Systems save energy. Especially if the system helps you with something you do every day. This is why I have a system for cooking. When you’re hungry, you make bad decisions, such as grabbing the quickest food you can find – which often happens to be unhealthy food. My cooking system ensures I never have to think about what to eat, or how to prepare it. It frees my time and my mind, so I can focus on creating.
A little disclaimer before I begin: I’m not suggesting you eat what I eat. I have a mysterious chronic illness and am sensitive to damn near everything. This particular diet is optimized for very specific things that apply to me. If you build a system for yourself, you might want to eat something different. The basic principles still apply.
Three principles of a cooking system
My cooking system is based upon three principles:
Batch what you can To batch, prepare what you can beforehand. You save time and energy, and – since many of your ingredients are already ready – you have a healthy meal in no time.
As I’ll explain in a bit, in my system, I cut and store vegetables beforehand. This is a little extra work up-front than cutting vegetables before any one meal, but over the course of several meals, it’s less time and hassle.
You sometimes have to make compromises for the sake of a system. Pre-cut vegetables are ever-so-slightly less tasty and fresh than vegetables you’ve just cut, but cutting in advance is still a net-positive.
Never run out A good system prevents emergencies. After a long day, you don’t want to suddenly discover you have no food, or are missing a crucial ingredient. Even if you had the energy to do so, it would be a waste to run to the grocery store. But you probably don’t have that energy, so you’ll probably order delivery – and that delivery food will not be as healthy as a home-cooked meal would have been, and will cost more.
My system is designed to never run out of ingredients. I know the minimum amount of each ingredient I can have before its time to order more. I also know my ingredients won’t go bad because I’ve had them too long.
As you use your system, pay attention to just how perishable your regular ingredients are. How long can you keep them? At what minimum supply is it time to order more, so you won’t run out? For example, I have two jars of coconut oil. When I run out of the first, coconut oil goes on my shopping list. I know I’ll buy again before I run out of the second jar.
Monotony first (variety later) To start your cooking system, make the same things every single meal. Through repetition, you can gradually sprinkle in variety.
Many people think this sounds boring. “I could never do that,” they say. “I could never eat the same thing every meal!” Well, you don’t have to.
Eating the same thing every meal is only temporary. It allows you to put together the pieces of your cooking system, such as how often you’ll order ingredients, and what compromises you’re willing to make to have ingredients ready.
Making the same things with the same ingredients and the same processes gives you one opportunity after another to optimize your system. When you run out of ingredients or they go bad, you learn how often you need to order. You can also experiment with different processes, and learn how different trade-offs affect the quality of what you cook.
Once you have the building blocks of a system in place, you can start adding in variety. Through many iterations of my cooking system, I no longer eat the exact same thing every meal. Many components, such as the vegetables, garnishes, spices, or proteins, can easily be substituted in the same processes to make different dishes.
Many people think they couldn’t eat the same thing every meal, but then they continue to do what I used to do: Wait until I was famished, then desperately look for whatever food I could find to shove in my mouth – making bad decisions in the process. If