Whether you are hosting a holiday dinner like Thanksgiving or Christmas, or you just happen to be having a large dinner party, there will be times when you will have to cook for lots of people. Cooking for a crowd, unfortunately, can get quite stressful—even overwhelming. Thankfully, we have some sharp tips to help you take control of the situation and pull off cooking for a crowd with minimal stress. Ready? Let’s go!
Go With What You Know
Now is not the time to try a new recipe. Use recipes you have tried many times before and have no mastered. If you know exactly what you are doing, you will be much calmer while you are doing it! Even if the recipes you know are not meant for a larger crowd, it is much easier to make a double batch of something you know how to cook, such as spaghetti sauce, than it is to try a new recipe. This is especially the case when you would have to double a recipe you are not familiar with!
Make Ahead Of Time
Chances are you have to make more than one dish when cooking for a crowd. Do not leave all of this cooking for the day of the event! Where possible, make dishes in advance so you can spread out the pressure. You can also strategically choose dishes to help. For instance, you can prep and entire lasagna the night before, but then put it in the oven before your guests arrive.
In addition to making things less stressful on the day, it also opens up your chances of mingling with the guests instead of being chained to the stove.
Slow Cooker Magic
When it comes to cooking for a crowd, there is nothing easier than using your slow cooker. You can easily feed a decent sized group with one 6 or 7 quart slow cooker! In addition to making a large quantity of food in one go, slow cooker meals are also easy to make, since you often just have to dump ingredients into the pot and let the slow cooker work its magic. You can set it at the beginning of the day, thus freeing up time throughout the day so you can get one with other things (including other meal prep activities).
Did you know cooking makes a great group activity? You can cook alone, a lot of people do, but involving other people can boost the fun of the task itself, and promote bonding between those who are cooking. This might be through the discussion they have while cooking, bonding over failed attempts at cooking, et cetera. So what can you cook with your loved ones? What meals lend themselves really well to this? Let’s look at three of them now:
Pizza is amazing to cook as a group. You can do homemade crust if you would like, but premade crusts make this even better. It works well if you cook multiple pizzas, where each person can sit at the table and customize their toppings. Common ones to start with include mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, and green pepper. We recommend you ask people what their favourite toppings are so there can be a plethora of choices during the cook.
Tacos or Fajitas
Similar to pizza, tacos and fajitas work well for a group cooking setting since all you really need to do is heat up the shells and/or tortillas. Then it becomes a matter of each individual filling their tacos and fajitas with the toppings and fillings they desire. This normally includes one protein like chicken or ground beef, though it can be just about anything.
When in doubt, have a barbeque! Someone can grill the burgers, hot dogs, et cetera, others can make salads and sides, et cetera. Some of this can be made beforehand at everyone’s own house, but if you want to truly embrace the idea of cooking with loved ones, we recommend doing everything on the day. You have to do this with anything you are actually putting on the grill, so why not include the other parts on the actual day as well?
Grocery shopping will always be in our regular routine. You likely started accompanying one of your parents when you were small, since you couldn’t be home alone. But once you leave home? Going to the store and picking out what you want to eat is all your responsibility. Sometimes people find themselves overwhelmed by all the choices, while others just simply have no idea what they should get. Need some help grocery shopping for any reason? Here are key tips to consider:
Use The Flyer
The vast majority of grocery stores will have a weekly flyer showcasing which of their products are on sale. Examining these flyers is the perfect way to not only save money when you shop, but also to generate ideas on what you can make throughout the entire week. If you really want to make this an effective grocery shopping strategy, try looking at more than one flyer when constructing your list and plan of what to eat for the week.
Stick To The List
Speaking of grocery lists, you should always bring your list with your when going to the grocery store and you should always stick to buying what is written on your list. This will help manage your overall funds, while also helping minimize the amount of junk food you buy. If it is not on the list, you are not allowed to buy it! Just be kind to yourself and avoid putting a lot of junk on the list in the first place.
Never Go Hungry
The golden rule of grocery shopping? Never go hungry. When you step inside a grocery store with an empty stomach, you will be far more likely to overindulge in junk food like chips, chocolate, pop, and literally anything that looks appealing. If you need to go to the store but you do feel some hunger pangs, eat a small snack (at least) before you head out. You will thank yourself later.
Need to think of new things to cook for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert? Tired of the same old recipe night after night? Finding good new recipes can certainly be a challenge, especially if you really are not sure where you can look. With that in mind, here are three popular sources for new recipes, as well as what you can expect or should keep in mind when searching each of them:
Family and Friends
Your loved ones are the perfect source for quality recipes. Is there a dish your Mom or Dad made all the time growing up, but you don’t actually have yourself? Ask them for it! Does your friend make a mean macaroni and cheese? Why not ask if you can have that as well! This is a great way to pick up recipes you know are good. Recipes from any other source have a risk of not turning out quite well, even if the risk is small.
There is a plethora of traditional cookbooks out there. The recipes they contain are just about endless. There are cookbooks exclusively for desserts, for vegetarians, for clean eating, et cetera. All you need to do is decide what type of thing you want to cook and there should be a cookbook not far behind! The risk with this, however, and especially if you are going through dietary changes, is the quality of the recipes and whether or not you will actually like them. To help minimize the risk, look at the reviews of the cookbooks you are considering before you actually buy them. This should help give you a picture of the general consensus about the quality of the recipes in the book.
Of course, you can easily search online for new recipes to try. However, one of the catches to doing this is you need to have a rough idea of what you want to cook. For instance, do you want to try vegetarian meals? Do you have a lot of a particular ingredient you want to get rid of? Use these as keywords to help in your search. Google is great, but Pinterest is excellent for easily finding recipes.
Do you own a slow cooker? If not, you should invest in one! They are amazing when it comes to cooking your meals for you. They are great additions whether you are only cooking for yourself or for a large family. Here are three significant benefits of using a slow cooker:
Save On Time
Do you lead a busy life? A slow cooker can help with that. Many of the recipes you would make in this appliance just require you to do some simple food prep (e.g. chopping vegetables) before dumping all the ingredients into the slow cooker and just letting it cook for you throughout the course of the day. You can then run errands outside the home, go to work, do chores like laundry, or even relax with a nap! No need to be standing at the stove and slaving away.
Cooking For A Crowd
Need to feed a lot of people? Aside from ordering food, your best course of action to easily feed a crowd is to plug in your slow cooker and let it do its magic. You can buy a 6 or 7 quart slow cooker, which is enough to make food for quite a large group in a single pot. You can easily feed an average family with food to spare with one pot!
Year Round Cooking Benefits
Slow cookers provide benefits to cooking throughout the entire year, aside from what we have already discussed. In the summer, cooking meals in your slow cooker helps minimize the number of times you have to heat up your kitchen. In the winter, what could be nicer than coming home to a nice, hot, cozy bowl of something like soup or chili? Not very much when the cold is threatening to make your fingers fall off!
Whether you want to cook frugally or you have to do it out of necessity, frugal cooking can actually be difficult if you don’t think about it. Just walking to the grocery store and deciding to cook frugally is not going to end up the way you want it to. With that in mind, here are three tips for frugal cooking you will actually enjoy.
All About The Plan
The very first thing you need to start doing if you want to actually do some frugal cooking is to start a meal plan and accompanying grocery list. You will get nowhere without it! Plan what you want to eat for the week for each meal. Consider what ingredients you need for each dish. Which ones do you have in your kitchen? Which ones do you still need to buy? Write the latter ones down. This is your grocery list and it will guide you through the shopping process. Also be sure to note how much of an ingredient you will need. There is no reason to buy seven tomatoes if you only need two or three.
Speaking of making a list for the ingredients you need and making a meal plan, one of the best things for you to do to help with this is get your local grocery store’s flyer every week. These flyers advertise what products are on sale for the week, and can save you a lot of money if you take the sales into account when planning your meals for the week.
The other thing to consider here is the power of leftovers for frugal cooking. This means two things: one, how you should safe the leftovers of the finished meal for another night, and two, that if you don’t use all of an ingredient you buy (e.g. you have leftover uncooked rice or pasta) you should incorporate it into another meal.
More and more people are creating noodles out of their vegetables as a replacement for things like spaghetti or lasagna. This offers a low carb and low calorie option for traditional noodles. Not only that, but it makes for a perfect option for people who cannot digest wheat—no gluten!
Are you considering starting to spiralize your vegetables into noodles? Here are some tips to help make these fantastic vegetable noodles:
Look For Symmetry
Start with the way your vegetables look. Regardless of the vegetable, zucchini, cucumber, or otherwise, make sure the ones you pick as a symmetrical as possible. This does a couple of things. First, it makes the process of spiralizing easier to perform. The second thing it does is make for a smoother, better end product.
Watch The Size
The size of your vegetables will influence both the quality of your noodles as well as the ease of turning the vegetable into noodles. You want a good size, but not anything too big lest you harm your spiralizer with too much weight, strain, et cetera.
Center It First
Centering your vegetables on the spiralizer is important for the best cut, both in speed as well as ease. You can turn out quality vegetable noodles this way! Thus, before you start to turn your spiralizer, make sure you take a moment to center your chosen vegetable
Dry The Spirals
Many of the vegetables have quite a bit of water in them, like zucchinis and cucumbers. With this water, you run the risk of ending up with soggy vegetable noodles. You can help avoid this by putting the vegetable noodles in a colander while you finish the other meal prep. You may also use paper towel to help dry them off, or sprinkle some salt on the vegetable noodles, as you do with sliced eggplant when making eggplant parmesan.
Chopping an onion and having your eyes well up with tears is a rite of passage in the cooking world. It is, as many believe, an unavoidable occurrence. Whenever you cut onions—your eyes will water. Right?
No. You do not have to suffer through watery eyes when you need to cut onions. You do not need to avoid or dislike cutting onions because of the looming possibility of tears. Here are some ways you can minimize and even prevent yourself from crying when you chop onions.
Sharpen Your Knife
The sharper your knife, the cleaner the cut. The cleaner the cut means less of the onion fumes released immediately, which buys you time before your eyes start to well up. If you are able to chop fast enough with your sharp knife, you might not well up at all.
Vent The Kitchen
Want to prevent the fumes from going directly into your eyes? Most kitchens should have a vent above the stove—use it now. While you are chopping the onions, do so close to this vent so it sucks away the majority of the fumes. No fumes means no tears. Your eyes will certainly thank you for it.
Cut Side Down
When an onion is whole, even with the outer skin peeled, there are no tears. The potential for crying begins as soon as you cut into the onion and expose the layers. Help minimize the fumes getting into your eyes by placing as much of the cut side of the onion down onto the cutting board rather than up as you can. This ensures less fumes come up to your face causing the tears. Instead, the fumes just go into your cutting board.
Give Time To Chill
Did you know that a cold onion will release less propanethial S-oxide? This is directly connected to your tears and the irritant resulting in them. There will still be some, of course, but minimizing everything you can means fewer tears in the end. Note you should never freeze the onion, since when a raw onion thaws out, it can turn mushy.
Do you find your kitchen getting a little chaotic? Are you having trouble finding what you need? Organizing your kitchen is essential if you want to make sure every time you cook your dinner or bake dessert, things go smoothly. When you are prepping food, you need to know where everything is! You do not want to keep searching for a utensil if something is on the stove and at risk of burning.
Here are key tips for good kitchen organization:
File Dividers For Sheets and Pans
Do you have a bunch of cookie sheets, frying pans, and similar? Sometimes these can get muddled in cabinets and drawers. To help keep all of the sheets and pans straight, use office organizational tools like plastic file dividers to stack and separate each item. You can group similar items together this way as well. It makes things easy to find and pull out when needed.
Don’t just dump all of your cutlery into a drawer—it will make things harder to extricate when you need it, and increase the potential for dirtying the cutlery even before you need it. Avoiding this is easy if you buy a flatware divider, which has separate sections for forks, spoons, butter knives, et cetera. Depending on what kind of divider you purchase, you may also have enough sections to separate the cutlery based on size (most cutlery sets include smaller versions of forks and spoons).
Whiteboard On Fridge
Have you ever found that you run out of a critical ingredient, only to forget about that until you are in the middle of cooking something where you need it? You can easily organize your pantry and understand what ingredients you have and what you need more of by attaching a whiteboard to your fridge and noting down the ingredients as you know you need them. Then you can easily transfer the notes to a paper you can easily carry at the grocery store—no more forgetting anything because of disorganization in your kitchen.
Packaging up extra food, such as chicken breasts and ground beef, is great to help save for the future, pulling out a last minute meal, et cetera. For the most part, people will stick things like a chicken breast into a plastic freezer bag and place it in the fridge. However, these bags can slip through cracks in the freezer shelves, be hard to sort through, and just make the freezer inefficient. You can still use these bags, they are very effective, but buying freezer-safe bins can really help keep those bags organized so getting what you need from the freezer is easier.
Cooking is surprisingly an underrated and uncommon skill. There are more people than you might think who are unable to cook their own food, and thus have to rely on others, whether family, friends, or local restaurants. While eating out every so often is perfectly fine, you should still know how to cook your own food. Why? Here are four key reasons why you should cook your own food most of the time:
Control Over Your Diet
Do you want to know what is in your favourite dishes? Do you want to eat healthier? Do you just want to control what you eat? Learning how to cook is the very first step. By cooking your own food you know exactly which ingredients go into which dish. You also make healthier choices just by cooking for yourself, as many recipes you will make do not include the same preservatives, same amount of fat and salt, et cetera, as many restaurant and fast food dishes do.
Save Money on Food
Eating takeout, delivery, and sitting in at restaurants gets quite expensive, quite quickly. Even though buying food and ingredients at the grocery store will cost you money, you can make more dishes from these purchases, which means your money goes a longer way. In addition, the prices on food at the grocery store, when they are not the prepackaged foods, are often less than the dishes you buy at restaurants to begin with!
An inability to cook means you have to rely on others to make you food all the time. This may mean just eating at restaurants all the time, or getting family and friends to do the cooking for you. Unfortunately, you may not always have these options, whether your family is not available or you cannot afford a restaurant
When you work for something, you appreciate it more. This goes for big things like your education and relationships. It also goes for your food! If you are the one making your food, studies are clear about how you appreciate the finished meal more when you eat it. Embrace that and learn to cook!