Our #1 Food Problem and How You Can Solve It

Our biggest food problem is spending too much time cooking on weeknights.

Hear Me Out

You might be thinking, “that’s what you signed up for when you started a food website!! You nincompoop.”

Well, yes that’s true. But I am not counting any of the publishing tasks related to this website.

My assessment is based on getting breakfast, lunch, and dinner ready to feed Alex and me during the week.

I’m excluding any cooking, recipe development, photography, or publishing for this website. Also, I’m not counting any cooking for pleasure, relaxing, or entertaining.

What am I counting as “too much cooking”?

No-Value Cooking

This kind of cooking occurs to feed a rumbling belly so that we can get on with the next part of our day.

It’s the preparation for breakfast. It’s the meal planning and bulk stir-frying for dinner and leftovers for lunch the next day.

It’s low– or no-value because it’s designed to feed us and keep us moving. I don’t derive any pleasure and or build relationships when I do this kind of cooking.

To say it’s a chore is too harsh. Let’s call it “habitual cooking”.

It’s like brushing my teeth. We do it because we have to eat. It nourishes us so we want to do it well enough.

But it’s not about the joy of cooking, experimenting with a new technique, or making food from the heart to serve to our loved ones.

In fact, it’s usually the same food over and over again.

Its main purpose is to supply fuel, keep us healthy, and sustain us while we work, enjoy hobbies, and cuddle.

How Did I Decide This Was a Problem?

Inspired by Paula Pant’s time audit on her website Afford Anything, I spent about 3 weeks time journaling. Like Paula, the results weren’t pretty. Instead of discovering a “time vortex” where you putter time away, I discovered that I spent too much a lot of time cooking.

Assuming I sleep for an average of 8 hours and 27 minutes (which is what Sleep Cycle tells me), my 3-week time journal tells me that I spend about 24.3% of my waking hours on food-related activities in a week.

Food-related means:

  • cooking
  • eating
  • cleaning up
  • shopping for food

On weekdays, that’s 17.4% of my waking hours or 2 hours and 42.6 minutes.

While there is a decent amount of time spent eating, there’s also way more time spent cooking and cleaning up that I consider, again, low or no-value, in other words, “habitual cooking rituals”.

Imagine What You Could Do In 2 Hours and 42 Minutes

Is it possible to cut down the cooking to zero?

No, and I wouldn’t want to either. My goal is not to eliminate cooking altogether. It brings me too much joy, and I love to be in control of what I eat.

Besides, we’ve done batch cooking before, and it ended up with me at urgent care with an IV.

However, during the weekday, could I cut down the time by a quarter? What about in half?

What could I do with an extra hour every day?

  • watch comedy Youtube videos
  • draw more cheeky illustrations
  • meditate
  • read more
  • talk to my friends and family on the phone
  • plan my dinner parties on the weekend

How We Solved Our #1 Cooking Problem

We are aiming to solve our biggest problem by optimizing our cooking habits and rituals.

Our Goal

Reduce the time we spend on mindless habitual cooking, including cooking, cleaning, and shopping for food.

Mindless cooking is just as bad as mindless eating.

We’re starting off by tackling the weekday which is when we’re most starved for time.

I’m also going to continue Sunday night dinners with friends where I invite friends over for a dinner party and cook for them. We enjoy a meal together, catch up on each other’s lives, and enjoy each other’s company.

Our Requirements

How do we solve this problem while keeping the 2-3 most important questions in mind:

  1. How do I cook food that’s tasty?
  2. How do I cook food that’s fresh?
  3. How do I cook food quickly?
3 Big Ideas Pyramid: Fresh, Tasty, and Quick, with Healthy as the foundation of the triangle.

I could buy a stack of frozen foods to last me the rest of the year. But that’s not what this is about, is it?

We’re not interested in eating frozen pizzas and cereal every day.

While there’s always a time for frozen pizzas, we’re not looking to pick up a couple of chronic diseases by eating packaged and premade foods every single meal to cut down our cooking time to zero. (Diabetes runs in my family so I have to watch my carb intake.)

Plus, extra brownie points for economical cooking. We’re not looking to increase our food costs two- or ten-fold simply because we’re eating sashimi every night even if fresh fish requires zero cooking and is healthy (not to mention, soooooo delicious).

Can It Be Done?

Oh yes, I’ve already been poking at the problem for a month now. I’m proud to say that after several years of optimization, last night we only spent 1 hour and 41 minutes on habitual cooking. That includes eating and clean up. So it’s a never-ending process, but I am already seeing results.

Why Should You Care To Optimize Your Food?

  • Regain sanity
  • Reduce stress
  • Carve out more family time
  • Pinch more time for reading this food website 🙂
  • Avoid burn out
  • Spend more time eating mindfully to savor the taste and flavors

Even if you don’t reduce the total amount of time spent on food-related activities, would you consider it a win if you cut down the ratio of time spent on cooking, cleaning, and shopping and used that time to emphasized eating and socializing? Or reading and relaxing? Or watching TV?

How Can You Cut Down Your Low-Value Cooking Time?

Check out these resources for how you can streamline your cooking:

Next Steps

I’m on iteration 3 of our current meal planning system.

I’m on the hunt for apps and technology to help me track and plan.

This includes time tracking and meal planning apps. I don’t use anything except spreadsheets and paper And since data entry bores me to tears, it’s time to ditch my Luddite ways and test out tech tools that can help.

Finally, leaning on you dear readers to share your tips, hacks, strategies, frameworks, mindsets, etc. to help all of us with reducing stress around habitual cooking and start to reclaim some time for ourselves!

What’s the best app or tip you’ve tried to cut down on cooking time?

Anna looking down chopping vegetables
About Anna Rider

Hi! I'm Anna, a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on GarlicDelight.com with the help of my physicist and taste-testing husband, Alex. I have an insatiable appetite for noodles 🍜 and believe in "improv cooking".

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