First off, if you have decided to take on this challenge, I commend you! It is not an easy one. Many of us have gotten so used to grabbing meals on the run and dining out with friends that cooking has completely fallen off the radar. Well now it's time to turn that around.
Tip #1: Plan, Plan, Plan!
- Make sure to plan your meals, especially prior to going to the grocery store or farmers market. Decide what starches, proteins, veggies, and fruit you are going to eat that week. This will help you save time and money, so you get exactly what you need and don't end up buying too much. If you are going to create specific recipes that week, make sure to have the list of ingredients with you.
Tip #2: Cook in bulk
- At a bare minimum, you should be cooking enough food to cover two meals. But that will potentially mean that you are cooking every night which can be tiring and take up a lot of time. What I recommend is to cook enough food to cover about 4-5 days of meals. This could mean cooking two different dishes at the same time or cooking a single base dish, and adding to it throughout the week. This may be tough if you like more variety in your weekly meals, but I can almost guarantee that this will make Cookuary a lot easier for you.
Tip #3: Build your meals around a starch, then switch out the proteins/veggies/fruit for variety
- Since I tend to spend more time cooking my starches, I like to build my meals for the week around whatever starch I feel like. As an example, one week I may feel like garlic mashed potatoes, so I decide to make a large batch that will last 4-5 days. Then for each meal, I can change out my proteins to give myself more variety for that week. One day I could add a nice piece of seared salmon and a kale salad, or some pan-fried shrimp and carrots, or even a protein-style burger. Other starches I have come to love are fried rice in bacon fat, my own homemade potato salad, and a sweet potato mash,
Tip #4: Have a couple makeshift meals in case of emergencies
- It sounds funny to call this an emergency, but there are going to be times where you have no prepared food available and you end up working late, get stuck in crazy traffic or you have an unexpected family issue arise. In order to keep yourself from picking food up at the nearest takeout spot, it's always good to have a couple makeshift meals ready. These may not always be the most appealing of meals, but they will get you through that meal until you can cook again. For me, these have often consisted of a microwaved sweet potato, a banana, cheese, sardines, canned tuna, eggs, avocados, and carrots. Eggs are actually one of the best makeshift meals because you can cook them rather quickly and they are very nutritious. If you have some boiled already, even better. Throw a banana or sweet potato in there to balance the meal out if you have those around.
Tip #5: If you have lunch/dinner plans with friends/family, don't be afraid to eat before or after the get together to refrain from eating out. You can also offer to cook or turn the outing into a potluck. In the case that you have a date, cook for them. They will definitely appreciate the gesture.
- In my experience, if your friends and family are understanding of the challenge, more often than not they will not mind that you refrain from eating out with them. I've done this on multiple occasions, even with client lunches, and it becomes more of a conversation piece than anything else. If you absolutely HAVE to eat out, then try to minimize the damage and get back on track with your next meal.
Tip #6: Try new recipes, especially family recipes that you can get from your parents or grandparents.
- We all have great cooks in our families and I believe it really means a lot to try and learn from them and pass down their recipes to future generations. One of the first recipes I learned from my Mom was her Spanish Rice. It's the same recipe she learned from her Mom, my Grandmother, and I will most likely pass that same recipe down to my children someday as well. I've since added my own flavors to it, but it was great to learn the family recipe first. In the case that you find fun new recipes to try from a cookbook or online, I would recommend choosing ones with minimal ingredients to start with, so that you don't end up buying loads of things that you may only use once.
Tip #7: Track your progress
- I can almost guarantee that you are going to see health benefits from this challenge, if you are able to complete it. But without a benchmark to measure against, it can be tough to remember where you started and how far you've come. On Day 1, I would recommend taking a picture of yourself for visual progress, stepping on a scale, or just getting a general sense of how your energy levels are as well as your digestion. I may write a more detailed post on this topic later, but for now, try to at least take a picture for a before and after comparison, for your eyes only.
Tip #8: Amplify your results
- While the goal of Cookuary is to prepare all of your meals for 30-days, there are a few tweaks that I believe you can make in order to amplify your results. On the cooking side, it would be to stick to whole, unprocessed foods. Pretty much anything on the outside of the grocery store or at a farmer's market. Potatoes, eggs, steak, shrimp, kale, carrots, bananas, raspberries, etc. Depending on what you currently cook, this could be a drastic change, but I do think it would be worth the extra effort.
- Another amplification idea I believe in is walking more throughout your day. Many of us sit the entire day and may even sit once we get home. Adding some additional walks into your day can help activate your metabolism without wearing down your muscles. I have a Fitbit that tracks my steps and gives me a great idea of how much I move per day. During Cookuary, I up my step count in order to see even better health results.
Bonus Tip! The secret ingredient is always bacon. That is all.
Thanks for coming along for the journey and best of luck!