Simplify. Reframe. Be daring.
'I don't have enough time to cook'. That's the one thing (almost) everybody mentions as one of their biggest obstacles to cooking (regularly) at home.
It's really no wonder. In a world where everyone is time poor and cooking is optional, it is far easier to see all the things we don't have time for. And to be drawn towards all the 'hacks' and conveniences offered to solve that problem: the problem of having to eat while not necessarily having to cook.
But to me, cooking is so much more than putting a meal on the table (here are some of my thoughts).
And for those of you who are trying to find more time to cook (or reduce the time & effort it takes to put a meal on the table) I have two answers: simplify and reframe.
Just to be clear: simple doesn't have to be boring, nor simplistic.
I prefer to focus on flavour, not fancy: more ingredients = better flavour.
So I always look to reduce the number of steps (and pots) it takes to make a meal, not the number of ingredients.
BUT... that doesn't have to be complicated: throwing in a bit of this or that (like that last left over stick of celery) doesn't make cooking more difficult. In fact, allowing yourself to get past the 'set' ingredient list can be liberating!
Using one pot keeps things simple, saves on both brain space and kitchen space and saves time with prep and clean up too.
There are endless possibilities with one pot: stir-fries, sautés, stews (this includes curries and chillis), sauces and soups, as well astray bakes, all just need one pot (or tray) to make.
Add extra taste, colour and texture with condiments and toppings: anything from kimchi to pickles, herbs to toasted seeds, or a bit of magic sauce on top.
In other words, look for the formula /template/blueprint/framework that makes one recipe similar to many others.
Maybe you haven't noticed yet, but most recipes follow the same handful of formulas. So you probably already know how to make most meals. Once you can see the general pattern (the 'gist'), then 'twist' (the bit that makes the recipe different) will stand out to you more easily. And you'll be able to adjust the recipe at every step to your wants and needs.
You can also plan your meals by type or template, rather than by recipe: this gives you the structure you may need through your week while freeing you up to improvise within that template.
For example if Friday is curry night, then you know what to cook that day, but you can still play around with the many variations and possibilities of a curry, depending on the season, your fridge contents, your cravings, etc etc. Even better, if you know Fridays are always busy, plan your curry night for Thursdays, and get a no-cooking day on Friday just by making enough for a second round.
Get extra miles out of one meal.
Many dishes (especially stews and curries) actually taste better the next day. Plan them smartly (ahead of a busy day) and they can be a lifesaver.
Switch it up, jazz it up the next day (add a different topping/sauce, or a different base)
Things like spice pastes, sauces, dressings and baked tomatoes can be made in bigger batches with zero extra effort and will keep in the fridge for a few days (at the very least) to help you out on busy days.
Try a Tapas style meal - they are fun! Line up all your leftovers as a help-yourself-feast - this maybe great as it is, or just need a salad, some charcuterie, or dip to top it up.
Tinned pulses or frozen veggies add colour, substance and goodness to any meal in literally seconds.
Repurpose 'special'ingredients: spice paste (from harissa to curry paste) is really useful as a quick marinade or topping (e.g. on a piece of fish), and different seasonings can add a big dollop of taste to any dish in a flash: a dash of soy sauce can work wonders on your veggies. I also love miso (savoury depth), Japanese ume (salty-sour), coconut aminos (sweet-salty) and pomegranate molasses (sweet-sour), as well as a good squeeze of lemon juice.
Even if you choose a ready made meal, you can still add a bit of your own to jazz it up: a handful of fresh herbs on your take-away curry, an extra pinch of spices on your stir-fried rice or some spiced grated carrot on your burger, or a herby dip for your chips/fries.
Last but not least: If cooking has become a chore, try to give it a different spin.
Switch your focus: pay more attention to the journey than the destination.
Kitchen time can be enjoyable if you choose to reframe it that way: Cooking can be meditative, social, creative or exciting - your choice!
Me time: Think of what you'd enjoy but not have enough time for: Listening to music? To a podcast or audiobook? Mindful quiet time for yourself?
Family time: You don't have to shut yourself away in the kitchen. Get your family to help. (Did you know children are more likely to eat something they have helped cook? Fact.) Or ask them to simply chat to you while you cook (my preference). It's an ideal time to have a chat about how everyone's day went, or for a catch up if you have guests.
Discovery time: Get curious about the process of cooking. Use your senses. Pay attention to the colours, textures, smells and flavours being transformed in front of you as you cook. Your dish will come together automatically.
Get creative, dare trying something new, take a risk, follow your gut... nothing terrible will happen.
Cooking is actually a safe way to practice getting out of your comfort zone - a veritable life skill!
Surely that's worth a little bit of your time every day? What do you think?