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Cooking From Scratch for Beginners



Do you feel helpless in the kitchen? Sick of ready meals? Want to be healthier?

Lady cooking dinner from scratch with fresh ingredients

Lady cooking dinner from scratch with fresh ingredients
Are you looking to ditch the ready meals and begin putting freshly prepared meals on the table each evening? This month we’re running a series called Cooking From Scratch for Beginners. Our goal is to answer all your questions and to make it a whole lot easier to cook from scratch.




Well, if you’re new to cooking with fresh ingredients and interested in learning how to improve in the kitchen, I’m going to show you the best practices for getting started.

According to Statista, the number of people cooking a meal in the UK between 2005 and 2017 once to a few times a day increased by around 10%.

These statistics suggest that people are increasingly cooking from scratch.

Why should you care?

And how can you get started today?

Here's the content that you'll find in this guide:

  • Chapter 1: Cooking from scratch definition
  • Chapter 2: What are the benefits of cooking from scratch?
  • Chapter 3: "Cooking at home yourself" myths debunked 
  • Chapter 4: How can you make home cooking easier?

Chapter 1: Cooking from scratch definition

Cooking from scratch involves the use of fresh ingredients that are sourced sustainably to prepare a meal. 

Related content:

Here are some of the key food groups you need to think about once you start your culinary adventure:

Fresh fruit and vegetables

Fresh fruit and vegetables contain vital vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals. 

They also contain fibre, which is essential to digestive health. Fibre is increasingly important because the Public Health England warned that most Brits aren't eating enough fibre in their diet. In fact, we fall 12g short of the recommended daily intake of 30g, so there's even more reason to up your intake of fruit and veggies. 

Fibre is what keeps our digestive system functioning properly, and it means you'll eat less as it promotes satiation. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Meat and poultry

Meat and poultry is an optimal source of protein that helps your body recover, particularly from strenuous physical activity. Protein is the building block of your muscles. 

A large Harvard based study demonstrated that eating beef, lamb, pork and other forms of red meat does not cause heart disease. 

However, that is as long as the meat has not been smoked, cured, salted or otherwise preserved. Enjoy your meat and don't feel guilty about eating but do your best to steer clear from the processed stuff like hot dogs and bacon.

Cooking with raw beefFres

Cooking with raw beefFres

Herbs and spices 

Herbs and spices are what gives a recipe it's oomph and culinary flair. Knowing how to add to a dish is what separates us from professional chefs.

Besides their ability to intensify the flavour of your dinner, herbs and spices boast significant health benefits. 

From lowering blood sugar levels to improving brain function and memory to their potent anti-inflammatory effects, herbs and spices are a central part of cooking from scratch in a healthy way that you can enjoy as well. 

Fresh herbs

Fresh herbs

Pulses

Pulses are not a food group that you may associate with Western cuisines, but their popularity has risen in the last few years because of increased awareness around their many nutritional benefits. 

This shift is reflected in a recent update of the UK government's dietary guidelines, which recommends people eat more plants, and get more of their protein from beans and pulses as opposed to processed forms of meat. 

Home cooking can help you to save money as pulses, for example, are relatively low cost.

Here are seven pulses that you can add to your diet starting today for less than a £1:

  1. Chickpeas- £0.40 per tin
  2. Red kidney beans- £0.59 per tin
  3. Black beans- £0.55
  4. Red, yellow and brown lentils £0.24 per 100g
  5. Haricot beans- £0.55 per tin
  6. Cannellini beans- £0.55 per tin
  7. Baked beans- £0.60 per tin (can't go wrong!)
Chickpeas

Chickpeas

Healthy fats 

For years doctors have told us about the perilous risks of eating too much fat and as such, we've shifted towards a diet that's higher in simple carbohydrates (these are easily converted into glucose by your body). 

However, this has failed to make us healthier. 

Recent studies suggest that we have been misled. People who enjoy a diet high in carbs were associated with a 28% increased risk of death versus low-carb diets. 

Fat is vital to the building of cell membranes, blood clotting, muscle movement and inflammation. 

The three subsections below should cut through the misinformation you may have heard and make it easier for you to make healthier decisions.

Donuts are an example of a food containing trans fats

Donuts are an example of a food containing trans fats

AVOID THESE: TRANS FATS

Trans fats are a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to run healthy oils into solid forms. You would find this type of fat in solid margarine and vegetable oils.

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that they have any health benefits whatsoever and that there is any level of safe consumption. 

Examples: biscuits, microwave popcorn, cakes, and fried fast food.

Unsmoked bacon is an example of a food containing saturated fats

Unsmoked bacon is an example of a food containing saturated fats

EAT MODERATELY: SATURATED FATS

Consuming a diet with more saturated fats can result in health benefits such as improved cardiovascular factors, stronger bones, improved liver health, healthy lungs, healthy brain, proper nerve signalling, and a strong immune system.

Dr Joseph Mercola has said that it's a "misguided fallacy that persists to this day [that] saturated fat will increase your risk of heart disease." He goes on in his article to say that studies in the past have made no effort to differentiate between the different types of fats and if they did so their findings would be vastly different. 

Examples: red meat, milk, cheese and coconut oil.

It's a misguided fallacy that persists to this day [that] saturated fat will increase your risk of heart disease.
Avocados are an example of a food containing monounsaturated fats

Avocados are an example of a food containing monounsaturated fats

ENJOY FREELY: MONOUNSATURATED FATS & POLYUNSATURATED FATS

These 'good fats' are derived from nuts, fish and vegetables. 

A study in the 1960s found that people who lived in the Mediterranean region enjoyed a low rate of heart disease because of their consumption of monounsaturated fat. 

Olive oil was found to be a crucial part of their food intake and helps to explain why the Mediterranean way of life is often regarded to be a healthy way. 

Examples: olive oil, almonds, and avocado.

Polyunsaturated fats in place of highly refined carbohydrates can improve your health by reducing the level of harmful LDL cholesterol in your body and triglycerides. 

Examples: salmon, mackerel and walnuts. 

Summary

So, cooking from scratch involves using all of these food groups to prepare a meal. 

As Ben Greenfield has coined it, such a way of eating may be referred to 'ancestral-like’ in that it replicates a similar food intake to what our ancestors would have enjoyed thousands of years ago when human civilisations were in their early stages.

Chapter 2: What are the benefits of cooking from scratch?

Build resourcefulness

When you opt to cook with fresh ingredients and food items you may already have sitting in your pantry cupboard it makes you more resourceful than you might normally be. 

Pulling together a combination of complimentary spices to accompany a selection of fresh vegetables challenges you to prepare a dish that you have to enjoy. 

It produces an almost instinctive response from you to cook something that is delicious. Here's where you taste, learn and expand your culinary repertoire.

You'll also notice that when you begin cooking from scratch, you will be less wasteful as there will be ingredients in your fridge and store cupboards that you have to use. 

The case often with fresh ingredients is that they have a shorter shelf life because their life spans are not extended by preservatives. 

Related content:

Fresh home cooked meal being prepared

Fresh home cooked meal being prepared

Supporting a more sustainable food system

Eating food that is responsibly sourced has obvious environmental benefits. 

Now I'm not saying that you have to eat strictly organic and free-range produce and that you can't go to the supermarket anymore.

Instead, I'm saying that by buying your ingredients fresh and learning how to cook with them you can save yourself around £470 per annum.

I bet you're listening now!

That's correct, a study by the recycling advisory body Wrap revealed that each UK household wastes an average of £470 worth of food waste.

This damning figure should encourage you to learn just a few necessary culinary skills so that you don't have to waste such a significant amount each year. 

Later in this blog, I'll be providing you with practical tips that you can use starting today to start cooking from scratch and at the same time eliminate food wastage. 

 

You'll be supporting a more sustainable food system

You'll be supporting a more sustainable food system

Spend meaningful time with your family and friends

If you're similar to me, then you'll probably understand what I mean when I say that food is much more than fuel for our bodies. 

Sharing a meal with your loved ones is a meaningful experience, and one in that could provide you with vivid and happy memories for years after. 

Allocating 20 to 30 minutes at the end of the day to prepare a freshly cooked meal can strengthen the bond that you have with your spouse and family. It's also the perfect way to unwind after a demanding day at work. 

Often, it's all too easy to opt for a ready meal or takeaway for dinner, which will result in you feeling lethargic and without the energy to invest in the relationships that you care about. 

Our societies have evolved from people cooking together. Sat around a fire thousands of years ago, celebrating the ‘success’ of their most recent hunt or forage. 

Indeed, this was how our civilisations started, and though we've come a long way from our caveman origins, there's still something that is somewhat special and memorable about eating with the people you love. 

At its best, cooking and eating involves humanity, love, and quality time in the company of those that you hold dear.

Couple bonding together while cooking a freshly prepared dinner

Couple bonding together while cooking a freshly prepared dinner

To start, why not just set one day a week to cook from scratch? 

Ellen Kanner, the author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost, goes as far as to suggest that cooking from scratch can facilitate dialogue and cooperation with your partner. 

She says, "getting a meal on the table means putting aside differences and grudges and focusing on the task at hand.” 

If you don't share the same food preferences then cooking a freshly made meal can give you and your loved one the chance to sharpen your conflict resolution skills. 

On the other hand, cooking for someone else is an intimate activity. It shows that person that they can count on you and that promotes a closeness in relationships and further intimacy. 

Getting a meal on the table means putting aside differences and grudges and focusing on the task at hand.
Cooking with the people you care about

Cooking with the people you care about

Encourages relaxation/ relieves stress

Can home cooking be a path to better mental health?

Anyone who has spent some time in the kitchen preparing a meal will know that there's a unique and therapeutic power to cooking. 

In recent times, cooking is being used to treat an array of mental disorders.

Usually, it focuses on the cooking lesson itself and encourages people to prepare healthy recipes that have been designed by a professional chef. 

For example, the Wall Street Journal reported that a cafe opened by an occupational therapist gave local people with mental health issues the opportunity to cook food and serve it to their local community. 

Importantly, this gave these people increased social interaction.

Is there some data-driven science behind this? 

No, there's not a tonne of clinical research, but there is substantial anecdotal evidence that would suggest there is a good reason behind this unconventional approach.

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year so it would be fair to say we can all do with an outlet through which we to divert our attention away from the insignificant niggles that otherwise may distract us or may appear more troubling than they are in reality.

Cooking can be stress relieving

Cooking can be stress relieving

Save money

Did you know that we Brits spend more than £288,000 out at restaurants in our lifetimes because we're too lazy to cook?

That's because small costs add up. 

Antonia Farzan from the Business Insider said that the price of her groceries for the entire week was lower than the three meals and a few snacks she had in the week before she started her experiment. 

Is it cheaper to cook from scratch?

Yes, by streamlining your weekly grocery shop into a budget that is fixed each week you'll win back control over spending that you probably didn't realise was so high.

By not going to the supermarket 3-4 times a week, you'll end up being less tempted by those ‘naughty extras’ that you would otherwise pick up.  

The practice of buying all your fresh ingredients whether it be from a supermarket or local stores will save you both pounds in your pocket and on the waistline.

Smart grocery shopping can save you money in your pocket

Smart grocery shopping can save you money in your pocket

Avoid ready meals

Who doesn’t like the occasional ready meal? 

Today we spend £3 billion a year on ready meals and that figure is showing no signs of slowing down. It’s a statistic that exceeds any other European country.

Here's why you need to avoid ready meals:

Britain's obsession with ready meals has led us to to spend £3 billion on them every year .jpg

Britain's obsession with ready meals has led us to to spend £3 billion on them every year .jpg

Poor quality cuts bulked with meat glue

Although there may be few premium brands that offer high-quality cuts of meat and poultry, ready meals, on the other hand, are packed with low-grade cuts and cheaps offcuts.

These ready meals are bulked in either one of two ways.

The first involves the use of transglutaminase or otherwise known as ‘meat glue.’ This is a powdery substance made from an animal blood clotting agent that moulds small species of meat together into one uniform joint. 

The second way is collagen, which is a protein that is extracted from the bodies of deceased animals and manufactured into a powder form. Once combined with water, it gives the impression of a meat-like substance. 

 Moreover, a ready meal may contain less than a quarter meat and it may even be less than this when the water content is accounted for. 

A chicken dinner may contain just 25% meat — and even this may have been bulked out with water, oil, sugar and starch.

Meat glue in action

Meat glue in action

Loss of nutritional benefits 

Another issue with ready meals and why you should eliminate these from your weekly food intake is the way in which these foods are cooked.

Cooking processes are as important as other things such as sugar, fat and salt content. 

The process of mass manufacturing ready meals involves high-temperature mechanical pressing, bleaching, filtering and deodorizing practices. This can effectively result in all goodness being drained from the food that is being prepared.

Large food manufacturers are driven by profit so it’s no wonder that they often substitute healthy ingredients for less nutritious ones for cost reasons. 

For example, extra virgin olive oil which has many health and nutritional benefits as mentioned earlier in this blog is readily replaced by other oils such as rapeseed and vegetable oils which have no known health benefits. 

Small factory for ready meals

Small factory for ready meals

Lack of transparency

I’m not a health fanatic but I do like to know what I’m putting into my body. The issue with ready meals is that you just don’t know.

The labelling that is on ready meals tends to be limited to your basic protein, fats and carbs. What about the plethora of cancerous compounds that have been used in the production process? Or the vitamin and mineral content (if it has any)? 

It was only in 2013 when the ‘Horsegate’ scandal broke out in which The Food Safety Authority of Ireland found that beef burgers sold by Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland contained horse meat. 

Peter Hardiwck said that "it [was] clear...rising beef prices and the relative cheapness of horsemeat led some people to see the potential for making big profits through fraud." 

Furthermore, a study published in the British Medical Journal in the same year found that 0 out of 100 meals tested fully complied with the World Health Organisation nutritional guidelines.

Hopefully, this should convince you that at the very least you should be reducing your intake of processed ready meals.

It [was] clear that rising beef prices and the relative cheapness of horsemeat led some people to see the potential for making big profits through fraud.


Tests found that processed beef products contained traces of horse

Tests found that processed beef products contained traces of horse

Help you to practice mindfulness

Many of us heard recently about the importance of practicing mindfulness in our lives. As Julie Ohana explained, a culinary art therapist, the time you spend in the kitchen is introspective. 

Cooking and distractions don’t go well.  You’ll end up frazzling your onions or overcooking your eggs. 

Ohana says that our senses are tied to the experience of cooking and our memory is connected to a sense of smell. 

When you’re in the kitchen preparing a dish and can invoke memories of a dish you used to eat as a child or with loved ones. This is a very practical benefit of cooking and reinforces the point on cooking as a therapeutic tool.

Cooking can help you to practice mindfulness

Cooking can help you to practice mindfulness

Summary

From the numerous psychological benefits to the equally important health ones, there are many advantages of preparing food from scratch.  

There’s a cumulative effect to cooking a meal yourself too. 

Cooking’s ability to help you make more meaningful connections with your loved ones to practicing mindfulness to avoiding the devil that is ready meals, hits on meeting essential human needs.

It brings us together in ways that have evolved as society has modernised but the basic idea of cooking as a way of creating communities, happiness and connections prevails to this day (even if the communities are online)! 

Chapter 3: “Cooking at home yourself” myths debunked

Myth #1: More expensive

Many people think that cooking for yourself with fresh ingredients can be costly. This simply is not true.

I touched on this in the last section of the guide, so I’ll be careful to not recite what I’ve just written, but by organising your weekly food spend into a defined budget you’re less likely to pick up food randomly throughout the week. 

Although weekly meal planning can seem challenging at first, in the final chapter of this guide we’ll show you how to get started today.

Related content:

Planned grocery shopping will help you to reduce your weekly food bill

Planned grocery shopping will help you to reduce your weekly food bill

Myth #2: Can’t eat out

Now, this is a big misconception. 

The idea of cooking from scratch and preparing fresh meals throughout the week by no means equates to you not being allowed to eat out.

Rather, it suggests eating out less (and eating less ready meals) and setting aside a small budget for it perhaps at the end of the week. 

It’s about having control over what you put into your body and also your income. 

Life is not a straight-line path, it meanders like a river so if you deviate during a particular week it really does not matter.

What I’ve noticed is that when I do eat out once or twice per week that I genuinely look forward to where I’ll be dining.

I’m more ‘in the moment’ and I can appreciate it far more than I was previously. 

Last week I was at Elena’s L’Etoile in Tottenham Court Road with a best friend of mine and thoroughly enjoyed myself after cooking throughout the week and not eating out. I would highly recommend the restaurant to any of you Londoners. 

Eating out at a restaurant is something you'll appreciate more

Eating out at a restaurant is something you'll appreciate more

Myth #3: Too much time

Cooking a recipe can take hours- slaving away at the stove, bottles of spice jars and wilted bags of vegetables all over the place and used kitchen utensils piling up in the overflowing sink.

But, I’m not recommending that. 

People tend to be busy being busy. 

Finding an online recipe database with hundreds of recipes created by professional chefs can save yours hours of time and enable you to cook a delicious dinner in 20 to 30 minutes. 

Food box delivery services in the UK can deliver everything you need in the exact amounts so you don’t have to run to and from the supermarkets hunting down that one strange ingredient you’re missing. 

What’s more, is that there’s zero wastage as they perfectly pre-measure all the ingredients you need before they’re delivered directly to your doorstep in an insulated box. 

All you have to do is follow a recipe card with simple cooking instructions and voila, you’ll have a restaurant-quality meal for half the price and in 20 to 30 minutes. 

Cook delicious meals in just 20 to 30 minutes

Cook delicious meals in just 20 to 30 minutes

Myth #4: Don’t know where to start

Let’s face it, the first time you step into the kitchen it’s a daunting experience as you don’t know where to start or what to do. 

How much seasoning do I put in? How long does the rice take to cook? How do I chop an onion? Cook an egg? Grill a toastie? 

I’ve been there. I get it. 

Cooking takes time and practice but with a rugged determination and willingness to learn there’s no reason why you can’t learn how to cook like the pros in no time. 

Again, I would recommend trying a food subscription box like ours to get started in which you can cook recipes that have been created, tested and perfected by professional chefs.

Confused as where to start? We'll show how to start in the next chapter

Confused as where to start? We'll show how to start in the next chapter

Myth #5: Can’t find any good recipes

There are literally millions of recipes on google so it’s no wonder that you may be struggling to find recipes that you love because it’s overwhelming with the number of recipe suggestions Google will return you after a search. 

A chicken recipe returns 558,000,000 results! I don’t think Jamie Oliver would know to start!

Also, A-list celebrity chefs are constantly releasing new cookbooks with their recipes to keep themselves as the hot topic of conversation.

But, to cut through all the poor quality of recipe sites out there click the link below to access a recipe database with hundreds of recipes, which you can print off, and have been professionally crafted or save the link for use at another time.

>> https://www.boxdfresh.co.uk/recipes <<

It's easy to find a recipe online

It's easy to find a recipe online

Summary

By now, two things should be clear. 

First, there are numerous benefits to cooking yourself rather than buying ready meals or takeaways. 

Second, your beliefs around home-cooking, that it’s time-consuming, costly, and confusing may have been misinformed.

Now for the all-important part (cue drum roll)... in the next chapter, I’ll take you through 5 easy steps on how to start home cooking today. 

Chapter 4: How can you make home cooking easier?

Tip 1: Get the right equipment

Cooking great food doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on fancy equipment. Get some basic essentials and you’ll be set in the kitchen.

Saucepans

All you need is two saucepans: a medium sized one followed by a large one.

The smaller one is perfect for sauces, heating liquids or rice. Whereas, your large pan gives you space for pastas, stews or when you’re cooking in bulk, which keeps costs down.

The saucepan should be made from copper to stainless steel but always find what works best for what you have. It might be worth doing a quick audit of what you have now to know if there’s anything you’ll need to buy.

Remember to get a lid that fits the pan to help heat up as quick as possible. As Gordon Ramsey says, “the secret behind a great pan is the heavier the bottom the more heat will conduct [whereas] the thinner the bottom the more chance you’ve got of actually burning your food."

Buy high-quality saucepans, treat them well and they will last for your years saving you money in the long-term.

Cost: £20

The secret behind a great pan is a heavy bottom as it will conduct more heat [whereas] the thinner the bottom the more chance you’ve got of actually burning your food. 
Saucepan

Saucepan

Knives

This is a quick guide to the essential kitchen knives you will need. 

  1. A heavy duty chopping knife
  2. Small prepping knife
  3. Serrated edge knife

Before you buy a knife hold it in your hand and make sure it feels right for you. The secret behind a great set of knives lies in the handle. If you’re comfortable holding the knife than your cutting is going to be so much easier. 

A firm grip is going to make your chopping better and the heavier the handle the more control you will have over the blade.

Cost: £50 to £100 (depending on your budget)

Three essential kitchen knives

Three essential kitchen knives

Pestle & Mortar

To extract the most amount of flavour from your spices this is the only piece of kit that you will need.

A pestle and mortar will not only impress your guests when they are around as you’ll look like a serious chef, but they are essential to any good kitchen. 

This ancient tool is so versatile and is perfect for everything from pestos to dressings.

They are used to grind spices and to help maximise flavour. Aim to get perfect textures and be totally in control throughout using it. 

Make sure you have a large circumference of the bowl so you can grind away. The heavier they are the more durable and the more confidence it gives when pounding away. It’s almost a way of confirming that the dish you’re making is homemade or handmade.

Grab yourself a pestle and mortar and soon you’ll be spicing with ease. 

Cost: £15

Pestle and mortar

Pestle and mortar

Frying Pan

Frying pans are one of my favourite pieces of kitchen equipment because of their versatility, whether you’re searing an amazing rack of lamb or sauteing shallots or even cooking a quick omelette- it’s all in one! 

Find an ovenproof frying pan with a metal handle if you want to cook like a pro by finishing off your dish in the oven or under a hot grill. 

If you can get a high-quality non-stick one with a heavy which will distribute the heat evenly. 

Cost: £13 to £20

Non stick frying pan

Non stick frying pan

Chopping board

For whatever meal your cooking, choose a great chopping board and it will be your friend for life. I prefer a heavy-duty one as they are so much more durable and can be flipped over the minute you want to go from prepping meat and fish to vegetables.

Always keep a little cloth underneath, which keeps the board from sliding. 

Take care of your wooden board by rubbing it with oil every so often and any cooking oil will do. Wooden boards for always the best as they are easy to keep clean, and long-lasting.

When you do wash your wooden board never let it stand in water or put it in the dishwasher as it can split. 

Take good care of it and buy the best one you can afford. 

Cost: £5 to £20

Wooden chopping board

Wooden chopping board

Peeler

Peelers are almost like a lifesaver in the kitchen and a piece of kit that I am never without as they save me time and effort. 

Go for a stainless steel one. They are so quick and have a swivel blade so you have got a lot of flexibility and can actually go around the vegetable. In professional kitchens peelers are actually called a ‘speed peeler’ as it rapidly peels your vegetables with minimal waste.

They can be used for everything from peeling vegetables to finely slicing cheese to making shards of chocolate. 

A good comfortable grip and sharp stainless steel blade ensures you’ll always work fast.

Cost: £2 

Peeler

Peeler

Box grater

The box grater is another great kitchen tool that has a variety of different uses.

Each side can used for grating, fine grating, super fine grating, and it also has blades for slicing and is perfect for everything from pureeing ginger to zesting lemons to shredding onions super small so that they can caramelise in a flash.

Be sure to get a box grater with a solid handle so that you can hold it firm. It’s got such volume inside so it doesn’t crush anything up. I always prefer to grate onto a tray or into a bowl so you don’t have to move it. 

Grating on a board means you’ve got to constantly lift it up and place the ingredients into a bowl. Instead, place the grater into a bowl and grate. 

The box grater and the peeler are both two speedy bits of kitchen essentials that are guaranteed to make your life in the kitchen easier. 

Cost: £9

Box grater

Box grater

Baking Tray

Again like the kitchen essentials above a baking tray has many uses. They are great for baking whole fish on and fantastic for making breads and so cheap!

Cost: £5

Baking tray

Baking tray

Roasting Tray

A classic two handled roasting tray is brilliant for roasting whole birds and finishing sauces and gravies on top of the stove over the gas burner. 

The more solid your trays, the better as they won’t buckle and will last for years. 

Cost: £10

Roasting tray

Roasting tray

Tip 2: Be organised

We all have that one friend who has complete mastery of their own kitchen, right? 

But, the command of their kitchen space is in fact likely to be a result of their organisational efficiency. 

Here’s how you can move around your kitchen like the nation’s most esteemed chefs by organising your kitchen so that it’s more functional. 

1. Organise your kitchen

If you have ever watched an episode of Masterchef (in the later stages of the competition) you’ll notice that professional chefs operate at ‘stations.’

The reason is that chefs set up their spaces so that they do not have to be ploughing from one side of the kitchen to the other to get a piece of equipment.

You’re probably thinking:

“What should I do then? I’ve already got a kitchen and I’m not looking to refurbish it anytime soon.”

Well, fear not. 

Your home kitchen has key areas including a preparation space, a sink, refrigerator and a place for you to put oven-hot dishes just like a commercial kitchen. 

To  improve your functionality you can make a few simple changes such as:

  • Storing your chopping boards and tupperware containers in your preparation area.
  • Keep your frying pans and saucepans near to the hob.
  • Removing clutter from these areas. 
  • Dishware near your table.
  • Rubbish bin near to your sink. 
  • Preparation area near to your sink.

You’ll be surprised how these small changes can make an immense difference to your overall experience of cooking and will help you stay organised so you don’t feel overwhelmed during cooking. 

An organised kitchen

An organised kitchen

2. Organise your pantry

It’s all too easy to stockpile spices and ingredients you think you may use in the future. 

How many are you going to really use? 

Give them to a friend or a loved one if you are not going to use them as they are taking up valuable space in your cupboards.

Now, re-organise each ingredient into their food types. 

For example, store spices together, stock cubes together, sauces together, etc. 

If you want you can take it a step further and keep the items with a shorter shelf like towards the front of your cupboards so you can use them the quickest. 

An organised pantry

An organised pantry

3. Organise yourself 

When you’re cooking a recipe that involves a lot of preparation, do the work in advance so that you’re ready to cook without any delays. 

This is referred to as ‘Mise en place,’ which is a French culinary phrase that means ‘putting in place.’

In professional kitchens it has almost come to a represent a type of ‘ethical code’ and why you may hear some people saying that you can tell how a good a chef is from the way he organises himself in the kitchen. 

In 2010, French gastronomy has been added to UNESCO’s Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage, so it is a useful practice we should all adopt inspired by the culinary capital of the world.

Mise en place: putting in place

Mise en place: putting in place

Tip 3: Use fresh ingredients

Cooking with fresh ingredients is the natural way for human beings to eat food.

At no place in the food chain do any living species eat processed foods for reasons I set out in the previous section ‘Avoid Ready Meals.’ 

Quite simply, it’s not what our bodies have been designed to digest.

Fresh ingredients are best to cook with because they have not been grown, preserved or exposed to as many chemicals as you would get in a product that sits on a shelf for extended periods of time.

Often, fresh ingredients have to be consumed quite quickly and retain a much higher nutritional value content than food which has been cooked at high temperatures in advance through mass production techniques. 

 

A diagram showing the nutritional effects of food processing

A diagram showing the nutritional effects of food processing

Many people report that fresh ingredients taste much more delicious than processed foods in a meal. 

It’s true, there’s nothing more satisfying than sizzling something up with a selection of fresh, seasonal and vibrant vegetables that still have all their goodness locked inside of them. 

They make you feel better too and are more alluring to the eye when served on a plate. Recent studies in neuroscience have found just what a powerful cue the sight of appealing food can be for the brain, particularly in the brain of a hungry individual. 

So don’t forget your presentation, okay?

Recent studies in neuroscience have found just what a powerful cue the sight of appealing food can be for the brain

Recent studies in neuroscience have found just what a powerful cue the sight of appealing food can be for the brain

It’s worth noting that the reason why there are so many alternatives to fresh produce that are so readily available to buy is that these foods are cheaper, easier to stock, sell, and last for extended periods of time. 

Are all processed foods unhealthy?

No, although processed foods have got a battered reputation in Western culture it would be wrong to say that all processed foods are unsafe to eat. 

The types of processed foods that are unhealthy include ready meals and products that have had things added to them such as sugar, salt, artificial sweeteners, artificial colours, preservatives or food that has ingredients added to them in excessive amounts. 

You can enjoy processed foods such as organic canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and tinned fish. 

Always read the label to make you know what’s inside and remember, the Food Standards Agency does not verify the claims on labels of products so keep that in mind when you see words such as ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’ printed on them. 

Tip 4: Pantry staples

The most likely time that you’re going to opt for a ready meal or dinner out is when you’re fatigued, ravenous and there’s nothing in your fridge to satisfy your hunger pangs. 

You need to eat! I understand. 

Sometimes you just have to reach for that deep-pan pepperoni pizza sitting in your fridge and what’s wrong with treating yourself once in a while?

Absolutely nothing. 

On other occasions though, the solution is to plan ahead. 

Making sure your pantry is stocked with some absolute essentials will mean that you can cook up a delicious and hearty dinner at a moment’s notice. 

Dry food

Dry ingredients are versatile and can be used to make a pasta, risotto or prepared as an accompaniment to the main dish. 

They are low cost and can be stored for a long time, but just make sure they are stored correctly in airtight containers. 

These dry food essentials include:

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Lentils
  • Pasta
  • Quinoa 
  • Stock cubes

Liquids

This group of ingredients are mandatory. They breathe life into your cooking and can add that excitement with all the added flavour, zing and punch they carry. 

Whether for the base of a sauce or to create a homemade dressing the sauces below should help you out of your cooking rut at the end of the day when dinner time is calling.

Don’t worry, you don’t need a supply as big as your local supermarket. 

These would be sufficient:

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Ketchup 
  • Mayonnaise* 
  • Tabasco 
  • Honey
  • Mustard*
  • Vinegar 
  • Worcestershire sauce

* Refrigerate once opened 

Spices

In culinary world, the word ‘spice’ refers to any dried part of a plant that is not the leaves, and used to add flavour to a recipe. Whereas, ‘herbs’ refer to the green leafy part of the plant. 

Spices will be dependent on what type of food you like to cook the most, but the following ingredients would be a fine place to start:

  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper 
  • Paprika 
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Garam masala 
  • Curry powder 
  • Ground turmeric
  • Chilli powder
  • Cumin (ground or seeds)
  • Oregano

I do not like using dried herbs and hence they do not feature on the list. 

I would much rather use fresh herbs if they are available to buy. Fresh herbs make such a massive difference to the taste of a dish and is one place not to compromise!

In your fridge

Anything that goes into the fridge has a reduced shelf like so keep an eye on what you have throughout the week so that you can make use of it before it expires and top up anything that is running low. 

Here are my top items for your fridge:

  • Milk (dairy or non-dairy)
  • Eggs
  • Natural Greek yoghurt 
  • Cheese (your favourite)
  • Vegetable of choice
  • Fruit of choice
  • Meat of choice 
  • Butter

This list above is not comprehensive but it means you can create a stunning dish in less than 20 minutes with nutritious food you can enjoy and that is not stodgy. 

In your freezer

Keeping a ready supply of frozen vegetables and fruit is a great idea. Fruit can be added to a breakfast bowl or blended into a smoothie. 

Vegetables can work well in soups and casseroles. 

Stock up on these:

  • Spinach
  • Green chilli
  • Broccoli 
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Garlic
  • Ginger

Tins

There are lots of tins packed with nutritious content that you should always have in your pantry that can be added to a dish or even had as a snack on the go.

Start with these:

  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Sweetcorn
  • Sardines 
  • Tuna 
  • Baked beans 
  • Coconut milk
  • Passata 
  • Red kidney beans

Tip 5: Try a food box

You might be wondering:

“What is a food box?”

A food box, or otherwise known as a recipe box, is a cardboard box that contains everything you need to cook delicious dinners with fresh ingredients. 

All the ingredients are perfectly measured before they are delivered right to your doorstep in an insulated box.

The fresh ingredients are sourced from small, often family-run, British farms from Yorkshire to the West Country. 

In your box, you’ll also receive corresponding recipe cards that will walk you through, step-by-step, how to cook the recipes you’ve chosen. 

Portioned spices, recipe cards and fresh ingredients are what you can expect inside a food box

Portioned spices, recipe cards and fresh ingredients are what you can expect inside a food box

3 interesting benefits of food boxes

1. Get out of a cooking rut

It’s easy to throw your plans to cook a fresh meal out of the window when you’re feeling uninspired. 

A new study has recently revealed how unadventurous us Brits are in the kitchen with people cooking on average just nine meals per year (even though people own six cookbooks)!

As cookbooks gather dust on shelves and people pivot ever more towards unhealthy and convenient options such as ready meals, food boxes are becoming the practical alternative.

Each week you can choose from a selection of inspiring and professionally-crafted recipes that you can cook in just 20 to 30 minutes.

Why not experiment with new flavour combinations and explore a cuisine you don’t know much about by adding a recipe that captures your eye to a weekly food box?

In contrast to the nine meals that people cook on average each year, people that choose to use a food box delivery service can cook that amount in just four weeks! 

It really is the simplest way of beating your cooking rut!

Get out of a cooking rut

Get out of a cooking rut
2. Eliminate food waste (mini case study)

Did you know that one-third of food grown globally is never eaten?

Each year the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables wasted in the UK would be enough to provide 250,000 people with their recommended intake of five portions per day for an entire year. 

These are staggering levels. 

What are the reasons behind such levels of food waste?

Although food waste starts at the beginning of the food supply chain i.e. farms,  that’s not to say that farmers are responsible for the scale of food waste the UK churns out. 

A report by Feedback Global found that the culture cultivated by supermarkets was the overwhelming factor in overproduction and hence, food waste. 

Here are five key areas that stood out to me: 

Food waste by the supermarkets

Food waste by the supermarkets

Cosmetic specifications

Produce that does not meet the stringent criteria of the big supermarkets, such as for being the wrong size, shape or colour will be disposed of. 

This is regardless of nutrition, taste and the value of the food. 

It was found that on a single farm more than 22 million portions of carrots were disposed of in a single year because they didn’t look ‘right’ by the supermarkets.

In fact, farmers who responded to a question in their survey said that retailers use cosmetic standards as a way to reject the produce when they have either found a better price elsewhere or when there is less demand from their shoppers. 

So-called 'ugly fruit'

So-called 'ugly fruit'

 Normalisation of overproduction and waste

Another driver of food waste at the farm level is that there is a need for farmers to overproduce because of the contractual practices of the supermarkets. 

This means that farmers have to produce more crops that are required because they cannot predict uncontrollable factors such as weather and pests. 

In fear of losing these contracts, which are the foundations to their business they meet the buyers’ order in fall and to guarantee this, it’s, unfortunately, necessary for them to produce significantly more. 

Guy Singh-Watson, the founder of Riverford Organic said that “from my experience when I used to supply the supermarkets I would grow about a third more than I thought I would have to sell.”

From my experience, when I used to supply the supermarkets I would grow about a third more than I thought I would have to sell.
Guy from Riverford Organic

Guy from Riverford Organic

Supermarkets fail to regulate the market

Supermarkets have failed miserably in selling produce that is in an abundant supply, which is exacerbated by the issue of overproduction.  

For example, in 2017 during a cauliflower glut, one farmer reported that approximately 100,000 cauliflowers went to waste because his buyer reduced the quantity of their order at the same time as the glut. 

Cauliflower glut

Cauliflower glut

Last minute cancellations or amended orders

Supermarkets have also demonstrated a tendency to get their forecasts wrong, which leads to last minute cancellations.

As the goods are perishable, farmers reported that it's often challenging to find a new buyer with such late notice to sell the vast quantities of food that they have produced.

Producers have reported that retailers often chop and change what level of stock they buy from different suppliers to get the lowest price, which leads to further unpredictability in demand.  

Farmer checking his wheat crops

Farmer checking his wheat crops

Market concentration

In comparison to the rest of Europe, the UK food retail market is one of the most concentrated ones. 

This has a profound effect on producer’s ability to sell their surplus produce to other retailers like smaller traditional grocers and markets. 

Food retailers in the UK

Food retailers in the UK

However, UK households are contributing to the problem of food waste as well and it is occurring across the supply chain. 

UK households are wasting approximately £13 billion worth of food that could have otherwise been eaten. 

Nevertheless, food waste is an avoidable part of growing, selling and consuming produce. 

Now:

You’re probably thinking:

 “What the heck does this have to do with food boxes?”

Well, food boxes eliminate food waste.

Food box companies operate a 0% food waste model. They go straight to the supplier and only order exactly what their customers need each week. 

Operating from a centralised warehouse facility, food boxes use data and technology to accurately forecast weekly requirements. 

Every ingredient is perfectly portioned in the specific amount required for your recipe. That way you don’t end up throwing away half-used tins, or wilted bags of vegetables at the end of the week.

3.  They save you time

A food box is a perfect solution for time-poor cooks. 

Let’s face it, with the greater demands of modern society bearing down upon us and people’s income getting better over time, time has increased in value for each of us.

We want to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen, and rather more time spent enjoying the finer things of life. 

Food boxes save you long trips to the supermarket on an every other day basis. In fact, you could save hours each week. 

Want to know the best part?

Food box subscription services deliver everything you need right to your door. 

All you need to do is place the contents of the box inside your fridge, which can be pulled out at any time during the week when your inner Jamie Oliver comes out!

Each week, a mere five minutes will give you plentiful time to make your weekly recipe choices. 

Leave the rest to them. 

Now it’s your turn

So those are my best tips, strategies and insights for getting the most out of home cooking and why it’s important you make a start right away (at the very least, it’s time to cut back on those ready meals). 

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