Too Busy to Cook

A few days ago I blogged about the disturbing cultural trend toward relying on restaurants/corporations to prepare our food for us. We now spend more money in restaurants than in grocery stores, and a high percentage of the money we spend in grocery stores is on pre-cooked “ready to eat” food.

I suggested that one reason for this trend is that increasingly people simply don’t know how to cook. They weren’t taught to cook when they were growing up and never learned as adults.

Another reason of course is the busyness of modern society.  Preparing and cooking food takes time and many people don’t feel they have the time to spare.  While that is no doubt true for many, I’m skeptical that it accounts for much of the trend, particularly given the amount of time we spend watching TV or on social media.  But whether it’s overstated or not, certainly many people, especially if they’re cooking for one, have trouble finding the time to cook.

In our two-person household we divide up responsibilities in a way that leaves Cherie time to cook.  She has the skill-set, and I don’t, so it makes sense that she handle most of the cooking.  But I recall a time a couple of years ago when she was away from home for a week.  Without her here to set a fixed time for supper, I’d work until nearly dark then come in hungry and dead-tired.  Once the leftovers were gone I found myself starting to eat crackers for supper.  I realized that I was being a hypocrite.  Having repeatedly argued that we should prioritize the preparation of healthy meals, and not use being tired as an excuse, I was not making meal preparation a priority and I was blaming it on being too tired.  So I adjusted my schedule.  I started preparing meals during my lunch break.  I’d make large enough portions so that whatever I had for lunch on day 1 would also be supper on day 2.  That way I had homecooked meals but didn’t have to eat the same thing twice in a day.  It was a simple plan, but it worked for me and still allowed me to work till dark.

That’s the kind of thing folks might have to do these days in order to accomodate busy schedules and the necessity of homecooked nutritious meals.

That’s all a long lead-in to something I read recently on The Simple Dollar blog that I thought was relevant and possibly helpful to people struggling with this. The post is HERE and the relevant excerpts are here:

How do you stop eating fast foods or microwave foods? Their convenience just makes them a requirement in my life. Four days a week, I work sixteen hours with a two hour gap in the middle, and two other days I work eight hours. I cook some on the two shorter days and my day off but on those long days I just can’t make things click without hitting a fast food restaurant or stopping at home and eating a microwave burrito. There just isn’t time for anything else.
– Andrew

My solution for busy days like that over the last several years is to use a slow cooker. I just load it up with a simple recipe before I leave and when I get home a hot meal is just sitting there waiting for me. There are tons of slow cooker recipes out there. Here are a few of our favorites.

One strategy you might want to employ is to cook a double meal with each slow cooker batch. That way, you can eat one meal immediately, then put the other meal into storage and eat it as “leftovers” the next day, take it as a “lunch” to your next job, or even that evening when you’re done with your second job.

Another approach is to just make a whole lot of convenience foods for yourself on your day off. Make a giant batch of breakfast burritos, for example. I often make a batch of 32 of them at once, using just a spoonful of egg, cheese, and vegetables in a tortilla, folding the burrito up, then putting it in a freezer-safe bag and storing them in the freezer until I’m ready to eat. That way, I know that they’re both cheap and convenient while also being relatively good for me.

I followed the suggestion from your PDF and tracked all of my spending for the month of March to figure out where all of it was going. The one area that really shocked me was food spending where I spent $1,100 last month on food.

As a single person I often find it hard to justify making a big meal for myself at home and I also live in a neighborhood with a lot of restaurants within walking distance so I eat out all the time. Often I eat out for breakfast at about 7 AM and eat out for dinner when I get home.

I can’t really justify cooking for myself but eating out obviously adds up. Solutions? Suggestions?
– Henry

For you, I’d particularly encourage you to just try to cook some simple things. For one person, it’s not particularly hard to make a simple meal in one skillet and barely generate any dirty dishes at all. If your apartment has a dishwasher, a plate, a couple of bowls, a skillet and a few silverware items and spoons are only going to make up a fraction of a load and you’ll probably only need to run it once a week.

What kind of simple things? Try scrambling some eggs with a bit of salt, pepper, and shredded cheese. It is hard to mess up scrambled eggs and, over time, you’ll learn to make them exactly like you like them. Try making some oatmeal for breakfast – that’s another thing that’s hard to mess up.

For supper, make some simple soup in a slow cooker by adding ingredients before you leave, then assemble a sandwich to eat with it when you get home. Put the leftover soup in the fridge and have it two nights later.

Remember, the goal isn’t to eat every meal at home, but to eat many more than you currently do. If you feel like going out sometimes, do it. However, you should strive to feel good about making some of your own meals at home, too.