The Time it Takes to Cook

Scenario: Imagine that everyday of your life, you had to take 3 magical injections to survive (stay with me here). You go to the doctor for these and pay a small fee. You get to pick between a number of different shots. Maybe one makes you a bit stronger or maybe there is one that gives you a lot of energy but makes you gain weight. You can pick whatever you want depending on your mood. When you pick a shot though, you never know exactly what is in these shots. They may have other effects that you don’t know about. Regardless, you have to get them everyday.

Imagine now, one day your friendly doctor gives you access to his medicine cabinet. He says that he’ll give you lessons on how to make these shots yourself! That way you could fashion your own mixtures and mix and match them to fit your lifestyle. These shots are not hard to make. He says it’ll take 40 hours to learn the basics and then thirty minutes a day to mix the shots after that.

Would you do it?

It would not be an easy question for many people. Some people, like myself, would say hell yea I want to learn how to make these things. If I have to take them everyday I would rather be able to make them myself so I know what goes into them and so I can play around. A fair number of people may be fine with taking the prepackaged ones.

This little story is obviously my attempt to look at cooking in a different way. We have to have food everyday. We can either buy it from someone else which maybe saves some time but probably costs more and we never know for sure what we are getting, or we can take the time to make it. People are busy though and a lot of people say they don’t have time to cook more.

I’m lucky.

Right now in my life I have a stable job with stable hours, I don’t have a long commute to work, and I don’t have any kids or any major responsibilities outside of work. If I want to take two hours and make a large dinner, I can. I realize that this is definitely a luxury that not everyone has and, in fact, I probably won’t have for my entire life.

I try to put myself in the other position though. I try to imagine that I have an hour commute to work everyday, two kids, and maybe I own a home that I have to maintain. I can see how it would be damn hard to find the time in the day to cook a full rib roast. I’m sure it would be near impossible to find those hours.

The time it takes.

One problem with my little example is that cooking doesn’t require a 40 hour investment to get started. If you know absolutely nothing about the kitchen, it may take 10 hours (at the absolute max) to learn how to cut something, boil something, mix something etc. At the same time, some recipes take longer than 30 minutes to make so you might lose some time there.

Luckily, cooking doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. If you never cook at all (and I know I have some readers that fall into this category), then maybe pick one day a week and start cooking on that day. Give yourself enough time to not feel rushed. Start by making simple recipes until you get your confidence levels up.

I do believe that if you think cooking is important, you’ll find time to do it. And I’ve written before about why I think cooking is important and helpful. But if you honestly don’t have time to cook in a day, here are a few quick tips that can maybe free up the half hour to hour that you might need to make it happen.

Do the do-aheads. Don’t think of cooking as something that has to happen all at once. You can marinate your chicken the night before, chop your veggies while your kids get ready for school, and then throw it all together in a few minutes at dinner time.

Get the kids involved. Get some helpers in the kitchen! Not only does this maybe help on the prep time, but your kids might learn enough about cooking that they can just start banging out dinner for you every night.

Love the leftovers. Leftovers are definitely your friend when you are strapped for time. They can really cut down your hours/day devoted to cooking. I make a lot of meals on Macheesmo that make awesome leftovers. Check out the roasted lemon chicken, chorizo and yam tacos, the technicolor bean salad, or even the meatloaf I made yesterday.

I think a lot of my readers cook at least occasionally, but if there are any brave souls who want to speak up as to why they don’t cook that would be interesting to hear.

Also, all you cooking regulars should comment on how you save time in the kitchen.

8 comments on “The Time it Takes to Cook

  1. We (just the Boyscout and I for now) eat out a few times a week, ok more than that on a bad week. Early in our marriage – all 5 years of it – the biggest fight starter was not over money, but over one simple question, "What are you fixing for dinner?" I don't cook well, and the Boyscout does, but he doesn't like to always be the cook. I noticed that we tend to cook a lot more and eat healthier when we…PLAN AHEAD! If we take just a few minutes to look in the freezer on Sunday night and then jot down a few meals and take out a few things to defrost, then cooking dinner actually becomes more enjoyable. There is always a running grocery list and magnetic pad of paper and pen on the fridge for this very purpose. We plan at least one thing I am good at cooking and have a few back up meals (like spaghetti, naan pizza, or chicken and rice in Indian simmer sauce) for days where we both work late. We also try to keep salad in the fridge so there's always a fresh and super easy veggie to go with every meal. The crockpot is a wonderful tool on our busiest weeks. Occasionally, on a less hectic week, I might find a cool recipe on a blog that I will try making for us (like easy homemade crackers, focaccia bread, and chicken saltimbocca on Macheesmo or roasted red pepper pasta on Pioneer Woman). Sometimes , on a weekend, we will try cooking something more elaborate and we make it a "together" activity.

  2. Those are very thoughtful comments and tips. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

    I really need to get a crock pot. I'm not sure how I've made it this far in my life without one…

  3. I always make extra when it is something that freezes well (spaghetti sauce, lasagna, quiches, casseroles, crab cakes)and usually have about 5 dinners in the freezer when I don't feel like cooking.

    I agree with Nick that leftovers are great. When I have spaghetti there is always some left over so I make the following cassserole for later in the week:

    Mix 1 egg, parmesan cheese, cooked spagetti pasta that has had butter mixed in. Put this in a pie pan (oil it first). Spread leftover sauce over the pie. Top with mozarello cheese. Bake – 350- till heated thru. Something even the kids like….

  4. “The time it takes to cook.” I like it! Great tips Nick.
    We do have two kids (boys ages 5 & 2 1/2), I stay home with them, we’re homeschooling them, and we’re urban homesteaders (just because I’m home, bon bons on the couch it isn’t!) – not to mention we’re living on a pretty darn frugal budget! Just had to add some extra tips:
    1) Casseroles can be your friend! My youngest went through a “HOLD ME!” phase that always occured when it was time to cook dinner (in kid world, this is known as the “internation melt-down hour”). I found I could make up casseroles in the middle of the day while they were down for their naps, then all I had to do was pop them in the oven! Of course, after he grew out of the phase I learned about pre-setting the oven.
    2) Crock-Pot Cooking can really kick ass! The time it takes to get everything in there is minimal and easily worked into schedules (I’ll recommend Rival Crock-Pot’s Best Loved Slow Cooker Recipes cookbook here!). Another plus, no extra heat in the kitchen in the summer time! And it takes food a while to burn in there
    I realize these aren’t high-falootin’ and glamourous tips, but let’s face it, neither is day-to-day life.
    Nick, you are still the all-mighty kitchen king though!!! :)

  5. Great analogy, and I couldn’t agree more. Once you get into the routine of making nourishing, home-cooked food (using plenty of healthy fats, like butter, tallow, etc.), then your health will be so improved, you’ll never go back!

  6. I’ve gone from a stable houred job to a erratic one with more hours on top of 3hrs of commuting a day. I love to cook… I write a food blog fer crissakes… but the first thing to fall by the wayside in this new scene? My cooking. Sad… but true.

  7. I’m with you on all that- I really am-

    but now I’m a bit skiddish to the subhect because I was literally attacked on another blog- (not a food blog, a gossip blog, actually, that occasionally posts foot-related articles and quotes,) for stating that those who do not cook are just lazy. I didn’t think I had to include an explanation for the whole different topic of not being able to cook because that really wasn’t what was being addressed, but of course, within the course of an hour, about 3 folks ganged up on me, split hairs like i’ve never seen, and basically called me an arrogant fool.

    the thing was, my comment was in reference to someone stating that it was cheaper and easier to just eat a big mac, as opposed to buying groceries and cooking. ugh. it’s this mentality that bothers me. THIS is what is wrong with the world. THIS is why people are dying in their 40’s and 50’s. THIS is why obesity is an epidemic. and YES, MOST PEOPLE ARE JUST TOO DAMN LAZY TO COOK. I WILL SCREAM IT FRONT THE ROOFTOPS!!!!!!! (of macheesmo’s insulated audience!!! hear me roar!!!)

    You know I’m not trying to insult anyone- I understand the issues of having to work long hours, having kids, and/or being ill, or disabled would render some UNABLE to cook- said people are not lumped in to whom I was addressing in kanyespeak above.

    Please don’t attack me. Please…

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