Cooking Dinner At Home: The Flowchart

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I believe that most people would like to cook their own food at home, but sometimes the best intentions still end up with me eating Panda Express with those darn little splintery chopsticks! After many weeks of trying to cook meals at home, I’ve tried to identify my roadblocks and organized them into a geeky flowchart:


The flowchart helped me identify ways to minimize failure points, like planning meals ahead of time, shopping for all ingredients ahead of time, and slowly building a repertoire of quick meals that I know I can pull off with minimal fuss. Right now I’m still riding a wave of initial enthusiasm, and our food bills haven’t been this low in a long time.

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  1. A while ago I heard an interview with Mark Bittman on NPR about his new book, How to Cook Everything Fast, which is now a NY Times bestseller. I put it on my Amazon wishlist and hope to get it for Christmas. Anyhow, it may be something that would interest you. The recipes are meant to be do-able in 30 minutes or less without sacrificing quality or flavor.

  2. I’m toast because I’m usually stumped at question #1. And more often than not, even when I plan ahead, I usually don’t want to eat what I’ve intended after a long day at work. I guess I fail the marshmallow test.

  3. I recommend planning ahead as much as possible. It’s tough to decide what you want to eat a week away, but I found that whatever I “want” is what is already made. The trick is to make it all ahead of time. We usually cook extra large portions on Sunday. The leftovers work well for pre-made lunches or dinners.

    For instance, this week we made shepherd’s pie, and spaghetti. Our other meals were eggs/omelets, bagged salad, and grilled cheese. Those were easy enough to make fresh. Most foods can be made Large and the leftovers are still good. We also plan a “scrounge” day. If you eat out unexpectedly, you have leftovers for Scrounge. If you ate per plan, Scrounge becomes an carry-out reward dinner. This minimizes food getting tossed.

  4. My family has been using eMeals for about a year. It covers each of the decision points listed above and provides a lot of different options in terms of dietary needs. We are big fans.

  5. I don’t know if this would help you, but for me I created 28 meals so I had basically 4 weeks worth of meals in a rotation. Then, using my local King Sooper’s home delivery service, I created 4 grocery lists, one for each week. I also added some super-easy stuff to that list that wasn’t on the menu such as frozen ravioli and pasta sauce for the nights when I ended up with even less time than usual. It took a lot of time to setup but once it was setup, getting the ingredients I needed for the week was as easy as clicking a few buttons and entering my payment info. There are some cost downsides to doing it this way: 1) my menu is static so I’m paying sometimes for out of season produce and not taking advantage of all the sales and 2) there’s obviously the delivery fee. However, for me, the convenience is completely worth it and it’s still significantly cheaper than eating out. 3) When you add things for the week, you need to double check you’re not buying something that you already have.

    One thing I’ve been struggling with is not necessarily wanting to eat what I planned to eat. At the moment, I’m trying ordering the shelf-stable items from my menu all at once and then going to the produce/dairy section of the stairs once a week to get what appeals to me there. This gives me a bit more flexibility in the actual meal for each night. I’m not sure if this is going to be better or not but we haven’t starved yet 🙂

  6. Crockpot.

    Next question?

  7. True, but have you tried to make pulled pork yet? Made it last night and it was some of the best food I’ve ever made. I just put a 3-4lb pork should roast in it overnight and woke up to heaven in a pot. Even put it on some eggs with some BBQ sauce…so good.

    • Yup, pulled pork is awesome. Add some liquid smoke and it’s even better. Add some shredded cabbage and it’s close to Hawaiian kalua pig.

      Also try this pulled pork ragu recipe for a pasta twist (not all slow cooker though).

      • As a barbecueoodie and former resident of Texas with a smoker on my deck I have to throw a penalty flag here. Pulled pork out of a crockpot with store-bought barbecue sauce is vastly inferior to 12-16 hours smoked pork butt with a dry rub and sauce. Both in terms of texture and flavor. The crockpot variant may be tasty in its own right but it is in no way the same dish.

        • But one of them can be done with 10 minutes of work.

          Great timing though. I just ate at Franklin BBQ in Austin. Nirvana!

          • Will you do a write up about it? Been wanting to go there, but could never convince myself it’s worth to stand in line for 4hours before they open….

          • We did their e-mail preorder instead since we knew the day(s) we wanted to eat there. We gave some choices but we got our first pick. Picked up at 10am and got to meet and talk with the owner Aaron Franklin while we waited, lots of envious people in line on the way out…


        • I’m from Texas, too (Austin). I moved to STL a few years ago and Missourians know how to do their pulled pork (even Franklin from Franklin BBQ has admitted Texas can’t seem to get this Q right). That’s ok, Texans have brisket and sausage which is pretty much the gold-standard anywhere. The pork here in STL is superior, imho. Lots of whole pork shoulders can be had here for about 5-7$ for $4lbs! I agree the 12-16hrs is a “sweet spot” for a slow cooked pulled pork (I left mine in for about 10hrs overnight) but this was some of the best meat I have ever eaten anywhere. I used root beer and some other spices (also browned the sides on a skillet before putting in the crockpot).

  8. I actually have a pinterest board that I use for meal planning pins. I’ve found recipes good and bad through pinterest. I also have a board for meals I would make again. Soups are my go to. They can be made in an hour and you can make them in bulk to freeze until later.

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