After having 6 babies and currently having 5 boys, I have gotten to a place where I know there is always food to be found for whoever shows up. When you practice hospitality, food seems to multiply itself in that way, thank you, Jesus. However, when I only had little kids, I had many stressful nights trying to think of what to make for dinner and motivate myself to do it. I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t cook dinner because your baby doesn’t want to be put down. Here is what I’ve learned. How to cook dinner joyfully? Avoid recipes.
My favorite kind of meal is one that doesn’t involve a recipe. Babies cry, toddlers need supervising, and kids want to tell you stories all while you’re in the middle of cooking.
If you have to read a recipe, you can’t listen to the story.
If you get distracted by a recipe, you may find your toddler just made a huge mess you didn’t see coming.
Plus, your kids see you stare at your phone, which is something I try to avoid. I’ve been known to snip at them for talking to me while I’m following a recipe on my phone. Definitely not what I want. So, my favorite things to cook are foods that don’t require me to read a recipe! This significantly decreases my frustration around meal time, gives my kids the sense that I am right there with them, and allows me to cook dinner joyfully.
How to cook without a recipe?
First, get back to the roots of why we need to eat. Food is to nourish our bodies and bring us together. Great taste is enjoyable, too. None of that means you need to combine a bunch of different ingredients in a complicated way.
1. Prepare a tray of veggies first
When you start cooking, can you predict what will happen? If you have kiddos who are mobile, they will end up in the kitchen. They want to be where you are, mama. Get a step ahead of them by preparing a tray of veggies first so they can munch on that while you cook. Otherwise they’ll whine for food and you’ll grab something easy and not as nutritious. Then, they may not be hungry for dinner. These could be separate from the veggies you are serving with dinner or the same. You could make a veggie tray ahead of time to pull out as needed or just grab some cucumber out of the fridge.
2. Think about what meat, veggies, and grain you could use.
Simplify. Are you having chicken, beef, pork, fish? What veggies do you have? When you look up how to cook something, instead of looking up a recipe, read an article on how to cook that meat well. I first read about this when we completed our first Whole30 in 2016 and the book talks about the importance of well cooked food. They lay out directions for a variety of veggies that was really helpful for me. Basically, I learned that I like veggies cooked in a very hot oven (425-450) and many of my meats seared really hot with the middle cooked just to temp.
Some tools that I love in my kitchen
- Instant read meat thermometer. This is the one we’ve had for years and it’s one of the most useful things in my kitchen for cooking food that tastes good.
- Joule Sous Vide helps cook food to just the right “doneness”. Maybe I’ll do a post but for now, this one explains it well.
- Magnet with temperatures of when meat is done. I references ours on the fridge all the time!
3. Start with a recipe of a meal that is easy to make without directions after you’ve done it once or twice.
Here are some recipe ideas that once you have made these once or twice, you can make them without the recipe. I included my “no recipe” directions.
- Chop chicken and veggies very thin. ALWAYS cut your meat against the grain. (Any color bell pepper, onion, mushroom)
- Add oil to a very hot pan. It should sizzle when you add the food.
- Throw food in the pan in small batches (you want all the food to touch the pan)
- Drizzle with lemon juice (this will make it sizzle more). Add seasonings like seasoned salt or make up your own on the spot by sprinkling salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder.
- Let the food sit on the pan until it has browned underneath. Then stir until they’re done.
- Mash avocados well. I like to do these separately because they don’t seem to hold up well if I add everything first.
- Add tomatoes, onion, salt, and lemon (or lime). Those are the main ingredients. Stir gently.
- Taste test. Add more of anything that is needed. You can also add cilantro, strawberries, garlic, taco seasoning… etc.
Salmon and Broccoli
- Heat up a skillet very hot. Add oil (one that can get hot like avocado or coconut oil)
- Add your fish. Drizzle with lemon juice and salt
- Once there is a nice sear on the bottom, flip the fish. Drizzle with lemon and salt.
- Pull the fish once it has reached 130 degrees.
- For the broccoli, you can throw it in the pan when the fish is done, cover with a lid, and cook until it turns bright green. OR put it in the oven on 425 degrees until it starts to brown. OR cook it in a microcooker with water for 4-5 minutes (until it is the consistency you like).
I love making spaghetti sauce to get more veggies into my kids’ diet
- Heat oil in a pot on the stove
- Add onions, celery, peppers, mushrooms (whatever veggies you want).
- Once they are soft, add tomatoes. My favorite are cans of crushed tomatoes but any kind will do. I add some of the tomatoes and save some to add after blending.
- Blend the mixture with an immersion blender or pour it in a blender (careful, it’s hot!). You can skip this step if your kids/hubby don’t mind the veggie chunks.
- Add the rest of the crushed tomatoes if you left them out (this gives a nice texture)
- Add seasonings… this could be a store bought Italian seasoning, it could be homemade Italian seasoning, it could be that you just sprinkle on some salt, pepper, oregano, basil, thyme, sage, rosemary. (This is what I do because it means fewer things I need to keep stocked. It’s really okay if you don’t have an herb, you can skip it. Just don’t skip the salt!)
- Blend egg on low on your blender. You don’t want to add air.
- Grease your skillet with some oil or fat.
- Pour a little egg out of your blender to the size you want the omelet. Let it cook in whatever circular type shape it created.
- Fill it with ingredients. Cheese, meats, veggies, the sky is the limit. Season with salt or any other seasonings you’d like.
- Once it has cooked a bit, Flip one side over toward the middle. Then, flip the opposite side over toward the middle. Serve once the egg is no longer runny in the middle!
- Grease a glass pan. You could melt butter and swirl it all around the pan. You could spray it. You could cover it with a small handful of coconut oil. You want to use a decent amount so it doesn’t stick.
- Place a layer of hashbrowns on the bottom.
- Sprinkle veggies on (I like sweet potato, bell peppers, onion. Broccoli is good, too. I like to cut up my veggies very small for this.)
- Optional step: If you add some cheese at this point and mix it up just a bit, your casserole will stick together more.
- Pour blended eggs over the top of all of it.
- Add cheese on top
- Bake at 350 degrees until it doesn’t jiggle anymore and you know your eggs are cooked.
The options with this are endless! Sweet potato and feta is really good. You can use almost anything you have on hand. You can cook the veggies ahead of time or not. Blend the veggies up with the egg if you’re trying to hide them from your kids or hubby. Blend spinach into the eggs for a green St. Patrick’s Day casserole, etc!
Cooking dinner joyfully without a recipe also helps you save money
The great thing about cooking without recipes is that you don’t need certain ingredients and you don’t need a certain amount. So, if you run out of something, you don’t have to go to the store. And if a recipe calls for half a can of tomato paste, you know you can just put the whole can in so the rest doesn’t go bad in your fridge! This saves you serious time and money.
Expect the kids to join you
Remind yourself to expect the kids to join you in the kitchen. They will. Your kids want to tell you their stories and ask you to come play. They want to help you and it will make a mess when they do. You want to be present to them, show them how much you love them, and teach them how to cook. Kids learn LOTS through cooking. So, prepare yourself that they’re going to come so you can better greet them when they do!
Could this help someone you know or don’t know? Consider sharing it!
What is the most helpful thing for you to have joy in your kitchen?