Why I Cook Three Meals a Day, and How (Quickstart Guide)

(NOTE: I recommend a bunch of stuff in here that I personally use, consume, read, watch, etc. I am an Amazon Affiliate, so I do get a percentage of anything you end up buying within a day thru my links. I truly believe in the stuff I’m suggesting, or else I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s made my life easier, and I want to share that information with you as well.)

Every morning after a 20-minute yoga routine, I start my day with a palm-full of ginger slices simmering in a cup of hot water, a steamed bowl of squash with ground pork, and a couple large glasses of a smoothie I blend in my Vitamix (kale, carrots, apples, blueberries, chia seeds, aloe, chlorophyll). I do this every morning without fail. Then I have another cooked meal sometime mid day. I also end the day with a cooked meal.

Yes, I cook three times a day. And yes, I have other stuff to do. I have work, chores, errands, a social life. And I still find time to have at least 3 home cooked meals a day. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I bought something outside to eat. It’s been over a year.

I’m a hell of a lot happier — the mindful exercise and simple joy of connecting with my food and nourishment cannot be understated. I have a relationship with my food. And it’s not weird, I promise.

I’m a hell of a lot healthier — don’t buy into the “healthy” store bought salad, or a “boosted” smoothie or juice made at the corner store. No matter how “healthy” the claims are, the amount of extra stuff that you don’t need far exceeds the benefits. The “health” industry misdirects consumers at an appalling level. Watch documentaries like Fed Up, Food Inc, and Cowspiracy. Get to know Michael Pollan’s books and essays. If you cannot make the time, at least remember these few things: Processed is bad, don’t count calories, sugar is poison, consume grains/starches/fruit sparingly, eat more goodvegetables (not all are created equal), and fat is your friend. Rant complete.

I’m a hell of a lot richer — I spend $200–$300 per month on food and beverage, as opposed to the average city dweller spending $900 — $1200 per month. That amounts to $7,200 — $14,400 annually. Enough said.

How do I do it? How do I make the time, find the resources to cook all of my own food and drinks? I’m here to help with that. Keep reading for a quick start guide with 5 areas to consider when you embark on this wonderful new life journey.

To Health, Wealth, and Happiness!

Quick Start Guide to Cooking 3 Meals a Day

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You don’t need to be fancy. Actually, most of these are simpler than you think.

I will go over 5 categories:

  1. Tools

  2. Where to Buy Food

  3. Food Prep

  4. Cooking Formats and Schedule

  5. Storage

Tools

Before you run off to Sur La Table, Home Goods, the kitchen section at Ross, or the display area at Costco, remember this: you are not a professional chef. You don’t own a restaurant. You aren’t Thomas Keller or Jacques Pepin. In fact, you probably don’t make pasta correctly. With this in mind, you do not need 98% of the stuff you see on TV cooking shows or in restaurants. Below lists a few essentials to empower yourself to eat all of your food, made from your own kitchen. With these tools you will save time and a boatload of money.

Here are tools I use every day:

Get one good chef’s knife: Not a cheap one. It will dull, you will hurt yourself, and you will waste a lot of time in the kitchen. Stop wasting your money repeatedly on $15 stamped steel, and make a 1 time purchase of something like this (Bourdain recommended): Global Chef Knife. This overall principle of reliable, long term quality applies with the rest of the tools.

Please believe me, here’s all you will ever need in the knife department: ONE good chef’s knife, as large as it is comfortable for your hand — Anthony Bourdain

Get a good cutting boardStop trying to figure out between pine and bamboo cutting boards. And stop it with the fancy stone ones. Just get a thick, clean, high density polypropylene board, one for meats, and one for everything else. I have this one at my place — easy-to-clean, very durable, and lasts forever.

Get a rice cookerAh, the oh so versatile rice cooker. It cooks rice, it steams vegetables, slow cooks meats, quickly reheats leftovers (Forget the microwave! I don’t have one, neither do you!) You don’t need the wizard rice cooker with 25 buttons, that talks to you, plays songs, and probably only cooks rice. You don’t need an actual slow cooker (I had one, and I end up using my rice cooker instead). Get a Tatung Rice Cooker. It is trustworthy, and will last over a decade (I’ve had mine for longer).

Get 3 other Pieces of Cookware: 1 large stock pot, 1 frying pan with lid, and 1 non-stick skillet. You won’t need anything else. Maybe a tiny toaster oven, for convenience. You can get something like this, but again, you’ll probably end up using just the 3 pieces I mentioned. Also try scoping your local Ross or Marshall’s. The kitchen section has a bunch of really good pieces that you can mix and match for a good price. Remember, super cheap and flimsy will last you a couple months before you need to replace it. Drop a few extra dollars now, save money and a headache later.

Get a Vitamix: I can’t say enough about the Vitamix. It will do everything. From mixing dough to creating truly powerful vegetable/fruit smoothies. I make chia seeds into chia flour. The hype is all real. The warranty is industry best, unbeatable (I broke some parts, and they immediately shipped me new ones). The price will hurt at first, but think about how much a damn smoothie shop charges. How about those $14 Acai bowls? And don’t get me started with these bottled juice companies. It’s an investment that pays itself off within 3 months. Believe me.

It’s true. All of it — Han Solo talking about the Vitamix.

Get an Electronic Hot Water ThermosEvery Chinese household has one of these for a reason. Warm and hot beverages isn’t just a cultural choice, it’s a healthier one. And who doesn’t enjoy tea and coffee on demand? I have this one from Panasonic. Simple, and lasts a long time (I’ve had mine for 9 years). You can trust Panasonic or Zojirushi. Stop buying $8 hipster coffee. You can make better coffee with a Bodum French Press, a Krups grinder(which doubles as a spice grinder! Yes, you can save on bulk spices), and premium, fair trade coffee (I recommend my Bay Area favorite, Chromatic Coffee Beans). And now with a hot water thermos, you don’t have to wait for hot water every morning!

In terms of other kitchen utensils, get a bamboo spatula, a steel ladle, steel tongs, a large strainer, and baking pan. Make note of other tools you may need along the way and purchase as necessary. Food containers and storage further down.

After equipping your kitchen with the essential tools…

Where to Buy Food

Our world makes buying food a puzzling ordeal. We used to simply buy food available and in season. Now craziness populates grocery aisles. The good news? You can ignore 90% of the aisles. Pre-made pasta sauce for $5? You don’t need it. You have a Vitamix don’t you? Now, pick up a bunch of Ball canning jars — Boom, blend some roma tomatoes, basil, and spices you got from the bulk aisle, and store months worth of sauce in your freezer (the jars are also perfect for cups, smoothies on the go, and leftovers). Boxed chicken broth for $5? You can make an entire stock pot on your own — on the weekend, just throw a whole chicken, chopped celery, carrots, onions, and your seasoning into boiling water, and lower to a simmer for 4–6 hours. Now you have a month’s worth of broth stored in the freezer. You can find everything in the produce section, or better yet, your local farmer’s market. And always try to buy bulk with cooking oils and spices.

Here is my personal ranking with where to buy food:

  1. Local Farmer’s Market: If your neighborhood hosts a weekly farmer’s market, take advantage of it. Unfortunately, a lot of farmer’s markets have become grocery aisles (pre-packaged, produced products), rather than actual produce and meats from the farm. Look up the vendors list (like this one for San Francisco) before you go. Most farmer’s markets have really good prices (think Wholefoods quality, at Trader Joe’s prices.). Beware: if prices seem really high, the market you found probably caters primarily to tourists. Do some research before you go.

  2. Chinatown: It’s a jungle out there. Grandmas will elbow you, cut in line, and the register lady hates everybody. Don’t be afraid of the produce here. It all comes from the same suppliers as Safeway and Wholefoods. They’ve simply hacked the system on overhead, so the sticker price becomes shockingly low. The same brand of organic strawberries you got at Wholefoods for $8/pint, you will get for $2 in Chinatown. Do some reconnaissance to research who has the produce quality and selection you can count on. These stores close early, so try to go before you head into work (they open by 6AM, some by 5AM), or during you lunch break.

  3. Mexican Grocery Stores: The same principles and quality as Chinatown.

  4. Local/Organic Grocery Store: If you have a good local store, like the legendary Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley, CA, take advantage of the items you couldn’t get in the previous 3. Again, don’t let the aisles tempt you. Those ginger snap cookies on sale? You can make your own batch of 200 cookies later that weekend. Stick with produce and bulk. Wholefoods can have good prices on occasion, if you stick to produce and bulk, and stay away from packaged goods.

  5. Costco, using Instacart: I don’t have a Costco membership, and I don’t need one. I just use Instacart. 1 gallon of Kirkland Olive Oil? 3 pounds of frozen wild blueberries? All the apple cider vinegar I need? Bulk spices, bulk anything! And guess what, they have pretty good fresh produce!

Now that you have your food…

Food Prep

Jeff, I can’t spend every day preparing and cooking each and every meal. Who has that time anyway?

You do have time. You’re just allocating it wrong. Prepping and cooking every single meal, on demand, takes a lot of time. Don’t do that. Think like a professional cook here. They prep everything in advance, so when they want to cook, a dish can be whipped out in twenty minutes, some as little as five. With the type of cooking happening in your kitchen, cook times can be as simple as reheating a couple minutes. Before firing up the stovetop, do all of your preparation in a 1–2 hour block during the weekend. Instead of melting into a couch for a whole afternoon of football, prep while you watch.

Everything can be done in 3 simple steps:

  1. Wash: Wash all of your vegetables and fruits in advance. You save about 5–10 minutes each time you make your food. Rinse your meats of any scum or gunk, pat them dry. Large mixing bowl and strainers are a god send here.

  2. Cut: Cut in advance, and save 20–30 minutes each time you make your food. Some vegetables you cut, some you peel, some you just break apart. Take into consideration whatever you like eating. I personally like making stews, quick stir frys, and roasting, so I usually break everything into small chunks or slices. With your new Global Chef Knife, this task should be a cinch.

  3. Store: Get yourself a big set of tupperware, I personally have this Rubbermaid set, or think like a chef, and get these (they are reusable!). For meats, after washing and cutting, throw what you will use in the fridge, and the rest in the freezer. Store entire pots of stew in the freezer, right in the pot! Note: I usually cook any meat I want in bulk during the weekend, too, so I can easily heat up and include with my meals. Bottomline, based on your cooking formats (which we go over next), you will figure out how to portion and store accordingly. Practice and experiment.

Congratulations! You have all your ingredients on hand and ready-to-cook when you decide! This is how you schedule and cook your food in advance…

Cooking Formats/Schedule

I love cooking. It’s my meditation. My ‘me-time’. So I personally make time to take a break and make each meal separately when I can. And it doesn’t become an ordeal, because I’ve prepped and stored all of my ingredients in advance. It’s just a matter of taking them out, rinsing if necessary, and cooking away. I have my meal in 30 minutes or less, and easily finish eating within the hour. Most people spend a majority of their hour lunch break walking down the block, ordering a burrito, waiting for a burrito, finding a seat, and then spending maybe only 5–10 minutes actually eating. You could have brought your own delicious, home-made burrito bowl, and heated it up within 2 minutes in the office microwave. 55 minutes now remain for you to do whatever you want.

Here are my favorite cooking formats:

Stir Fry — it’s the quickest way to toss vegetables and meats in together with whatever seasoning you like. Also toss in some rice, noodles, or sweet potatoes, and you have a whole meal.

Steam in the Rice Cooker — I reheat, or even cook up from raw ingredients, whatever I like into my own personal Dim Sum. I made Shanghai pork ribs in them once. I even made tamales! Press the button and leave until it pops back up. No maintenance or watchful eye needed.

Stew — You can dream up any combination of soup, broth, stews. And they all store in the freezer like a dream. In fact, it tastes even better after reheating. You can now have your prize winning chili any day of the week within minutes.

Bake — I throw all types of meats and vegetables on a pan. I make a bunch of homemade tortillas, or entire sheets of flatbread. The oven has a lot of space, to make a lot of things. I don’t do the whole perfect baker thing with all the measurements. Neither do you.

Vitamix— Yes, Vitamix gets its own category, because its that awesome. Make your own juice, your own ice cream, your own batter, your own soup. The hype is real.

A note on “cooking with recipes” — Learn recipes for general concepts, not specific ingredients. For example, you don’t need to follow all 20 ingredients you might see for a fried rice recipe. Just determine the basics: rice, oil, green onions, and salt. Get creative from there. If you become dependent on individual recipes for their precise ingredients, you will waste a lot of time, and a lot of valuable head space.

Here are my scheduling formats:

Do everything altogether during the weekend — One and done for the week. Bake up a couple whole chickens, break down, and freeze up. Throw 10 squashes into the oven at once, and dice it up. Cook up entire pots of vegetables. Store everything in your new food storage, and throw into the fridge or freezer if more perishable. The night before, package whatever you want for lunch at work and set it aside in the fridge.

Cook everything the night before— You can make your breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in 1 hour the night before while you catch up on Real Housewives. The next day, you can simply reheat.

Make everything for the day, the morning of — If you’re into getting up an hour earlier than usual, kudos to you. Great way to start the day, right?

On-demand cooking — You can prep your ingredients so everything can cook in under 10 minutes, when you want to eat. For work, see if they will let you use a hot plate, and leave a spatula and skillet there. Or cook entire meals with a few added minutes in the microwave. If your office has a powerful toaster oven, try it out.

By this point, you have more or less completed the full cycle of having 3 cooked meals a day. Just a last small bit, especially if you make your food a week in advance…

Storage

After food prep or cooking, you need to store your food. Food storing becomes an art form. You will adapt to different ways for keeping cut vegetables fresh. Figure out what works for you in terms of transferring food, and staging food for consumption the next day, or whole week. Convenience and accessibility comes down to storage technique.

Here a some items to have on hand:

Containers with lids: This is what I have. Find what works for the cabinet and fridge space you have.

Mixing bowls: Having large mixing bowls on hand, glass and plastic, become very, very handy for vegetables and meats. Especially if they also have lids. This is what I have. I’ve made 2 week worth of coleslaw once in the large bowl.

Saran wrap, foil, and heavy duty, multi-use Ziplocks: You will reach for these often.

Paper towels: Multi-use wonders. Cover vegetables, dry or damp, to keep them fresh. Dampen and cover a bowl of veges when you throw in the microwave. Wrap a sweet potato with a damp towel for reheating, or from a raw state.

That’s it!

I hope this guide is helpful. Yes, it’s definitely a longer one — I want to equip you with the knowledge to start cooking more of your own meals! Make it a goal to slowly build up to eating everything from your own kitchen.