Recently I have gotten quite a few questions on both the blog and the podcast about how I find the time to cook, what I like to make, what my routine is like, and so on. I have a ton of tips and tricks about cooking efficiently and effectively, so I’m going to break things up into different parts and hit each one separately. I started off with some kitchen accessories I’m obsessed with, and now I’m going to talk about my actual cooking routine.
Yes, I have a cooking routine! I do pretty much the same thing every week. My cooking routine is very basic and simple. I don’t have the time or energy to be cooking fancy meals all day every day. Sometimes I put more effort into cooking, obviously, but that’s not the norm. I’m in college. I work. I have other shit to do. I’m all about efficiency, and of course deliciousness. I also prefer to eat as many meals as I can at home because A) it’s cheaper and B) I like to know exactly what’s going in/on my food. If you want to live a healthier lifestyle, knowing exactly what you’re putting into your mouth is key. It’s also especially important if you have a lot of food intolerances like me.
This is my version of “meal prep.” I don’t do traditional meal prep. By traditional meal prep, I mean cooking everything on Sunday and portioning it out into tupperware so that my exact meals are planned out and ready to go for the entire week. I don’t have time to do that on Sundays, and I also like to be able to eat whatever food combinations I’m in the mood for as the week goes on. My version of meal prep is much more lax than “traditional” meal prep.
When I post recipes to the blog, they’re not normally the meals I eat on a regular basis. My daily meals are basically all a variation of one meal. They’re nothing fancy. When I have the time, of course I like to make something a bit more complicated or something that requires more ingredients. But during an average week I don’t have time for that. The pics in this post are samples of some of the food I cooked and meals I ate from last week so you can get an idea of what it looks like.
In my opinion, the key is to buy and cook in bulk. I go to the grocery store once a week to buy everything I need – lots of vegetables, fruit, fish, meat, nuts, oils, etc. I usually grocery shop on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday – just whenever I run out of food.
After the fridge is stocked, I do one of two routines, depending on my schedule for the week.
My first routine is what I do when I have most nights of the week free, so it’s what I stick with most often during summer. For cooking routine #1, I spend the first 2 days of the week cooking almost everything I bought, and then the rest of the week I just reheat the food I already made.
For each meal of day 1, I pick whatever food I want to eat for that meal and I cook ALL OF IT. At the next meal, I pick foods I haven’t cooked yet and I cook all of those. After about 2 days of meals, everything has been cooked, and the leftovers are in foil or tupperware for the rest of the week. During the rest of the week, I just mix and match the foods I’ve cooked and heat them up in the microwave. Everyone has time to throw food on a plate and put it in the microwave for a few minutes. BAM. Done.
For example, one night I made cauliflower, broccoli, butternut squash, asparagus, and ground bison. The next night I made brussel sprouts, cauliflower, salmon, and spaghetti squash. For another meal, I made asparagus, eggplant, cauliflower, and salmon. And for another, I made broccoli, zucchini, and ground turkey.
Throughout the week, I chose different combinations (or sometimes the same combination) of the foods I already cooked to build my meals. If you’re someone who always wants a lot of variety, then you might not like this. Buuuut if you’re like me and don’t really care if many of your meals are similar, then this is definitely the most efficient way to do things.
This is usually what my fridge looks like after the second day of the week! I’ve cooked mostly everything, and it’s all in tupperware and foil, ready to be reheated.
My second routine happens when I have less time at the beginning of the week. The day after buying all of my food, I do the same thing I do in routine 1. Instead of continuing this on day 2, I’ll reheat the food I made on day 1 to eat on day 2. So basically I eat the same meals the first 2-3 days of the week. Then when I run out of the food I made on day 1, which is usually about halfway through the week, I do the same thing again to finish off my week. So for routine #2, there are two smaller rounds of “big cooking” during the week vs. the one large round of “big cooking” in routine #1.
These are the foods I ate during this particular week, but you can use this kind of routine for whatever foods YOU enjoy! If you don’t like salmon, don’t make it. If you don’t like brussel sprouts or broccoli, make something else. You get the idea. The important thing is cooking in bulk.
Okay, now what about the actual cooking? Everyone who says cooking is too time consuming is WRONG. You don’t have to do anything fancy. My favorite way to cook food is to roast it in the oven. Not only do roasted veggies taste AMAZING, but roasting food in the oven is very efficient. Just toss your food with some oil, salt, pepper, and/or any other seasonings you like, put it on a baking sheet lined with foil, and pop it in the oven. It takes less than five minutes to get everything in the oven, and then you can leave and do something else while everything cooks. Just set a timer to make sure nothing lights on fire! Cooking your food on foil also saves cleanup time. Whatever food is leftover is already in foil! You can literally just curl up the edges and close the foil, and the baking sheet won’t be dirty.
If I have room in the oven, I’ll put my fish, turkey, meat, etc. in there too. However, I normally cook my proteins on the stove because my oven is usually filled with vegetables, and cooking on the stove is also pretty fast. It takes less than 10 minutes, and you definitely don’t have to stare at your food while it cooks. Put it on the stove, check back in a few minutes, stir it around or flip it over, leave it for a few more minutes, and then come back. It’ll be done before you know it.
I also looove to use my Crock-Pot to cook in bulk. I’ll use it to make a ton of soup in the winter, and in the summer I use it to cook a ton of protein and veggies. You can toss a bunch of chicken inside with some oil, salt, and pepper, come back in a few hours, and you’ve got enough protein to last you a week. I do this with chicken, turkey, salmon, bison, etc. The same thing applies to veggies – chop ’em up, throw them in the Crock-Pot with the seasonings of your choice, and come back in a few hours. All you have to do is put the leftovers in tupperware and you’re all set for the week! If you make too much, you can always freeze any leftovers so that you always have something in the freezer to thaw and heat up. This week I cooked two spaghetti squashes in my Crock-Pot, which was more than enough to last me a week. I swear, the Crock-Pot is the ideal cooking method for the lazy college student.
For salads, I cut everything up at the beginning of the week and put it into plastic bags so I can just grab the food and toss it into my bowl when I need it. For example, last week I bought celery, cucumbers, and purple cabbage, so on Monday I cut everything up and then put it into plastic bags. For the rest of the week, all I had to do was grab the pre-cut veggies out of the bags and throw it in my salad. I usually put veggies that I roasted the night before along with whatever protein source I previously made into a bowl, heat it up in the microwave, toss in my lettuce, dressing, and non-cooked veggies, and mix it all together to make my salads throughout the week.
Again, the key is BULK. I will never understand why some people only cook enough for one meal at a time. If you’re already going to cook, you might as well cook A LOT OF IT. If you’re worried about your food going bad, you can always cook it and freeze it. I do that all the time, especially with big batches of fish or chicken. That way I always have something ready to eat if I’m in a pinch. You can also freeze smoothies! When I make smoothie bowls, a lot of times I’ll double or triple the portions and then freeze the leftovers so I have a smoothie ready for another day. Freezing smoothies also makes them a lot thicker when you’re ready to eat them, and I looooove a thick smoothie!
And that’s my cooking routine! As you can see, it’s pretty simple. And it’s not time consuming at all. I throw a shit ton of food in the oven at the beginning of the week so that I have enough food to last me the whole week. Then I mix and match things to create my meals. I’m basically the queen of leftovers. No, my meals are not fancy shmancy or complicated. They’re fast and easy, but they’re also very delicious and very healthy.
If this helps one person out, I’ll be happy. I had no idea how to cook when I first moved into my apartment, but once I got into a routine, I realized how easy it really is. Do you have any tips for being efficient in the kitchen? Do tell!