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I Suck at Cooking

what my cooking would probably look like if i actually did it

what my cooking would probably look like if i actually did it

I’m not exactly what anyone would call a good cook. I mean, I can follow recipes, and I’ve never poisoned anyone (that I know of), but cooking just doesn’t come naturally. I have been involved in five small kitchen fires – three due to grease fires on a stovetop, and two instances of accidentally setting my own microwave on fire. I am incapable of cooking multiple food items so that they all get done around the same time. I cannot bake. I don’t own fancy kitchen appliances or even most of the basic ones. All this and it’s no wonder that most of the things I “cook” come from a box. Preferably one with all the ingredients included.

This lack of domestic skill has been on my mind lately because I would REALLY like to find a way to save money at the grocery store. I’d also like to eat healthier, since my doctor recently pointed out the 50 pounds I’ve gained since my son was born in 1998. (I cried.) While I know in my head that buying a lot of convenience foods is both fattening and expensive, I really don’t know how to begin when it comes to cooking real meals.

How I Talk Myself Out of Cooking

My son is autistic and extremely picky. Jayden eats about 14 things, and all but a few are total crap. This isn’t a matter of, “If he’s hungry enough, he’ll eat what you give him” – I have literally watched him throw up even when he wanted to try a certain food. His sensory issues result in a lot of problems with textures, flavors, food temperature, and even color. So I tell myself it’s pointless to cook a big meal if I’m the only one who will be eating it.

Ingredients for cooking from scratch cost too much. A few weeks ago, I found a recipe online that I wanted to try. When I started looking at the things I’d need, though, I was going to spend over $30 for a single meal! Okay, maybe 2 or 3 meals since I’d have leftovers. But still. When I think about buying enough ingredients to cook for a week, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of money I’d have to spend to do it.

Produce and meat don’t last long enough. I hate grocery shopping. If I had it my way, I’d go once a month at the most. But when you buy fruits, vegetables, and meat that don’t come in overprocessed forms, you usually only have a few days to use them. I hate freezing meat because (1) I hate the way it tastes once it thaws and (2) my decisions to cook usually come at the last minute. So I feel like my only choices are to go to the grocery store every few days or avoid using items with a short shelf life.

Cooking takes forever. Do people really make three meals a day from scratch? I promise, I’m not purposely being an asshole here. I just can’t fathom a world in which I stand at the stove multiple times each day. When it’s time for lunch, for example, I usually remember to eat at about 2 PM. I can either go get out a bunch of stuff, mess up pots and pans, and wait until 3 PM to eat (plus doing dishes), or I can pop a frozen dinner in the microwave and be finished by 2:30 or sooner, then just throw the container in the garbage.

The Dilemma

Despite the excuses I make to keep myself from cooking more, I know it can be done. I know there are ways to plan ahead and make healthier meals without spending a ton of money. I just don’t know how to get from knowing this to actually doing it.

With that in mind, I’m asking you guys for help. What is your system for buying food, cooking, and meal-planning? How do you decide what to make? What ways have you found to save money? How do you use fresh produce without making multiple trips to the grocery store each week? Please treat me like a toddler because that’s pretty much my skill level when it comes to this stuff. Help me learn to stop sucking at cooking!

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web designer and single mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!

Comments

  1. afistfulodollars says:

    I suck at meal planning. I can't do it to save my life (although I did it for one month, way back in January 2010) – there are just too many variables for me to do it (whose house we're staying at, what I feel like eating, etc). My best advice is to start slow, don't try to plan every meal for months right off the bat. Try making a few things that will keep in the freezer for easy preparation during the week (Blondeonabudget does almost all her weekly cooking on Sundays, for example). Budget bytes is a great resource for cheap meals, and her recipes are super yummy.

    • Thanks for the website suggestion – it's on my enormous list of great tips from commenters! I think it's a smart idea to start with one day a week, then build up to more. After years of working jobs where I was on call after hours or had weird hours, I convinced myself that it would be impossible to plan ahead. But now that I'm home, there's really no excuse.

  2. seedebtrun says:

    Yay.. Andrea is posting again. :)

    And IMO, you should reconsider the frozen meat thing.. With proper spices and techniques, you can get a lot of tasty meals without having to worry about it going bad.

    Jefferson

    • Thank you! It's glad to know someone noticed I was gone. :)

      Someone else mentioned using the thawed meat IN stuff and not as a meal in itself. Like not making burgers from formerly frozen beef. I think that would probably help – if it was in a casserole or something, I probably wouldn't notice. And for the record, I totally think it's a mental thing!

      • seedebtrun says:

        I wrote a post the other day outlining all the meals you can make using a big bag of frozen chicken.. Check it out, maybe it can give you some ideas :)

        -Jefferson

        • I saw that post and haven't gotten to it in my reader yet – I'm on the verge of declaring feed bankruptcy! Adding it to my new list of food resources.

  3. i hate going to the grocery store too! i usually go twice a month, so that i can take advantage of fresh veggies and fruit, but it's not too often.

    my advice is to start with simple things, like spaghetti, chicken and rice with a veggie side, baked potatoes…things that will last for a while around the house, but it's a good place to start. the truth is you don't need a ton of spices and ingredients to make a good meal, just some staples (salt, pepper, garlic, basil, olive oil…those are the things i use the most!). then once you start getting into the routine, you can buy a few more spices here and there that won't break your budget, but will give you a little more variety. i typically stay away from meals that take a ton of time or ingredients, because like you said, i don't want to spend all day cooking! but, i do work full time and eat home cooked meals twice a day, so it is possible.

    • I think my biggest issue is deciding WHAT to make. If someone would just come over here and make a calendar – "You're having tacos on Monday night" – I could follow it. Having too many choices is the problem I think.

      • I agree! That's why I menu plan…I hate that "it's 4pm and i don't know what to eat for dinner" feeling. If it's on my menu plan, I know I have the ingredients for it, and the decision making is taken care of for me. It also helps me avoid resorting to cereal for dinner…although that still happens from time to time. :)

  4. I go to the store once a week mostly because I can’t plan any further out than that. I usually just cook for myself and eat a ton of leftovers. There are some things I think anyone who can make boxed meals can make, like chili. The key is to start out small with things you understand then build from there. Also I don’t know anyone who cooks lunch from scratch on a regular basis. Lunch is either leftovers or a sandwich. You can always make blt’s. I understand issues with texture. There are some foods I simply can’t eat regardless of taste. If you want some of my easy-mode recipes just let me know. I’m still no food genius, but I’m happy to share. Also get a george foreman. It makes life so much easier.

    • OMG I miss my George Foreman grill SOOOOOOO bad!!!! I let my ex keep it when we got divorced, and I'll never know why. I had the huge one with the removable plates. I need to get another one ASAP – I used that thing all the time.

    • PS. Recipes? Yes please!

  5. Ok so you hate cooking – but your waistline and your wallet need to meet somewhere in the middle don't they. How do you feel about soups – try this http://mortgagefreeinthree.com/category/frugal-fo… a series of 30 soups made from frozen pre-organised bits and bobs.

    At least you will be fed well – and you need to take care of you – cos otherwise who will look after your boy?

    If you start with lunches you can always move onto dinners later.

    BTW – me and two boys eat for less that £20 per week – I think that's just over $30 or so.

    • Ooh, thanks for the link! I'm a big fan of soup, so that's perfect for my taste and skill level!

      The idea of spending $30 a week makes me drool… I have GOT to learn to cook!

  6. Slow cooker! There are a ton of recipes out there, many of which do NOT contain cream of mushroom soup.
    Breakfast for supper: scrambled-egg sandwiches, pancakes, French toast or even just oatmeal and fresh fruit.
    Cheese, crackers and fruit for lunch.
    Keep expectations low. If you were looking at $30 worth of ingredients, that's a bit high-end.
    A website called Cheap Healthy Good has great archives, and lots of recipes that are delicious and easy.
    Online searches for "easy recipes," "recipes with five ingredients," "recipes for people who can't cook," etc. Or do a search for recipes with the ingredients you have on hand, e.g., "recipes with peanut butter and ramen."

    • I had to throw out my slow cooker a few years ago (we lost power for 9 days and it was in the fridge with a pot roast in it) and never bothered to buy another one. I used to make quite a few things in it – I need to get another one!

      Thanks for the website rec and search suggestions. I'm making a list of all the great suggestions from commenters, so that's a big help!

  7. My wife and I decide on the menu weekly. She may look in magazines (Weight Watchers and others) for ideas and recipes. My favorite meals may be something simple as pasta, anything on the grill with a salad or salad with chicken, shrimp etc in it. You can keep it simple but interesting. You do not have to be a gourmet to appreciate and enjoy food.

    • That's something I really need to remember. Just because I live in the South doesn't mean I have to make a full southern meal all the time. That's what I grew up on, though, so it's hard to think simple. When I think of cooking, my mind goes immediately to fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread, veggies, dressing, and homemade mac and cheese! And now I'm drooling on my keyboard…. I wonder why I'm gaining weight!

  8. When I moved out on my own, I did not know how to cook either. And I think that the first couple of recipes I tried were extremely pricey. It is like I was overcompensating for not cooking. But as time progressed, I learned various new things. Now you also have the added challenge of a child who will only eat certain things. I can certainly sympathise with this.

    So start small, make a list of what your son will eat, and start with that. Now add one thing for another meal, but make sure he has something he will eat as a side dish. Keep trying new simple things, until you can say "ok I got this" Then try something a little challenging. Now I will say that frying is not only unhealthy, but also not easy to accomplish.

    • Great idea re: adding things while keeping something I know he'll eat! I know that's simple, but it never really occurred to me to systemize it like that.

      I'm actually REALLY good at frying – I live in Kentucky, so that's one of those essential life skills that we learn early in life. But if I want to lose weight, that's not the route I need to take!

  9. Here's a recipe to start with, it is super easy and fast. Also cheap.

    Packaged tortellini – one for you guys.
    cubed ham (like half a ham steak, serve the other half in a mondo sandwich, or as a side for breakfast)
    Frozen peas —not canned Frozen only.
    Olive oil
    Parmesan cheese

    OK cook the tortellini, package directions (11 min boiling water?)
    add the frozen peas the last minute of cooking.
    Drain and put back in pan – not over heat (mostly because I don't want to dirty another bowl and serve right out of pan.)
    Add cubed ham and 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and some cheese (as much or as little as you want)
    Mix and eat- serve with salad and bread. Buy the bread you aren't there yet.

    Good luck!

    • insomniaclabrat says:

      I ate a LOT of this in college! (Haven't had it in a while, not sure why)

      We'd sometimes use chicken instead of ham, even though it doesn't taste quite as good, because we kept frozen chicken but not frozen ham around. And Ryan doesn't like peas, so I'd usually cook them separately and only add them to mine. He said the tortellini/meat/cheese alone was good, but I like the addition of peas.

    • That sounds pretty good, especially since my ability to eat red sauce has escaped me.

    • That's definitely easy, except neither of us are big fans of ham. I see someone suggested chicken down below – that's more our speed.

      LOL at "buy the bread" because you are TOTALLY right!

  10. I eat leftovers for lunch, or else cheese, crackers, and veggies. For suppers, right now, I eat lots of salad with meat toppings – grilled or baked chicken, cold steak, pork chop, hamburger pattie in pieces. This lets me cook once or twice in a week and eat the whole rest of the week on left overs. I do eat differently in the summer than in the winter, because it's too hot to worry with it. In winter, I do spaghetti, chili, barley soup, stew – all in crockpot. I have four different weekly meal plans and rotate them. Don't have to reinvent the wheel, and I can add to or subtract from as I please.
    I can keep salad and veggies for about five days in the fridge. Apples and oranges keep in bowl for a week. Cut fruit will last 4 or 5 days, too, in fridge. You will have to shop more frequently, and add more prep time, but if it saves money, you can do it. You don't have to go to a super center – go to the little grocery around the corner. All you're buying is some produce. In and out, fast. I do all prep work when I get home, so that I can throw meal together in 20 minutes – cut up melon, cut up celery(pack in water); brown ground meat, bake chicken – all can be done when groceries come home. Then, I'm done for the week.
    Maybe you could try freezing cooked meat instead of raw meat and that would help the texture thing. I buy hamburger 5# and fry it up – then freeze in cup servings. I have never noticed a texture change in it. I put it in spaghetti or chill frozen solid – it doesn't take long to thaw. I make my own hamburger helper meals, too, starting with frozen precooked hamburger. You could chop cooked chicken and freeze; same with pork chops. I precook bacon for whole week, as I eat on slice of bacon and one egg for breakfast daily. You could do smoothies with egg protein powder and fresh fruit, too, as fast and easy.
    Clearly, you are very intelligent, but I think most of your kitchen woes are because you don't *want* to cook. I don't fault you for that – but your health has to come first. My great grandmother, who was a doctor, said your diet is the cheapest healthcare going. Cooking is like all housework; dull, boring, repetitive. But, you will lose weight and feel better if you eat better. It isn't hard, just time consuming and tedious – and it takes practice. Borrow a copy of Joy of Cooking or get someone to gift it to you. That has the most info for actually learning to cook and what to do with ingredients that I know of. Look online too not for foodies but for busy moms. Stock your pantry little by little with the basics and go for it.
    I can't offer suggestions about your child, but saying that it's too much trouble to cook for one sounds like a cop out. And, it might be the repetition of exposure to real food week after week for your son could help him overcome (some of) his texture issues – plus him seeing you eat it could help tell his brain, this is food even if it is different … just a thought that occurred to me.
    Good luck, and remember that practice will make perfect – so don't quit the first mistake you make!
    I do so enjoy your blog; you're so determined that it is inspiring.

    • You're completely right; I don't WANT to cook, but I do want to lose weight and save money, so I HAVE to cook. I just never learned how. My grandmother taught me to fry chicken, but that's pretty much the only skill I had when I moved out of my parents' house.

      I never thought about cooking the meat before freezing it! I feel kind of dumb because it honestly never crossed my mind. That would probably help a lot.

      I don't think it's a copout not to cook for one – it's just easier to eat something that doesn't require cleaning up. I don't know any people who live by themselves and cook elaborate meals all the time. And while I don't live by myself, when my son doesn't eat anything that I eat, I have a hard time deciding it's worth the time standing in the kitchen. Lazy? Maybe. But I'm also used to working jobs with 10+ hour days and after-hours on call, so I learned to be pretty selfish with my time.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I really appreciate the food for thought. (groaning at my own bad joke)

  11. A lot of great responses here already. If a recipe costs $30 to make, your probably looking at the wrong recipes. My wife and I spend about $150 per month on food. One of the most budget friendly tips for cooking: make meat part of the entree instead of THE entree. It will also mask any after-taste of being frozen. Buy frozen vegetables. Steamed (which is super-easy), they taste just as if you had started fresh.

    If you email me, I will give you a free (ebook) copy of my cookbook, which has recipes that range from easy to moderate difficulty, and has a bunch of tips, food substitutions, and other tidbits to get you started.

    • I definitely want that cookbook! I need all the help I can get. Will definitely get some frozen vegetables. I've always bought canned stuff, but I hate all the junk they put in it!

  12. I don't exactly have a system. Something to keep in mind is that dealing with food – cooking it, shopping for it, eating up leftovers – isn't an exact science. Sometimes, stuff goes to waste or a recipe just doesn't work out quite right. You have to just persevere. I actually really like cooking and have TONS of easy recipes I could give you, but I agree with the commenter to said to start easy and small. Eventually, you'll get the hang of it.

    Do you want me to email you a few? Just let me know what you like (chicken, pasta, seafood, etc.) and I'll send them over!

    • Yes please! We are an anti-seafood house and not big on pork (except bacon, but that's so not healthy), so anything else would be wonderful!

  13. I'm a student, which means I have little time and little money. I eat a lot of pasta with ground beef and chopped veggies. It takes very little time, it's not a scary recipe with unusual and expensive ingredients, and I make a lot at a time and eat for days… I can also box up for tupperware lunches. Even if Jayden won't eat it, you can still eat it and save money/eat healthier… I

    1. fry chopped veggies in oil (1 onion, 1 green pepper, maybe 1 zuchini…)
    2. pour a can of pasta sauce
    3. pour a can of drained diced tomatoes (to add more veggies & bulk)
    4. add cooked ground beef
    5. add some ground pepper, whatever spices I feel like. Sometimes I add curry paste and make a pseudo-curry)
    6. cook pasta. extra points if it's wheat pasta, but I usually stick with regular rotini

    this makes a pretty big vat of pasta sauce that is chunky with lots of veggies and meat… all the ingredients cost about 5 bucks not counting the ground beef, and it feeds me for about 4 days when I supplement it with bread and fruits.

    P.S.I buy bulk ground beef and cook it immediately with garlic/sat/pepper and freeze it. I break off chunks to add to my pasta. This saves me time so I don't feel like cooking is daunting when I'm short on time.

  14. eemusings says:

    I shop weekly, because we eat a lot, and don't have all that much storage space. Buying the best quality produce you can helps with the life (from actual grocers, or markets – but I don't usually have much trouble with supermarket stuff either. The fruit bin in the fridge helps keep things crisp. And veggies like carrots and capsicum and cabbage keep well). I know some people like to precut their veggies and put them in airtight containers to make them last longer and save on time later.

    I can't really help on the meat front (we do the freeze thing) but what works for me A LOT is cooking most of my lunches at the start of the week – and perhaps a second in the middle of the week.

    I hate spending ages cooking too – I love Rachael Ray and the Stonesoup blog because they're quick, minimalistic recipes for the most part. I definitely do not cook three meals every day. Breakfast is toast or cereal. Lunch, as I mentioned, pre-cooked in a batch. Dinner is usually done from scratch everyday (some of my faves here: http://eemusings.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/go-to-d

    Once you get a bit more confident in the kitchen, I bet you'll be able to work out basic formula for putting together meals – veggie + protein + starch + flavourings etc.

    • Someone else suggested cooking the food first, THEN freezing it, and I think that would help with the meat thing. Thanks for the link – adding to my list of new food resources!

  15. Planning is a big part of it. Cooking at the last minute by the seat of your pants pretty much insures you're going to wind up eating out … or spend lots of money.

    Also I think if you're looking at recipes that are going to cost you $30 to make, it says to me that much of the cost of the recipe is going to be buying staples like basic spices, eggs, etc. Those are things that you're going to have to make an initial investment in anyway if you want to start cooking on a regular basis. Then those $30 recipes will likely cost you a lot less going forward, because you'll have those staple things that you don't use all of for a recipe.

    Finally, honestly, if you want it to work you're either going to have to learn to work with frozen foods (and they don't have to change texture or have weird textures if you cook them right) or you're going to have to accept going to the store 2x-3x a week. :) You can't just magic food out of thin air.

    I'd say pick up a basic cookbook .. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is a really good one. It's HUGE but has recipes for just about everything in the world including simple easy things like scrambled eggs and omelets or simply baking a chicken. Start simple and get more adventurous once you've mastered the easy things.

  16. Also as @EE said, most people don't cook 3 meals a day every day. For me, for example, breakfast is yogurt and fruit or a yogurt based smoothie whirled up in the blender – no cooking required. Lunches are usually salads with some kind of meat and cheese or leftovers (minimal prep, reheating, no real cooking). Dinner is the only meal that I actually spend time cooking and then it's either something quick and easy or if I take the time to make a big meal, it's something I know that I can use for leftovers for lunches or future dinners.

    • I'm thinking it might be a good idea to switch that around because of my schedule – cook something for lunch and eat whatever for dinner. That way when Jayden is home from school, he can eat the few things he likes and I can eat a sandwich. I'll have to ponder that one for a bit… But definitely a good idea to cook once a day and eat quick/easy stuff (just healthier than frozen dinners) for the other meals.

  17. Since you can use a microwave get a book from the library on Microwave cooking basics. Start with the side dishes like potatoes, vegetables, pastas, rice. Then go on to try to cook meat. There are precooked meats available in the freezer, refrigerator or deli sections of your grocery store. There are loads of online coupons to help you cut costs when trying these. Plain already cut and washed bags of frozen veggies cook up quickly in a microwave or boiled on the stove and are relatively inexpensive. When ready to cook meat boneless, skinless chicken thighs and breasts can be bought in larger freezer bags for savings, and cook up quickly with premixed store purchased marinades or simply sprinkle spice mixes on them and cook. There are loads of great saltless varieties in the grocers spice isle.

    • Are you serious? There's a book on microwave cooking? SUH-WEET!!!! I'm learning so much! I have a Pampered Chef microwave potato baker thing, but I never imagined there was a whole universe of microwave cooking info. Off to google!

  18. A slow cooker is inexpensive and comes with instructions and recipe ideas. You simply put the meat and other items in, turn on and it can cook on low all day until you're home to eat in the evening. No burning anything!! These help make even cheap cuts of meat moist and tender. There are packages of great frozen berries, mangos etc that you can defrost in the fridge and add to plain yogurt with a little stevia liquid (natural sweetner found in a health food store) that makes a great breakfast or snack and is good for you.
    You strike me as someone who can accomplish anything she really puts her mind to. Look forward to updated posts on your achievements!!! There you have it the "toddler" version of meals made easy that anyone can do : ) Best of luck and success in this endeavor.

    • Thanks, Lynda. :)

      I used to have a slow cooker, but I had to throw it out (it was in my fridge with a pot roast in it and we lost power for 9 days) and never bought another one. I really need to get one ASAP!

  19. shopping2saving says:

    I would suggest salads with your favorite veggies as it's easy to prepare. I like to bake salmon, spaghetti or fettucine, homemade pizza on french bread, chicken pitas, and tacos. Also fruit is easy to eat and prepare as a snack. I'm addicted to waffles, english muffins, and greek yogurt for breakfast.

  20. We go grocery shopping once every 2 weeks, and then once a week we just buy fruits, meat and bread. We don't ever make meals for breakfast or lunch just because of our opposite schedules, but we do make dinner every night. Produce should last at least a week, and meat taste just as good when thawed out! You just need the right marinade and seasoning.

    • I think it's a mental thing for me. Ate freezer burned meat once when I was a kid and I've never forgotten the taste. When I know meat has been frozen, I swear I can taste that same disgusting nastiness all over again! I need to just buckle down and go buy meat more often so I don't have to freeze it.

  21. I love to cook but some times night comes around and it’s the last thing I feel like doing. My wife and I are really bad about menu planning. We usually decide the day of what we are going to have.

    My advise is to start simple and when you get comfortable try more complex recipes.

    • I'm the same way. I really wish there was an app or something that would just tell me what to make. Though if I don't want that particular meal that day, I'd probably ignore the instructions and end up in a drive-thru!

  22. insomniaclabrat says:

    I eat cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, and a sandwich or leftovers for lunch…and while we don't cook every night for dinner, we do cook sometimes.

    Ryan is REALLY pick about textures, taste, and temperature of his food too. We do a lot of really simple meals- grill some meat on the George Foreman grill, and serve with rice, potatoes (last a LONG time!), and usually veggies, or cook up some pasta and add some meat to some sauce…sometimes veggies too, but Ryan will really only eat tomatoes, onions, and maybe some small bell pepper pieces. On weekends when I'm being ambitious, we might have something like homemade chicken pot pie.

    I really like to do a quick stir fry with whatever veggies I have and leftover meat, but Ryan doesn't like many veggies…so that is usually reserved for when I'm eating alone. One of my other favorites for myself is rice, black beans, corn, salsa, and avocado….but Ryan doesn't like beans, corn, or avocado. I've been into trying quinoa recipes lately, but Ryan doesn't like the texture at all. (so what I'm saying is, I hear you on the picky eater thing. I don't know if Ryan is as picky as Jayden, but he's seriously picky)

    But honestly, I'm not one to judge, because we also eat a lot of dinners like tuna on crackers, or mac and cheese from a box, or pizza. I started making more of an effort after I gained a little weight during my qualifying exam, but we're still pretty lazy. I'm also trying to sneak in whole grain stuff instead of the more processed versions, but I'm not sure how much that actually improves things…

    • I've been meaning to try quinoa, but I have a feeling the texture will definitely be an issue with Jayden. Still, it might be something quick and easy for me. He's pathetic when it comes to eating meat; he eats Sonic chicken strips, ground beef if I sneak it into Hamburger Helper in tiny pieces, and hotdogs every now and then. That's it. It drives me insane – thank goodness for vitamins or he'd probably be in a hospital somewhere!

      • insomniaclabrat says:

        I'm convinced that Ryan is only healthy because he eats so much cereal (with all the added vitamins)…because he also won't take pills unless he absolutely has too! But, he will eat pretty much any meat, so that makes for an easy protein fix!

  23. Yes, cooking takes time. Yes, it also takes time and some money to stock up your home supplies to the point where you have the basics (like oil, flour, spices, rice, beans, sauce) on hand and only need to add fresh ingredients. But you can totally do it slowly over a period of time.

    Try this:
    Pick a couple of meals you like and Jayden will eat. One-dish meals like soup, pasta with sauce and veggies, chili, or casserole are easier than a main dish with two sides, but I understand not wanting to eat food all mixed together.
    Cook one, but make twice as much as you normally would (or 4 servings from the recipe). Do it on a weekend or when you have a little extra time (say 15 minutes) after your meal.
    Wash the dishes and pots that you're doing with while the meal is cooking.
    When you dish up (and you can do this at the stove to avoid washing extra serving dishes), put half the food into a freezer-safe container or two. It should go in the freezer before the meal.
    Eat!
    Then wash the rest of the pots and utensils, casserole dish, etc., and the plates, cups, and silverware you ate with. It shouldn't take very long.

    Do this maybe once a week to start; keep planning meals out. Think about similar dishes that use a main ingredient in common (like pasta and… stuff). Buy that main ingredient when it's on sale, because you know that you'll use it in one of 3 or 4 main dishes. If it's perishable, cook it or prep it before you freeze it. (If you don't like thawing frozen raw meat, cook it up first and freeze small portions of ground beef, stir-fry chicken chunks, whatever. Chop up fresh spinach or broccoli before freezing in Ziploc bags, or buy frozen instead of canned veggies if it's in the budget) If it's shelf-stable, make sure it's in an air-tight container and keep the extra for later meals. Put leftovers into the freezer every time you cook. Eventually you'll have a handful of different meals ready to go in your freezer — only these will be dinner-sized portions of food you made fresh, not that expensive pre-packaged stuff. (Yes, for the amount of food in them, freezer meals are expensive even on sale.) Rotate the meals you like — say you cook 3 times a week and eat leftovers another 3 days (either from that week's meals or from the freezer). That leaves you another day when you order pizza or someone invites you over, or whatever. Lunch can be that food, or individual containers of homemade soup, or sandwiches, or… basically, something easy that doesn't take lots of time when you're hungry!

    The "Cooking for People Who Don't" carnival may be useful: http://commodorified.dreamwidth.org/137087.html

    • OMG, thank you so much for that link! I may never sleep again, because now I'm going through all that info! I appreciate the suggestions as well; all of those are things that have me nodding in agreement because I lack basic skills!

  24. Cassandra says:

    Try the book “Cooking for the Rushed” by Sandy Richards. The meal planning is done for you, and she provides a weekly shopping list with the quantities that you need for the planned recipes. The meals also buil on each other, for example, if you make spaghetti sauce one night, the left over sauce will become part of the chicken parmasean the next night! All recipes are categorized by the amount of prep time too so you know exactly how long it will take!

    • What's this? Weekly shopping list?!?! I am ALL OVER IT! Thanks – checking out that book right now on Amazon!

  25. I usually make breakfast daily – something that takes only a few minutes, like yogurt & 1/2 a bagel. On Sundays, I cook enough for Sunday dinner + lunches throughout the week. It doesn't bother me to eat the same thing for a week, and that way lunch just means taking a container out of the fridge or freezer.

    As others have said, slow cookers are awesome – they separate the cooking from the eating. I like allrecipes.com for recipe ideas.

    Depending on what you're thinking of making, cooking for yourself can be extremely inexpensive – although if you need to buy a lot of spices, there can be a big initial cost. Keep in mind that you don't have to follow recipes exactly, and if there's something you know you don't like, you can substitute something else.

    • Spices are something I have never really grasped. I have salt, pepper, seasoned salt (requirement if you live in the south), garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. That's it. I need to break down and buy a spice rack so I can get started on some of these recipes!

  26. I cook dinner and eat leftovers for lunch. Most recipes online are crazy, 1/8 tsp of this 1/8 tsp of that. Give me a break. Like an 1/8 teaspoon of anything will make a huge difference. I cook maybe 4 times a week. The other days I eat leftovers or eat out. One trick I use is planning a couple of meals ahead. So I may buy 3 pounds of hamburg. I will make a pot of meatballs, make a meatloaf and make tacos all from that 3 pounds. That way, I don't have to cook every day.

    • That's a good idea – picking things that I can multitask (multicook?) and not have to cook every day. Something like that would probably be the best way for me to get started. Thanks!

  27. Second the recommendation on How to Cook Everything.

    Personally, I don't plan menus before going shopping. Dinner ingredients are the biggest part of the shopping list, and I'll generally buy whichever meats and produce look best and/or are on sale, get enough for 2 weeks and THEN decide what we'll be having for dinner based on what I was able to buy.

    You pretty much just have to buy for the way your family works. If your kid only eats a few things, look up different recipes that have those things and make yourself a little cookbook and shopping inventory so that you always keep your pantry and fridge stocked with the things you need to have on hand.

    I buy bags of flash-frozen chicken breasts – they thaw in less than 15 minutes if they're floating in a Ziplock bag in cold water and it's chicken so…I mean, it'll go fine with everything. And you can pull out just one if you're only cooking for yourself or cutting it up for a 1-2 person salad or soup.
    If you're down with potato flakes, you can get a box of that so you can make single-serving mashed potatoes, otherwise, just pull out a tiny bit of spaghetti noodles (you can boil your water while you're thawing your chicken, and then they can cook on their own while you're sauteing and seasoning).

    • I like the idea of a mini cookbook based on what my son will eat. That's a really geat way to streamline the shopping trips! I'm just blown away by all the wonderful suggestions people have; it has taken me a couple days to read through them all!

  28. haha I was just writing a frugal cooking post… it's hard to get into the habit of cooking. And I find even though I like to cook and will do it more often than not, usually I still stick to my favourites and make the same recipes over and over =

    • I'm definitely not very adventurous when it comes to cooking… I'm pretty boring unless I'm at a restaurant where someone else will make it for me! I would love to cook if I just had a magic robot to clean up everything for me when I was done. :)

  29. I LOVE cooking, so cooking at home has become one of my favorite things to do. I grocery shop once a week to mostly stock up on produce – like you said fresh produce doesn't last long. It was costly to pack my kitchen with essentials- spices, flour, oils, etc, but once I stocked my kitchen my grocery list is far shorter when I plan my meals . . . and that's another thing: I plan my meals a week in advance. I don't eat breakfast, my husband has cereal, lunch is sandwiches, salad or whatever can be thrown together and dinner is almost always homemade. We eat out maybe once or twice a month as a treat. I learned how to bake homemade pizza and it is SO MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE to make your own pizza than it is to buy it. I also started baking my own bread and now save a lot of cash that I would otherwise spend at the store. By cooking at home, I am able to spend under $75/week on groceries for my husband and I. Our most expensive food item – diet coke (we are total diet coke heads and spend more on diet coke than on any other item, oops).

    If you're just not into cooking, START! You are great with computers and web design, think about cooking as another way to create something beautiful and useful! I love slow cooking, and if I could I would slow cook everything – maybe start there. You can throw an entire meal – meat and veggies – into the slow cooker, press start, and walk away for hours and come back to a meal that is ready for you. I use the Wolfgang Puck Versa Cooker from HSN (it's a little more pricey than other crocks and slow cookers) but it has great functions on it so I can sear meat, make soups, and meals quicker and use only one pan instead of several.

    If you have trouble with menus there are many menu services out there, and allrecipes.com is a great place to get some ideas in fact I have an app on my Kindle Fire that helps me choose meals – there is probably and iPad app too. Good luck, I truly hope you are able to find the fun in cooking at home!

    • First, I'm glad I'm not the only one who skips breakfast. I just can't eat that early, and I don't like most breakfast foods. Second, when you say you make your own pizza, are you talking crust and all? My parents used to buy the Chef Boyardee pizza kits when I was a kid – I assume they're cheap or else they wouldn't have been buying them! I forgot all about those until now – I actually really liked them when I was a kid.

      Thanks for the suggestions re: menu planning sites. I hadn't even thought to look for any! I do have the allrecipes app but to be honest, I rarely use it. Time to start I guess!

      • I don't like breakfast foods at all. I know people keep saying breakfast is soooooooo damn important. Well, I don't care hahaha!

        I make my own homemade pizza crust. It's really not that hard. I've bought the "just add water" package of pizza dough when I'm in a hurry, it tasted the same. I'm not a "high maintenance" cook – homemade pizza and pizza crust actually is super easy to make and more cost efficient for my household since I already have all the ingredients on hand: water, flour, sugar or honey, salt and yeast.

        I just found this today: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/13/new-cook… might be helpful for your needs.

      • I've bought plain frozen bread dough — it's cheaper to make it at home, but only if you have the time and want to clean up the mess. Thawing one of those in the morning, then topping it with stuff at night and popping it in the oven is easier for me than waiting for delivery. And it's lots cheaper.

  30. I suck at cooking too. SMB doesn't even trust me being in the kitchen for more than 10 mins. I make tea every Monday morning and spill it everyday.

    • This made me absolutely LOL! Sounds like me! Unfortunately I don't have anyone in the house to make up for my lack of cooking skill – maybe you should send SMB to Kentucky to teach me a few things!

  31. I cook for myself, best thing I ever bought was a rice cooker that was also a steamer. I can cook rice on the bottom, and steam chicken with veggies ont the top at the same time. It's quick, and easy to portion out for one person, plus you just pretty much turn it on and walk away.

  32. DontDebt says:

    Hubby and I made a list of several dishes that we both enjoy. We make a sort of menu for the week – not necessarily set in stone as to what to eat on what day. It's just a list of things that will go nicely together. We then make a grocery list based on those meals. We usually try to pick things that will do double duty and can be used for more than one meal. Buying hamburger (or ground turkey) in a bit larger package saves money, and we use that for spaghetti one night, a casserole the next night and as an additional pizza topping the next. I also bought fresh mushrooms and used them in the spaghetti and on the pizza.

    • I really really need to start buying meat in bigger packages. It's so much quicker to get a pound of ground beef, but it's darn expensive lately compared to 10 years ago! Still, it's not like I don't own Ziploc bags… ;)

  33. Some of the best advice I can provide is to always keep stocked up on staples, such as potatoes, rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, beans, and some sort of meat in the fridge. In a hurry, you can always walk away with some alfredo pasta, roasted potatoes and chicken, or stirfry rice with vegetables. Have a few get-away meals (which are fast to cook, easy to make and eat, and everyone likes). What I personally do is go grocery shopping once a week. I normally take about 15min on the weekend with the store circulars in hand (if I dont have them, you can get them from tbe website in most cases) and see what's on sale. Model your meals after that. So if chix breast is on sale, plan to make tacos, chicken parm, soups, and save some for fried rice. Just get creative with your flyer (and budget!) in hand. Worst comes to worst, have canned soup!

    • I think that's a huge issue for me – I've never really stocked my kitchen with basics, so lots of ingredients that I *should* have aren't here in the house. I need to work on that and get back to buying that stuff on a regular basis.

    • Excellent advice. You can build up a staples supply over time, which is especially helpful if you're watching your grocery budget carefully. Or you can make one big trip every few months. I shop from the sales circulars when I'm stocking up, and it really makes a difference! http://mlisunderstanding.blogspot.com/2012/01/sup

  34. Teinegurl says:

    I would start off slow very slow. Make a list of meal you already know how to prepare like example me spaghetti, chili, tacos, chicken, pork chops. Then every other day cook dinner, only one of those meals. For breakfast eat cereal, oatmeal, sausage (that can be microwaved) basically anything that doesn't need the stove or even boiled eggs maybe (but believe me i've burned a few before). Lunch go out to eat or eat a sandwich or canned soup. Then the next day go out to eat dinner. That is my suggestion.

    • That sounds like a good system. Start out doing it a few days so I don't get overwhelmed… That's always my thing – if I feel overwhelmed, I run the other way!

  35. For health reasons I have moved away from processed foods (still moving) and no red meats. I go to the local sprouts (healthy store) and get fresh veggies and fruit sometimes twice a week. I actually kind of enjoy going, kind of relaxing. I do get a couple frozen items like fruit for smoothies ( you knew that was coming) and the have this great 3-min jasmine rice that comes in microwave pouches (great with a little feta). They also have pre cooked pulled chicken that I can nuke and put in almost anything.

    I don't really meal plan yet, would make life easier. But getting things fresh has saved money as I tend to use it. If I freeze it or put it away I forget about it and it goes bad.

    • I wish we had a healthy store around here! We have Walmart – that's pretty much the only choice I have. But I think I could still get some benefits from actually entering the produce section every now and then instead of running from it. :)

  36. Lots of great advice already.

    * My favorite saying is "If you can read, you can cook!" It's all about finding the right recipe source. I recommend starting with a subscription to Light and Tasty. It's real people sending in recipes with *real* ingredients – not the stuff you can only find in a gourmet grocery store! Their companion magazine Taste of Home has good recipes but they're generally of the homeland (take a pound of butter, add a can of cream of mushroom soup) variety. Use their website and start with the highest rated recipes to build up your confidence a little bit.

    * If you go the magazine route, do you think Jayden would be receptive to the idea of cooking one meal per issue? Where he gets to decide which recipe to try? You both have a pretty good idea of what textures he'll dislike but he might be less picky on a non-sensory level if he has some control over other areas.

    * Starting out cooking is expensive. I just moved into a place of my own after sharing kitchens all my life and to get the basics cost more than I have EVER spent! But it's front-loaded, you're not going to be buying full bottles/jars of all your condiments all the time; your only using one or two tablespoons.

    * I agree with others; start slow. Cooking only once or twice a week is already an improvement, right?

    * What helped me with menu planning was to have a theme for each weeknight: Monday = ground beef, Tues = pasta, Wed = chicken, etc. Schedule in a leftover night and eating out nights, too.

    * I also use the MenuBoard.com app on my iPod because I am an uber-geek. You can import the recipes from lightandtasty.com (and other sites) or you can type them in manually. It will create the grocery list for you! I also took the time to list my store's floorplan so my groceries are listed in aisle order (see uber-geek remark above.)

    * Don't give up. You're going to fail at first. Probably a lot. Just because you didn't cook last night (or even last week) doesn't mean you can't cook today. Like Anne Shirley says, "Every day is new with no mistakes in it!"

  37. A couple of things have helped a lot with grocery budgeting at our house. One is to plan meals in advance. Make a list of dinners you'll make throughout the week, and shop with that menu in mind. This saves us from last-minute trips to the store when we're already hungry and desperate and end up buying extra items just because they're there. The other thing is to cook huge batches of food and freeze it. Because I'm not crazy about cooking either, so this way I can make, say, a huge pot of soup and stick meal-sized portions of it in the freezer for the future. I only have to cook once, but I get 8-12 meals out of it. SCORE.

  38. smallivy says:

    Andrea,

    You've inspired me to write a series of cooking posts, starting with one on time-saving tips. Please see if any of these tips are any help: http://smallivy.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/learn-to

    Regards.

  39. DV Aunt Rose says:

    I've always wanted to try this out…… http://emeals.com/

  40. Andrea,

    So glad I'm not the only one to struggle with this! I live alone, so it's just a matter of cooking for me but I'M a super-picky eater! And I hate cooking! And I'm trying to eat lower-carb (low carb is just not gonna happen!) but it's tough when I don't like most veggies and dislike my own cooking to boot. I mean, I can follow a cookbook but after I've seen the meat raw (yuck! And I've tried getting the cooked frozen meat and can't stand the texture) and smelled everything cooking, I have no desire to eat it. I'm pretty good at cooking pasta and baking but those are kinda no-no's so that's no help :( I'm trying to look at salads and raw veggies like carrots as good meals/snacks but sometimes I'd rather just go hungry…which means I wind up wasting produce too. It's very, very frustrating!!!

    Wish I was rich and could just hire a chef to cook for me!!!

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