Cooking can be entertainment, community, an art form. It can also be one of those many tasks, like brushing your teeth and taking out the compost, that you have to do almost every day or risk losing your teeth/a smelly kitchen/eating ice cream for dinner again, even though you don’t even want it at this point but don’t feel like losing another 45 minutes to the kitchen.

I like to cook. Sometimes. I really like tasty healthy food, where “healthy” is mostly defined by the freshness of the ingredients and lack of straight sugar.  I dislike gaining lots of weight so my clothes don’t fit right and getting stomach aches. (I really like sugar, too, but have come to the conclusion that eating sugar for dinner every night has poor results.)

The garden chef and the pajama’d nommer in me have come to some compromises. Here are some of the ways they make real food, full of ingredients, without spending hours a day in the kitchen.

1. Read food blogs and recipes. Sometimes when I’m sitting in the office but really don’t want to work on linguistics, I read recipes online. Sometimes I pin them on my pinterest board for future use, sometimes I just note the techniques and use them with completely different ingredients when I’ve run out of conventional combinations in my kitchen.

2. Keep a core of real foods that keep well and cook up easily in your fridge and pantry. NTS does most of the grocery shopping, since it’s on his way home. If I don’t give him a list, he still stocks up on bell peppers (red, green, and yellow; they’re all reasonably priced here), courgette (zucchini), cheddar cheese, milk, greek yoghurt, carrots, chickpeas, hommous, onions, etc. I keep a number of dry whole grains on hand, too, since they cook up with little effort and keep for a long time when dry. A pepper or carrots and some hommous are a quick way to add veggies to lunch. Any whole grain can be cooked up with or without bouillon/stock and mixed with any combination of cooked or uncooked veggies to make a filling side dish or meal.

3. Leftovers! Making two of three days worth of food doesn’t take much more effort than making a single meal. Cooking for an hour is suddenly a lot less problematic when you share the results over several days. At least double the amount of grain you make, as it takes literally no extra effort and can be used for salads for the next few days.

4. Put an egg on it. An egg or two over easy, with the yolk soaking into everything, makes leftover grains much richer. If you’re good at poaching eggs, that would probably work too. If you can poach an egg, though, you probably know these things already. Today’s lunch, for example, is yesterday’s mushroom, kale, sweet potato, edam cheese, and bulgar wheat salad with the addition of a chopped red pepper and eggs. Not practical if you’re going in to the office, but you can always use it for dinner, and it takes less than ten minutes.

Put an egg on it

I can’t decide whether that looks appealing or weird. It was tasty, though.

5. Know when to compromise. I use bouillon cubes instead of making my own stock; dried herbs instead of fresh; canned beans instead of dried; pre-made salsa, spaghetti sauce, indian sauces and (whole-grain) pasta. You have to find the mix that works for your life.

Do eat the fresh veggies, though.

How do you fit real food and cooking into your life?