Simplify your life and kitchen by learning to cook from scratch. Today I wanted to share how to start cooking from scratch the simple way and share 5 of my top tips for cooking healthy and delicious meals from scratch.
Growing up, I learned how to cook. My mom cooked, my grandma cooked and I learned how to cook and bake. But it was not until my second year of marriage that I really was interested in cooking from scratch. And it took me a little while to get to where I cook from scratch daily.
Now, we still eat out. Sometimes things just happen and we honestly enjoy eating out. But this has become less often after we moved out to the country because it is just not as easy to go grab food. I also have enjoyed cooking more now that I am a stay at home mom. While I have always enjoyed cooking from scratch, it has become something I really enjoy now.
Every week I like to pick a few things to try out that are new. A new vegetable, meat or meal in general. This is usually what makes it to the blog. But I also just enjoy cooking simple food for my family that I know nourishes them.
What Does It Mean To Cook From Scratch
In the most basic form, cooking from scratch is cooking with basic ingredients, using nothing pre-made. You would cook your beans, rice, meat and vegetables on your own.
This could mean a four course meal that you raised or grew entirely on your own property. Or it could mean eggs and bacon from the store. “Cooking from scratch” does not have to be difficult or a long process every day. When you cook three meals a day, there is not time for fancy dishes at every meal (unless you want to spend every waking moment in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning- I do not).
In our home, cooking from scratch simply means using basic ingredients that are wholesome and nourishing to create delicious meals for my family. And like I said above, sometimes this is bacon and eggs and sometimes this is homemade pasta with cream sauce, homemade meatballs and a hearty loaf of sourdough bread.
Cooking from scratch can be as simple or complicated as you want and need it to be, but anyone can simplify their cooking and cook from scratch.
Why Cooking From Scratch Is Better
I could go on and on all day on why I believe cooking from scratch is better. It simplifies your kitchen, is healthier, is cheaper and more economical, and can provide safety and stability with your local food chain.
Simplify Your Kitchen
My cooking process has never been easier. I have a set collection of ingredients in my kitchen at any given time, buy the same things every week and month and try to buy in bulk to always have these items in hand. Most importantly, I can cook pretty much any meal I could want with the ingredients I have on hand.
When you rely on pre-made convenience foods, you have to stock very specific items. When you run out, you have to replace very specific items. Usually these items can only be used for a few meals or purposes. When I use these types of ingredients, they usually go bad before I can use them all up. I forget I have them or they do not get used up in time because they go to a specific recipe.
When you cook from scratch, it is very likely that the number of ingredients in your pantry decreases. Most foods you buy can stretch to pretty much any meal that you make. This simplifies they number of ingredients that you have to buy and creates a kitchen that is ready for practically any of your meals, at any time. Less ingredients, less clutter, more meal options- how can it get any more simple.
As a teenager, I tried every diet under the sun trying to find the right one to stay in shape but eat what I wanted. When in reality, it is not always about the calories but about the quality of the calories. You do not have to give up the types of meals you love. In any given week we could eat barbecue, chinese food, mexican food, pizza, breakfast for dinner or even italian food and I can say that any of these meals are healthy because of the types of ingredients I am using.
Of course you can cook unhealthy food from scratch but by substituting for healthier versions of the basic ingredients, you easily create your favorite meals in a healthy way. Think local honey or maple syrup instead of sugar in baked goods, sourdough or einkorn instead of regular bleached flour breads, and grass fed or local beef instead of store bought beef raised at a farm that does not take care of the animals. Switching vegetable oil for avocado oil and margarine for grass fed butter are very easy swaps. All of these things do not alter the flavor of your meals much (and for the better if they do) but you know they are nourishing foods for your body.
Cooking from scratch requires foods like rice, dried beans, flour or wheat berries, butter, milk, eggs and cheese. Honestly that is mostly what I buy. Individually some of these items may be more expensive to buy than a $2.00 hamburger helper box (I’m not even sure if that is what Hamburger Helper costs anymore to be completely honest) but they last longer and you are buying fewer items so it overall can lower your grocery bill.
Now rice and dried beans are cheap. Dairy tends to be more expensive especially when looking at organic or raw, but when you stop paying for someone else to chop your vegetables or put your noodles and cheese powder in a box for you, it is not anymore expensive than stocking up on frozen breakfast burritos and pizzas for the weeks. Not to mention the overly priced snacks marketed for school lunch boxes.
Overall, your grocery bill will likely go down while purchasing higher quality foods.
Supporting and Building Your Local Food Chain
This really hits home right now and for the previous two years. I do not think that I need to tell anyone that the way America sourced their food before 2020 is not sustainable. It is getting worse with media reporting left and right about food shortages. When you rely on large corporations who do not care about people or the animals they source their food from, you are not in control of the types of food you are eating or if you get to eat them.
When I started cooking from scratch, I began to get more interested in finding the food we were consuming cheaper. And I found that it usually was straight from the source by buying from local farms at farmers markets. This led to researching other farms where I could get the rest of our food from. And then switching ingredients one by one to healthier foods that were easier and cheaper to find locally.
This all supported my local food chain which encouraged and promoted the safety of feeding my family. If you cannot grow or raise it yourself, find it local if at all possible.
How To Start Cooking From Scratch
This can be a very overwhelming process so my biggest suggestion is just to take it one step at a time. I am a few years into this so not starting out but also not an expert by any means. The reason I say that is because I am more familiar in the kitchen but I am still learning every day. Let this be a process instead of rushing to the final product. There is always something to learn and I actually really enjoy that about cooking.
One thing I did when I first started cooking from scratch was learn to cook basics- plain and simple. Starting with a whole chicken instead of just chicken cuts, bone broth, rice and dried beans. This is nothing new and I would bet that this is how everybody starts. My point is that a lot of times I see people get really excited and want to cook a fancy dessert or casserole from scratch as their first foods and then get discouraged when it is a lot of work or does not turn out. Learning individual ingredients first will help when you start creating more complicated meals.
This is also great for planning meals. While I do not “meal plan”, I do have a few meal ideas in mind and they usually revolve around a specific ingredient. For example, if I plan to make a chicken, we will not eat the whole chicken in one meal. It usually lasts two meals and then I can make bone broth out of the bones. One simple chicken created inspiration for three meals. This makes cooking from scratch simpler and there is no waste.
Another thing I recommend is sourcing one ingredient at a time as you learn to cook it. Learn to cook a whole chicken then find a good local source for whole chickens. This builds multiple benefits to your home in one step. Killing two birds with one stone, if you will.
As you do all of this, I recommend writing things down. Now I do not cook from recipes a lot. But when I first started and was still learning, I wrote everything down so I could practice a recipe a few times and get really familiar with what I was doing. If I did not write it down, it was like starting all over again the next time I wanted to make it. I still do this when coming up with new recipes so that I have them in writing for the blog. I actually struggled with this at first because I would write things down but on little pieces of paper that I would lose. So I created my Simple Kitchen Journal for myself to collect my recipes in. I have this printable in my free resource library for free and recommend it for anyone starting out!
Tips For Cooking From Scratch
1. Have A Simple “Capsule” Kitchen
I talked about this a little bit already but simplify your kitchen by using a capsule kitchen. Ok, I kind of made that up but this is really a thing with clothing. Someone created the idea of the capsule wardrobe where you have a set amount of clothes for a season to help with clutter and ease decision making.
Once I started cooking more, I realized how genius this was for several things in life. I do not go by any rules as far as how much of something to keep in my life. I just do what works. But keep this in mind when grocery shopping.
I keep a small selection of ingredients in my house that I can mix and match to make any meal. This simplifies my kitchen because I do not have a million different bags, bottles and jars floating around getting lost. I can buy in bulk to save money and make sure I always have what I need on hand.
In my “capsule kitchen” I keep meats like pork, chicken and beef. Usually bought in bulk. I also keep pantry items like rice, beans, all purpose einkorn flour, einkorn wheat berries, nut butters, oats, and a large spice collection etc. Keeping very basic ingredients means I can make several meals with a small amount of ingredients.
I also apply this to my kitchen tools. Having an appliance for every little thing I do in my kitchen stresses me out. They do not even get used because I cannot remember that I have them. I limit the types of pans, small appliances, and supplies to staples that I know work and are for more than one function. Cast iron and stainless steel pots and pans, an Instant Pot, glass bakeware and wooden cutting boards, spoons and spatulas are all staples. Obviously there is more to this but those are the basics. Find what works for you and what you can get rid of that could be accomplished with something else.
2. Cook Simple Meals
Not every meal has to be a big production. A lot of our meals are some type of protein with a vegetable and potatoes or sourdough bread. A few examples are:
- Roasted chicken with green beans and sourdough bread
- Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and salad
- Sliced steak with broccoli and fried potatoes
- Roast with potatoes and carrots
- Eggs or cubed pork chops with hash browns and fruit
Do not overcomplicate it. Any meal can be spruced up with butter, spices and herbs and fun sides.
I still like to make fun meals like pot pie, soups, and casseroles. Once you are more familiar with cooking these come easier and are no harder than the meals I listed above. But some meals like homemade pasta are best saved for the weekend when I have more time and slower days to spend time in the kitchen.
This is one of my biggest tips. Spend time prepping! Even if this is when you are already in the kitchen… ESPECIALLY when you are already in the kitchen actually. You can cook and clean once for multiple meals.
I do not love to meal plan. I get overwhelmed and stressed writing out a meal for each day and buying the ingredients for it. We almost always get off plan and then things go to waste. But if you like to meal plan, write out a plan for the week. I will mention that while I do not meal plan, I almost always have a list of meals either written down or in my head that sound good. But usually these change as we go through the week so all meals are made with the capsule ingredients I talked about above.
Instead, I suggest to prep in other ways. One suggestion is to keep meat thawed in the fridge. I actually got this tip when I first started and it is really helpful. Pull a weeks worth of meat out of the freezer and keep in the fridge so that it is ready to go for the week.
When making breakfast, throw some sweet potatoes or squash in the oven and pack up for later use in the week. Throw some bones or beans in the Instant Pot for soup or chili. Chop up veggies and shred cheese for later use. Having these things ready to go will make it easier to cook but also inspire meals since you are not overwhelmed with having to cook everything at once. Use these things that you can throw in and have ready to go as the base for your meals during the week instead of preplanning every meal.
I like to cook a chicken for dinner. We will eat that with a few sides than any leftovers go in the fridge for another meal. I put the bones in for bone broth and we can have soup. If I make beans at the beginning of the week and freeze, I can throw those into a chili or reheat for taco night. I can bake a loaf of bread not knowing exactly what for but use that as a base to decide what to put with it.
Just last night I had a loaf of bread and decided we would have a chicken and stuffing. I used the loaf of bread as the base and went from there.
4. Have “Fast Food”
There are going to be days when life happens and you do not have anything prepped or thawed. If you have things in your pantry and fridge for this, you won’t rely on actual fast food. We like to keep deli meat, cheese, and veggies like carrots, potatoes and avocado. We also like to keep canned tuna and frozen salmon on hand for these night. Both of these can be cooked up in 15 minutes. But what I fall back on most often is sourdough starter. Anything that does not require to rise for a while is great for quick meals because I keep plenty of starter on hand for this. Breakfast is a great option for sourdough because so many things can be made from sourdough starter- pancakes, waffles, crepes, puff pancake, and tortillas are all options.
- Tuna burgers, fried potatoes and green beans.
- Baked salmon with lemon, butter herb rice, and broccoli.
- Sourdough wraps with tortillas, cheese and turkey or ham with chopped carrots and cucumber.
- Sourdough pancakes/waffles/crepes/puff pancake with fried eggs and hash browns.
- Breakfast Burritos
- Turkey/ham, cheese and veggie wraps with carrots and cucumber.
These are just a few of our favorite “fast foods” but we rely on a few others often. Between prepped food and a stock of fast foods, you have everything you need to cook from scratch.
5. Eat What Is In Season
I talked about prepping a few basic ingredients and letting them inspire your meals for the week earlier. This is kind of my basic guideline for cooking from scratch. But I also rely on what is in season.
For example, in the fall butternut squash are in season. I buy up several and cook them all up then add them to a lot of our meals. Instead of sitting down and writing out a list of meals that have nothing in common, I look at what is in season and base my meals off of this. Pair this with prepping the squash in advance and I could have a new meal with butternut squash every day of the week.
There are other benefits to eating what is in season as well. When things are in season, they are healthier and more nutrient dense. They also taste much better. Eating what is in season is a great way to eat healthier regardless of how you choose to cook.
Bonus Tip… Eat It Anyway
Okay, so this is a big big big tip of mine so I had to add it in. But even the most experienced cooks have meals that just do not turn out how they wanted them too. Maybe the bread was too dense and did not rise enough. Make croutons and eat it anyways. Ugly pancakes? I’m sure they taste just fine. Eat the food you make as long as it is cooked thoroughly because there is a very good chance that it is not as bad as you think and you can learn from a “failed” attempt.
We have eaten many flat loaves of bread. Learn to save your food if it does not turn out. Instead of eating a hard loaf of bread just to keep from wasting, turn it into croutons and throw it on a salad if you are in a crunch. Or use as a topping on tomato soup.
There are always ways to save a meal that is not quite right and you will learn something by tasting it to see what went wrong.