About my approach: minimalist cooking

Commuter Cook is a food blog dedicated to obsessed with helping people get dinner done every night of the work week.

 

Does this sound familiar?

You want to be healthy, and you know that cooking homemade meals is one of the best habits to keep you healthy. But, you’ve got a life, right? A life that may include a job, study, a litter of kids, a commute, friends, volunteering and a dozen other commitments that keep you busy. Plus, there’s the constant stream of social media and food inspo that only creates unrealistic expectations that the average home cook (including yours truly ?) can’t possibly meet.

Suddenly, despite your admirable intentions, weeknight dinners become a bit too…difficult. But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t need to be. You can have your cake easy, healthy dinner and eat it too. It’s why I cook the way I do—to un-complicate dinner. 

Welcome to minimalist cooking.


 

The Commuter Cook approach to getting dinner done is about minimalist cooking, with an organizational bent.

Let’s unpack each part.

 

Minimalist cooking: Focusing on less, to give you more

For me, minimalist cooking is, quite simply, a simple, unfussy, practical approach to cooking. It’s a philosophy that works no matter your diet, geography, budget or family situation.

It’s about the things you see:

  • minimal gadgets (that work for the foods that you like to cook)
  • minimal ingredients in recipes (that are accessible to you)
  • minimal pantry items (that can still get you out of a jam on a Tuesday)
  • minimal dinners in your weekly rotation (that you LOVE and make sense for a weeknight)

And the things you don’t. More than the visible, it’s about a mindset that accepts, and celebrates, a minimalist approach to dinner, even if fails to get likes on insta or impress the neighbours. It’s a voice in your head that says…

I don’t have [X] so I’ll just use [Y] instead.

I don’t feel like making a side salad tonight so I’ll just throw some veggies in the pot.

Oops. That didn’t taste awesome. Well, at least it’s not takeout! (gives self pat on the back)

What should we eat this week? Hmm…let’s see what’s on Pinterest in the fridge first. 

You know that dinner that you love? I’m making it again this week.

Maybe one day I’ll peel my carrots, soak my beans or make my own stock, but not today.

Is this enough for dinner? Yeah…it’s enough.

Minimalist cooking takes less time, creates less waste and causes less stress, which makes it easier to cook on a regular basis. And more dinners at home means better health for you and your family.


 

An organizational bent: Planning for your success 

No matter your goal—finding a job, moving to a new city, taking a trip, losing 10 pounds—you won’t get very far without a plan. Eating a healthy dinner every night is no different. So if you…

  • wing dinner most nights.
  • aimlessly wander the grocery aisles, putting random ingredients in your cart.
  • avoid the question “What’s for dinner?” because you don’t have an answer.
  • draw a blank when trying to figure out your weekly meal plan.
  • eat takeout or frozen multiple times a week.

I hate to say it but…you need to get your sh!t together.

I found this out the hard way when I started commuting and my previous ‘plan’ of winging it did not hold up to the new realities of my situation. Thankfully, after some trial and error, I figured out how to get organized so that I could still cook easy, healthy and tasty dinners every night, from scratch, when I got home from work.

So yes, I meal plan. I keep a well stocked pantry. I know what recipes are right for weeknight cooking. However, I don’t meal prep (definition: taking several hours out of every weekend to prep foods for the work week). ?  Sure, it simplifies weeknight meals but at the expense of a big chunk of priceless weekend time. What if I’m travelling? Sick as a dog? Or just don’t wanna?

I’ve been cooking weeknight dinners while commuting for 8+ years now without weekend meal prep. If that seems impossible, it’s not. If that seems like an oxymoron, it’s not. It’s the difference with my approach to cooking and how I balance organization and minimalism.

A plan is important but like all lifestyle changes, your plan for eating a healthy dinner is only going to work if it’s doable in the long term. For you. That’s why getting organized is done in the spirit of minimalism. We’re not aiming for obsessive, “neat freak” levels of organization that take hours every week—rather, just enough to get dinner done. 


 

Minimalism + organization = weeknight cooking hero

Some things are just better together:

  • Peanut butter and jelly.
  • Sonny and Cher.
  • Minimalism and organization.

Not convinced? Here are two examples:

Simple dinner in mind but forgot to buy the ingredients? #fail

Meal plan sorted but the recipe is so complicated that you’re too tired to get dinner done? #fail

 

So yes, we’re gonna simplify and we’re gonna get organized. I’ll share what works for me here, and I’d love it if you did the same. Together, we’ll get dinner done.


 

Minimalist cooking principles

Now that you understand the foundation of how I cook, here are 10 minimalist cooking principles that I follow to help put this cooking approach into practice. Don’t worry if these are unfamiliar to you or contradict your current cooking philosophy—Imma repeat these on the blog a lot so hopefully they’ll be second nature soon enough.

 

Principle #1: Work hard, eat well

There’s no getting around it—cooking homemade meals every night is work. Not like work work (you’ve already got a job for that), but more labour intensive than, say, your store bought or takeout dinners. Sure, these are easy, but your family, and your waistline, will thank you if you choose to put in the effort.

Principle #2: A stitch in time saves time

Organization is key. I have to say—and I know deep down you know it too—that planning ahead is the single most important factor to getting dinner done during the week. Yes it’s (a bit of extra) work but if you have a fantastic meal planned and forget to take the meat out of the freezer, where are you come 7pm? Nowhere is where.

Principle #3: Simple is good

As a minimalist cook, you’ll need to save your inner Julia Childs for the weekend…or for when you have a different job. From Monday to Friday, the objective is fast and fresh, not fancy. Choosing the right recipe is the first step so don’t let that roast fool you—you ain’t got time for that on a Tuesday after a 12+ hour day.

Principle #4: Use what you’ve got

James Barber, an iconic Canadian chef, was a big fan of substitutions, and so am I. After a long day, you don’t have the luxury of making a last minute grocery trip to buy a missing ingredient. No butternut squash but have carrots or sweet potatoes instead? Go for it and use what ya got.

Principle #5: Familiarity breeds speed

On average, I may try a new recipe a week. Maaaaaybe. But most of the time, I stick with a rotation of about 20 dinner recipes that I go through every few weeks and these vary by season; to keep things interesting, I substitute ingredients in familiar recipes. Cooking what you know is the key to cooking as fast as possible.

Principle #6: Mo’ money mo’ time

Today, we’re lucky to have shortcuts like pre-prepped veggies and bag o’ salad readily available and I often (let’s be real, usually) take advantage. Does it cost a little more? Sure. But not having to wash, boil, peel AND cut up those beets after a 12-hour day? Priceless.

Principle #7: Frozen is fine

If you haven’t already, it’s time to make friends with the freezer section. From veggies and fruits, to shrimp and other meats, frozen ingredients (ahem, not Hungry-Man) are an important ally in your quest to minimalist cooking.

Principle #8: No shame in shortcuts

Minimalist cooking is about knowing where your time is best spent and taking short cuts when and where they make sense. That’s why I haven’t peeled a carrot in 10 years, don’t make my own stock and buy canned beans vs. making my own.

Principle #9: Habit forming

Yes, weeknight cooking is work. BUT, like all good-for-you habits (flossing, exercising, putting the toilet seat down, etc.), it really does become easier with time. I pinkie promise. The trick is to get started. So whatdaya waiting for??

Principle #10: Be confident

Trust me—anything that comes out of your kitchen will be better for you than takeout so give yourself a pat on the back for getting dinner done on a Tuesday. And so what if dinner isn’t amazing? I’ve whipped up my fair share of #dinnerfail but hey, guess what? You get to eat again tomorrow so you can redeem yourself then.


 

Where to go from here: