Focus on the Food, Not Recipes

Food. It's what's for dinner. 

Food. It's what's for dinner. 

Cookbooks and food magazines lure you in with their beautiful photography of amazing food. Yes, you too, could create these elegant, Pinterest-worthy meals! You’ll be a culinary genius! 

If you like to eat, it’s easy to get sucked in, regardless of your skills in the kitchen. And I love pulling out my cookbooks and scouring all those pages I’ve torn out of magazines over the years. I love going through them and planning meals. Especially special occasion meals. (In fact, I’m already thinking about Thanksgiving.)

But I’ve learned that recipes aren’t necessary to survive. Food is. Recipes are fun; recipes are family secrets; recipes are instruction manuals; recipes are inspiration. 

Stop exhausting yourself

Recipes may also be a part of why so many of us don't cook. Because they can be intimidating. They can contain tons of ingredients, or require lots of techniques or tools. Sometimes the ingredients list contains stuff you’ve never even heard of. “Is that a food?!?!” you wonder.

Hey, I love food magazines. I bought one the other day because it promised delicious fall foods. And it’s great to expand our horizons and entertain meal ideas we might not have thought of on our own. Or find new ideas for substitutions for allergenic foods. 

But if you have to refer to a recipe every night to make dinner, you’ll simply exhaust yourself. So, try this: When you start thinking about what your family is going to eat this week, try to forget about recipes. Think about food instead. You need proteins (meat or plant; we like meat in our house) and some veggies, maybe starches (we prefer rice and potatoes). Add a few herbs/spices/aromatics (dried or fresh) and some fat (olive oil is our go-to due to my son’s dairy allergy). Combined with the staples in your pantry, you have everything you need for several dinners. 

Because guess what? We don’t have to get soooo fancy all the time just to eat dinner. It’s a workday and school night — you’re a busy working parent. Not every night is lobster risotto and crème brûlée, people. 

Meat can be baked, cooked on the stove top or grilled — simply. Salads can have basic vinaigrettes. Veggies can be sautéed in olive oil with some salt and pepper. Potatoes can be sliced and roasted simply with olive oil, salt and chili powder. (No recipes required here.)

Let go of recipes

Since becoming a mom, I’ve grown a lot more comfortable with cooking without a recipe in hand. First of all, it can be hard to find recipes that are free of all of our allergens anyway. But it’s mostly because after a day of work and/or taking care of my kiddo, I'm too tired to dig out a cookbook. And too lazy to pull out measuring spoons and cups.

And here’s the good news: The food still tastes good. OK, it’s not gonna win me any James Beard Awards, I’ll admit. But seriously, it’s fine. My family is fed. We're healthy. And sometimes, my son gets to be part of the cooking action. Letting go of recipes (even when I like them as inspiration) has been quite freeing. 

Sure, when you bake, there isn’t a lot of room for not following directions. But marinades, sauces, dressings? While proportions might help with achieving a certain consistency, precise weighing and measuring really isn't needed. In general, if you think about the flavors that you and your family enjoy and work with those flavors … You can't go wrong. (I mean, cook meat properly, so you don’t accidentally poison someone, but otherwise, you can’t go wrong.)

So, this week, I encourage you to try to focus more on food — less on recipes — when you’re planning. Maybe try a new recipe once a week if that's your thing. But otherwise, go ahead and keep those cookbooks locked up while you cook. You just might start to enjoy cooking more if you feel free (and you’ll have fewer dishes too!). And maybe that will mean you can do it more often too. 

Which is the point.