Nutrition//

Your 4-Step Plan to Take the Stress Out of Cooking

Epicurious editor David Tamarkin shares how to save money, time, and anxiety in the kitchen.

Getty Images
Getty Images

After you get home from a long day at work, the last thing you may want to do is fire up the oven to make dinner, then do all the dishes and clean the kitchen when it’s done. Even the thought of cooking stresses some of us out. It’s easy to make an excuse to avoid it — and ordering dinner has never been easier with apps like Seamless, Uber Eats, and Caviar. But going out or ordering in may not be the best for your waistline or your wallet. According to a study discussed in the Harvard Business Review, only 10 percent of Americans like to cook, and the average household spends upwards of  $3,000 a year on ordering out.

Epicurious’s Digital Director and author of “Cook 90: The 30-Day Plan for Faster, Healthier, Happier Meals“, David Tamarkin, wants us to shift that mindset and help make cooking easier and less stressful. “We need to start talking about cooking as something really enjoyable and beneficial, because it is,” he says. Tamarkin sat down with Thrive to discuss the the anti-cooking stigma and simple ways to make cooking less stressful.

Thrive Global: From your perspective, why are people so afraid of cooking?

DT: That’s a great question. First of all, there are so many opportunities to not cook, and there’s a lot of messaging from food delivery companies, meal kit companies, restaurants, and even, I would say, diet companies, that cooking is a waste of time. That it’s a waste of energy, that it’s intimidating and that it’s something you shouldn’t bother doing because someone else can do it for you. Certainly people are stressed, and it is very real for some people that they just don’t have the time to cook. I don’t think that it makes you a better person if you cook, but I think that most of us have more time than we think to cook. 

One other reason why I think that cooking has become sort of stigmatized is that we’ve just gone through about a 15-year period where chefs have become superstars. And when we valorize chefs, we put that kind of cooking on a pedestal, and what happened was we started seeing cooking as a spectator sport. All that cooking that we saw — it became something that was not everyday home cooking. It was much more complicated and we were watching people on Iron Chef compete. They look like athletes and we’re not on that level. Home cooks aren’t chefs, and I think a lot of people started to believe that cooking was only for chefs or is only for people on that level — but that isn’t what cooking is.

We just have swallowed this idea that cooking is something that’s going to take a long time, be very intensive or annoying and unenjoyable, when in fact it’s my very strong belief that cooking is a healthy behavior that makes you feel good and it’s worth spending time on.

TG: So, how do we go about convincing people otherwise?

DT: It starts with the fact that cooking is good for you. We need to change how people see cooking — as something that is beneficial, as opposed to seeing it as something that is a hassle. It can be very relaxing, it can be a way for you to connect with your family or your partner or your friends, and it can be the thing that you spend your time on, as opposed to something that you just “fit in.” There are ways we can make cooking less intimidating. I think that we have to reset what cooking is, and talk about very simple cooking, and talk about weeknight cooking, and talk about what I call home cook realness — meals that you can get on the table very simply.

TG: So many people feel they don’t have the time to cook, and it’s the last thing they want to do when they get home…

DT: I don’t necessarily believe that every meal has to be fast, but I do know that when I get home at 7:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night and I am tired, I’m going to do something very simple and usually fast. But even if it’s not fast, it’s going to be simple and hands-off, and it’s going to be something that definitely doesn’t take up a lot of my time and energy. And that’s the kind of cooking that I think we need to be talking about. You can cook every meal you eat — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — if you just get a little organized. 

TG: How do we get organized so it doesn’t feel like another chore? 

DT: There is a four-part plan that will make a huge difference: 

  1. Plan Your Menu: I really am a big believer in the meal plan. A really big believer that if you spend 30 minutes or even 15 minutes a week and just sketch out what your meals that week are going to look like, you are going to be so much further ahead of the game because from that meal plan you’ll know what you need for your house. 
  2. Schedule a Big Shop: Plan a shopping trip based on that meal plan. I call it the “big shop” because there’s nothing I personally hate more than having to stop at the grocery store on my way home from work. If going to the store is too much, I’m a big fan of grocery delivery — which is a great, timesaving option too. So when 6:00 p.m. comes you don’t have to worry and think, “Oh, what am I even going to cook tonight?” If I’m organized, it’s so much faster and it’s so much more relaxed.
  3. Make a Speed Pantry: Set yourself up for success by always having staples — canned beans, canned tomatoes, two types of pasta (long pasta and a short), a good jar of oil-packed tuna, and stuff like that. Plus, the right oils and vinegars and spices. Keep the things in your pantry that you can rely on when you only have 10 minutes to cook or maybe you didn’t get to do that big shop that weekend. If you have sliced bread in your freezer — which is a thing I think everyone should have if you eat bread — greens (I always have a bag of chopped spinach in my freezer), and eggs and hot sauce — you can really make a beautiful dinner that’s a very healthy, very fast, and easy. These staples are all a part of your speed pantry, the foods that you could always turn into a 10-minute meal if you need to. 
  4. “Next-Overing”: It’s like leftovers, but it’s next-overs. Whenever you are cooking something, just double it. Let’s say you’re cooking sweet potatoes, you’re roasting sweet potatoes. It takes just as much time to roast four sweet potatoes as it does one, so if you were thinking in terms of next-overs, you’re always going to throw in an extra sweet potato or two or three, depending on the size of your family. You did a stuffed sweet potato one night, you could do, like, a curry with the sweet potato another night. Whenever I make chicken thighs, I throw in twice as many I’m going to eat that night. And then, I pull the meat and I use it in tacos a couple nights later. I’ll do a pork loin with roasted carrots one night, and then I’ll make twice as many roasted carrots and two nights later I’ll do a carrot pizza with the roasted carrots. Which will only take a few minutes.

TG: Do you recommend doing the “next-overing” all at once on a Sunday, for instance? 

DT: I don’t necessarily want to spend my Sunday inside making batches of food all day. To me, that’s not the best use of my Sunday. For me, it works a little better to just prep as the week goes on. Now, I will say that when I write out my meal plans, I do tend to pack the next-overs into the beginning of the week so that I can kind of use them at the end of the week. I also make a big pot of rice or a big grain on a Sunday to set me up for an easy Monday. If Sunday batch cooking is the way people want to do it, I think that’s great. I just want people to cook.

TG: Plus, cooking at home does have healthy benefits, right?

DT: Home-cooked food is always going to be healthier, it’s always going to be lower in sodium, it’s always going to be lower calorically. Cooking is good for your mental health, for environmental health, and for financial health. Think about it, when you don’t eat home-cooked food for several days — you don’t feel that good.

TG: If someone is nervous to get started cooking, where should they start? 

DT: It’s funny because the thing that I hear most is, “I could never do that.” There’s a real level of misunderstanding about some basic cooking techniques — that they’re very difficult and only for pros. Where I tell people to start? Beans. 

Start with a big pot of dried beans. A lot of people think that doing a pot of beans is a big hassle, somehow difficult, and a time-suck. In fact, it takes a lot less time than most people think and when they do it, and they taste how much better those beans are, how much food it gives you for literally $1.09 — it’s game-changing.

And there are so many things you can do with them: classic beans and rice, shakshuka with beans in it, bean and tuna salad. I think that’s a really good starting point for cooks because it shows them so much of the magic of cooking all at once — it’s easier than you thought, so cheap, and now look at how much food you have now to use in all these different ways.” 

TG: Now that we know where to start, are there some easy meals we can do in say, 10 minutes, so there are no excuses?

DT: My favorite 10-minute meal is definitely a pasta with anchovies, garlic, and breadcrumbs. I always have all those things in my pantry, so it’s a go-to. Dinner could be three or four ingredients. That’s all it takes. 

The second is shrimp with herby white beans and tomatoes. Frozen shrimp is a really smart thing to have in your freezer, it thaws in about five minutes. You just take out what you need and you kind of put it in a bowl of tepid water and it thaws while you’re getting everything else ready. Then, open a can of beans, a can of tomatoes, and you make a ragu. Then just nestle the shrimp to poach and you’re done. If I have jarred pesto around, then I’ll put that on top and I’ll eat that with rice or crusted bread. Two cans and some frozen shrimp and you’re done. You have dinner.

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