I love to eat out (Who doesn’t? Especially in New York City.), and that often means figuring out ways to make restaurant dining part of a smarter overall food budget. To that end, there was an entire session dedicated to smarter cooking at a financial planning event I attended hosted by the website Learnvest. Gail Simmons, of Top Chef and Food & Wine fame, was one of the speakers and, like me, she enjoys a great meal out. But she understands that that means balancing with healthy, affordable cooking at home.
Here are a few of Gail Simmons’ top tips for cooking smarter at home:
- Cook Efficiently
This doesn’t mean just shopping around for the best price (though you should do that); it also means building a relationship with your food suppliers and understanding that there’s more to food than price (like quality, freshness and convenience).
- Stock the kitchen with your pantry.
Everyone always says this — make sure you have the staples on hand. And there is a ton of advice as to what a pantry should consist of. But Gail’s point was this — your pantry should be a reflection of your tastes. For example, my friend doesn’t like brown rice. He just doesn’t like the texture difference between that and white rice. So for him, brown rice isn’t a pantry staple. Me, I’m obsessed with peanut butter. That is definitely one of my pantry staples. But that doesn’t mean it should be one of yours.
- Read the entire recipe first.
This is 101 of cooking, but something that can be a real problem for people just starting to cook for themselves. Don’t just read the ingredients to find out what you need to make the dish. You also need to read the whole recipe through, in case it calls for letting the steak marinate or the beans to soak for 24 hours.
- Add nutrients.
Her advice was to substitute nutrient-rich foods in favorite recipes when you can without sacrificing flavor. Her example? Use sweet potato to make latkes and use Greek yogurt in place of sour cream.
- Learn to make soup.
This was my favorite piece of her advice — I love soup! And while soup is great for stretching a dollar and having leftovers for the next day’s lunch, learning to make soups and stocks is the foundation of cooking. Mastering it now will help you in the future.
- Finally, food should make you happy.
But her best line of the night? “I don’t trust anyone that doesn’t like leftovers.” I couldn’t agree more. If you cook in batches (and avoid eating three helpings of your awesome homemade mac and cheese), you’ll have a few more meals already in the bank for later in the week.
What’s your number one tip for someone trying to cook smarter at home?