How I Learned to Make Cooking a Habit

I recently took a survey for a friend on my cooking/shopping/eating habits. One of the questions was “when and why did you start cooking?”

It took me a minute, but then I remembered that I really started cooking in January 2009. It was my New Year’s Resolution to cook three times per week, and if all my resolutions stuck as well as that one – I’d be a runner/blogger/meditator organized extraordinaire. I guess I’ll just have to accept that I’ll always have tasty food, even if I have to eat it surrounded by piles of clutter.

Maybe you’re just starting your cooking journey. Maybe you haven’t started it yet but you want to. Wherever you’re at, here the three best tips I have for getting started.

  1. Go slow. If you don’t cook at all, don’t try to cook every day. Start with a few simple dishes a few times per week, and the rest of the week – do your normal thing; eat out, eat Trader Joe’s frozen meals, or get in the good graces of friends that cook.
  2. Narrow your scope. I had one cookbook when I started cooking – an old Vegetarian Times cookbook that I stole from my mom’s bookshelf. I also read approximately one blog – Cheap Healthy Good (I’m still sad that the contributors no longer write). Any time I cooked, it was recipes from one of those two sources. I made the same things that we liked over and over again until they got easy and familiar.
  3. Start easy. It was really a feat at this point for me to toss vegetables in oil and roast them. A few times, I tried to make things like gnocchi or ravioli from scratch by hand, and that was probably a mistake. The best meals we had were the simplest ones.

Despite many marketing claims to the contrary, learning to cook and getting into the habit of doing it can be hard work. More cooking means more shopping, more cleaning, more time. That may not be realistic at first. So start with one meal once a week.  Replicate your favorite deli sandwich at home. Try making mac and cheese from scratch instead of out of a box. Heck, buy a $10 rice cooker from Walgreens, stir fry some vegetables and tofu in sesame oil, and you’ve got stir fry! Whatever is realistic for you, start there and then maybe it becomes something you enjoy enough to keep doing.

I’m lucky that I haven’t fallen out of love with cooking, and that I’ve continued to have the time to make it priority. Sure, I have weeks where I’m annoyed by it or where I’d rather eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich than trim a pound of green beans for dinner or where every single thing I make sucks. But at this point, cooking is like brushing my teeth – a necessary and integral part of my day that I don’t notice.

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