Rewriting the story: I don’t have time to cook

This is the second part in our six-week series on the counterproductive stories we tell ourselves in the kitchen – those hurdles that mess with our mojo and prevent us from enjoying the process of cooking. This week we’re hearing from Danielle Abell from Lick The Plates and examining the belief that we ‘don’t have time’.

Danielle Abell

Lockdown is an interesting time to think about time, because suddenly there is so much of it. All of our (often self-imposed) busy-ness is taken away, and we are left with just ourselves.

And what are people doing more of? Being out in nature and cooking! Everyone is going right back to basics. It’s an amazing opportunity for many to unwind our nervous system (which has become so wired, constantly hearing and believing that there isn’t enough time).

Do you feel like you have enough time for anything? Probably not! Well, let me tell you: It’s not true. We’ve been spun to believe this lie that tells us we don’t have enough time.

It comes down to priorities and being present and grateful with whatever we are doing, without worrying that we won’t have time, or stressing that we didn’t get enough done.

The reality is that our lives are very full and cooking has dropped down the priority list for many. And we spend most of our days totally frazzled unable to focus!

Hacks are the best, but first let’s get real

I can give you a stack of hacks, tricks and recipes to make cooking from scratch quicker and more efficient – and I will! But first, you need to get honest about your beliefs.

Do you believe that cooking it is worthwhile? Did you grow up in a household where time spent cooking was valued?

Many didn’t and unfortunately mainstream society projects this belief back with the glorification of quick and instant results. But, maybe you are ready to see through that!

Does ‘I don’t have time’ actually mean ‘I don’t have time to cook just before dinner’?

The hour before dinnertime is notoriously crazy for anyone with kids. Hunger and tiredness are at a high. The kids want and need attention to re-connect after a big day (often a day apart), and then we try to cook dinner at the same time. Here are my top 3 tips to take the pressure off cooking dinner, so you can re-write the ‘I don’t have time’ story!

1. Cook one day ahead

Stop cooking dinner in the hour before you want it to be served. Instead, cook at least a day ahead.

The beauty of cooking dinner for the following night is a huge relief from time pressure. You don’t have a hungry family waiting for dinner to hit the table and you don’t need to finish every element.

Here’s an example from my week.

Note, this wasn’t planned – it just flows. On a night I have more time, I think ahead for a different dinner.

Mon: Eat leftovers from the weekend and cook a tomato and veg packed pizza sauce for tomorrow.

Tues: Spread pita breads with pizza sauce and lay out pizza toppings for everyone to make their own pizza.

Wed: Make and serve Eggy Pasta (recipe below). Roast some pumpkin for a soup for tomorrow.

Thurs: Make blender pumpkin soup and serve with bread (blitz roasted pumpkin, stock and seasonings in a Thermomix or blender and heat up). Roast a tray of assorted chopped vegetables for tomorrow (or at least chop them, ready to roast tomorrow).

Fri: Cook some sausages and serve with reheated roasted vegetables.

Sat: Cook a big pot of something: curry, slow cook, Bolognese, chicken soup, etc.

Dinner doesn’t need to be cooked right before it’s served. Now you can dance one step ahead of the game.

2. Learn how to use a slow cooker

You just need a bit of time to load up a slow cooker – either one decent pocket of time (about 15 minutes realistically, including clean up), or a few tiny pockets.

Start with a basic recipe for beef stew on a day that you have plenty of time, and start early in the day.

By definition, you cannot make a slow cooked dinner quickly. You can prep it quickly, but you need to step away and let it do its thing for many hours. This forces you to take the pressure off cooking at the end of the day and totally debunks the ‘I don’t have time’ story. You have 15 minutes somewhere, and if you don’t, then break it into 5-minute chunks!

3. Dinner doesn’t need to be complicated

Stop looking on social media at beautifully curated dinner plates because that’s not reality. Dinner can be ugly and doesn’t have to be coherent. It just needs to be tasty, real food, ready for your family to eat. Yes, social media can provide lots of inspiration, but there is a fine line between inspiration, overwhelm, and then decision paralysis. Fried eggs on toast is a great breakfast – and you know what? It’s a great dinner too.

Make a list of your super quick dinner favourites, stick it to your fridge and keep adding to it!

Here are mine:

• Sardines or tuna on toast/through pasta – make it tasty with plenty of salt and lemon

• Eggs on toast

• Fried rice (cook the rice ahead, whenever you have time, and store it in the fridge)

• Eggy pasta

• Toasted sandwiches

Recipe: Simple Eggy Pasta (Carbonara)

Ingredients:

Pasta (as much as your family eats)

Frozen peas (optional)

Eggs (one per person)

Handful of grated parmesan/cheddar or tablespoon of nutritional yeast (optional)

Bacon, chopped (or ham as a substitute)

Salt and pepper

Method:

1. Chop up bacon and saute in a large pan. Cook to your liking and turn off heat once cooked.

2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in generously salted water.

3. Whisk eggs in a bowl with half a teaspoon of salt (less salt if using cheese), plenty of pepper and cheese/nutritional yeast (if using).

4. About 3 minutes before draining the pasta, add your frozen peas.

5. Before draining, scoop out a mugful of pasta water and set aside.

6. Drain pasta and peas and pour into frying pan over the bacon and toss and let pan cool down to just warm.

7. Pour egg mixture over pasta and combine using tongs. Toss around on VERY gentle heat (or no heat at all) until the sauce is glossy. It will still be runny and that’s ok.

8. Add a splash of pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce if it’s gluggy. 

Serve and enjoy!

Danielle Abell

Danielle is an ex-picky eater turned food lover and founder of Lick the Plates. She is passionate about inspiring women to cook from scratch the old-fashioned way, but with modern equipment and techniques. She teaches cooking both face to face and virtually and sells Thermomixes, as the best kitchen tool to make it all possible. Find her at www.licktheplates.com and on most socials.

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