunch!) Here’s a few pro-tips we’ve acquired along the way:
- Keep your pantry stocked. Of course it’s hard to cook when half the things you need are MIA. There are lots of guides that you can find online, but keep it simple. I would say we keep up on four categories in our pantry – grains and pasta (includes flour, rice, and dried beans), oils and condiments (includes soy sauce, mustards, vinegars and spices), and dairy (milk, butter, buttermilk, cheese, eggs), and household (includes toothpaste and laundry soap). When you notice you are coming close to the last of the mustard, for instance, write it down so that when you are at the end, there’s another waiting in your cupboard. We use a chalkboard for this, but you can also stick a piece of paper to the fridge.
- Plan your meals. We shop about once a week – twice a month if there’s a pandemic going on 🙂 The day before shopping, using a full sheet of scratch paper, we write down the days of the week at the top, along with the dinner we’re planning, and the cookbook or location of recipe, if needed. It’s nice to see everything laid out so you can provide variety. We use starches as the variation, making sure to have rice, pasta, potatoes, etc. in a rotation, so we don’t get stuck in a rut. We also note any evening meetings/activities we might have so that we can plan for a simple meal or a leftover night. If we are planning to go out ot take out, it’s noted there as well. At the bottom of the sheet, we write down the items needed to support the plan that we don’t have on hand, along with the items that need replacing. Note: if it’s not on the list, it’s not purchased, and there’s no second trip to the store – it’s only a week, we’ll survive. After shopping is done, the list goes on the fridge, so we always know what’s for dinner.
- Keep it simple. Unless you really love complex, daylong cooking projects, go for easy wins. One-pot meals with a salad on the side, the shortest list of ingredients. The internet is an amazing resource for recipes – I tend toward the ones that use simple ingredients that I have on hand. We dial it up a bit for Sunday supper, topping it off with a dessert of some kind.
- Share the load. Fortunately every person in our family cooks, and we all participate in the making of the list, so everybody’s needs get met. When our college-aged-son was sheltering with us in March and April, he tended toward Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, and we happily indulged in his made-from-chickpea-falafel that was more work than I would ever bother with, and he cleaned up. What? Yes – instead of a cleanup person, we’ve settled on an all or nothing approach. Why? Folks have different styles, some clean as they go, some pile it up. You can imagine the conflict. This is also the reason we don’t tend to cook together, as a norm. So sometimes you get to do your own thing and get called to dinner. Nice, no?
There’s lots of benefits to eating in – cost, quality control (knowing what it is you are eating), and portion control. There’s also creativity, the joy of making something, the love that you put into feeding yourself, and/or your family. Hopefully, some of the unexpected pleasures of eating in will stick with us, long after we don’t have to.