50. Make a meal plan… or don’t
Some people thrive on knowing exactly what they’re going to make every day; others do better planning components to mix and match. Figure out what works for you rather than trying to shoehorn yourself into someone else’s idea of organization.
51. Do some weekend prep
“Planning and preparation are the key to making home cooking less overwhelming,” Hull says. “Spending just two hours on food prep for the week is a game changer. Chop your veggies and store in the fridge, prepare your grains, make a simple batch of soup that’s ready to go for busy evenings.”
52. Factor in your life
When making your plans, refer to your calendar. On the nights you’re juggling a late meeting, plan to make something quick and easy. On days when you have more time, make extra protein or prep the next night’s salad dressing.
53. Plan ahead for leftovers
If you map out the recipes you’re going to make for the week, include plans for leftovers. For example, if roasting a whole chicken, plan for quesadillas for lunch the next day to use up the meat. Use the carcass for soup a day or two later, or freeze it.
54. Mix things up
After you’ve made your plan, look it over and double-check that there’s plenty of variety. Include an array of vegetable and proteins, and make sure you have some hot vs. cold, some spicy vs. mild, and some soft vs. crisp. Even within meals, having a variety of color, textures and flavors will elevate your cooking, Moulton says.
55. Shop with a list…
but stray sometimes. Go into the supermarket with a well-thought-out shopping list to save time and to keep waste at bay. But if you see something unexpected, don’t be afraid to swap. If you were planning for green beans but the asparagus looks delicious, go with it. You’ll feel more inspired.
56. Join a CSA
with a share in Community Supported Agriculture, you support local farms and get fresh produce. Plus, because you aren’t always choosing what you get, you’ll stretch yourself as a cook. Along with looking up recipes for kohlrabi, rhubarb and other less-common items, you can also ask the CSA workers for ideas.
57. Be the first one at the farmers’ market
Chefs are often at the farmers’ market first thing. The pros know they’ll find the best selection early, as well as less-common treats like unusual heirloom tomatoes and squashes, small-batch honey and duck eggs.
58. Shop seasonally
Though it may be tempting to enjoy fresh berries in February or pears in July, buying produce that’s in season is a shortcut to better cooking. The food is more likely to be fresh, and because it was picked closer to ripeness, it’s usually more flavorful.
59. Befriend your butcher and fishmonger
Whether you go to a butcher shop or fish market or you buy everything at the supermarket, most likely the people selling those items are knowledgeable. Ask them what cuts or types they recommend, and get their cooking tips and advice.