10 Kitchen Rules to Cook By

Even after years of practice, it still can be challenging to get a home-cooked meal on the table.

Today’s post reviews a list of reminders for achieving this goal, day after day. Most well-established kitchen habits or ‘rules’ have stood the test of time, but others have shifted with the changing years.

For example, a few mantras, such as ‘clean-as-you-go’, have been replaced by zero-waste efforts and eco-conscious movements. Mindful eating is more important than ever.

We’ve also realized that sitting down for dinner is about being present, rather than perfect. And I think we’ve given ourselves permission to simplify it all.

With that in mind, here are ten kitchen rules to cook by for the modern home chef.

Be a Confident Kitchen Boss

Before I started a family, I spent a decade in professional kitchens. I’d eat at work, or bring home food, or eat out.

When my firstborn came along, I found that transition to home cook more difficult than expected. I realized, if my partner and I were struggling to consistently cook well-balanced meals, that other families probably were as well.

It’s important to set realistic expectations. We have so many people telling us how to eat, it’s hard to keep track of the do’s and don’t – especially when feeding a family.

So don’t set the bar so high that you’ll fail. Give yourself a lot of credit for cooking at home. Relax. Have fun. Make time. Be a confident kitchen boss.

Cookbooks like Nothing Fancy and Uncomplicated embrace this mantra of taking the stress out of home cooking. Author Alison Roman says to ask for help, pick your battles and never apologize. Amen.

Equip Yourself

Why do most cookbooks begin with a list of essential cooking tools? Because it’s important to set yourself up with a kitchen space you enjoy and gear you love.

Small appliances, pots and pans, bakeware, knives and tools – you know what you reach for daily. Keep your collection small, so that its easy to store. Keep the most-used items within reach.

Value quality over quantity. Most home cooks can get by with far less than product companies would have us believe. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of gadgets in the kitchen; I find that most jobs can be completed with a decent knife.

Meal Plan

It’s hard to eat well if you don’t plan for it, and for me, that means making a simple meal plan that I scratch out on Sundays.

If you’re wondering how and why to meal plan, I’ve got the post for you. Essentially? Cook what you love, make a plan, and stick to it.

Fridge Management

Cooking great food stems from a well-curated and well-managed refrigerator.

Plan your shopping so that your fridge is seldom too full. You waste less food if don’t pack it beyond 85 percent of its capacity because you can actually track what IS stored.

Other tips? Make sure you can see all the way to the back and use stackable, clear containers so you know what you have at a quick glance. Challenge yourself to a fridge-only meal once in a while — whether that’s soup, a grain bowl or risotto.

Stock Whole Foods

Here on Simple Bites we’ve been talking about Stocking the Pantry for Success for a decade.

Having canned and dry essentials — chickpeas, diced tomatoes, pasta and lentils — can go a long way. Recipes like Simple Butter Chicken with Chickpeas can be made almost entirely from pantry foods.

If you’re stocking whole foods, both staples and snack foods, then you’re on your way to cooking and eating a more nourishing diet.

Sea salt, good olive oil and canned tomatoes are just a few of the ingredients I could never live without.

Lentils are an amazing Canadian crop my kids love — they’re high in protein and versatile. And I’m never without some oatmeal; it’s a bit of an obsession around here.

Meal Prep

Your meal plan outlines meals and helps organize your grocery haul for the week, but your meal prep is the pre-processing of those groceries into ready-to-go elements for dishes throughout the week.

If you are able to put in an hour or two of meal prep after you bring the groceries in, your life will change. You’ll be two steps closer to getting a wholesome meal on the table on a busy weeknight, because you will a) already have decided what to make, and b) have prepared a portion of the meal in advance.

Embrace Vegetables as Comfort Food

My family and I are lifelong flexetarians, leaning towards a planetary diet. I tries to incorporate veggie-forward dishes all the time. I think one of the tricks when making a vegetarian dish is to evoke the same feeling you’d have in a meat dish.

Craving lasagna? Try my version with red lentils. And don’t leave out dessert; this Chocolate Beet Snack Cake with many anyone an veggie lover.

Batch Cook

Batch cooking is essentially making multiples of a dish that can be frozen and reheated. It can also mean duplicating recipes of anything from bread to condiments.

Batch cooking doesn’t have to mean setting aside an entire Saturday morning to slave in the kitchen. You can cook in batches anytime, ideally during your usual supper preparations.

Reduce Kitchen Waste

Zero waste cooking is the new ‘Love your Leftovers’ kitchen rule. From stem to root cooking to regrowing vegetable scraps, there are so many ways we can reduce kitchen waste.

Use Smart Shortcuts

I occasionally have to remind myself that it’s okay to use store-bought shortcuts. I’m cooking three meals a day for a family of five, with frequent guests around the table. It’s a lot of food!

Smart shortcuts for me look like anything from organic chicken stock to pre-grated cheese. These are generally products that still have recognizable ingredients and whose convenience outweighs the potential sacrifice in taste or quality.

I’ll always be a champion for homemade pantry staples, as they are unbeatable fresh and endlessly customizable. However, time does not always allow for a slow simmered stock or sauce. And this is where we give ourselves that grace in home cooking.

Related Posts:

What is a kitchen rule that you cook by? Do you think the rules are changing with the times?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Lucie Gregoire says

    With all those good tips and tricks that you are sharing, I’m certain you’re helping a lot of readers including myself. Thank you Aimee. It’s always a pleasure to read your post. Have a nice day!

  2. I love these tips! Thank you!!

  3. Before I had kids, I thought meal planning was just for the “Hanna Homemaker” types and I totally looked down on it! I thought meal planning meant eating the same meals over and over. 12 years and 4 kids later, I understand how wrong I was! 😂 Meal planning saves me time and money, not to mention my sanity. We eat a wide variety of meals, and really enjoy them.

  4. Amen to that grace for shortcuts! Sometimes a shortcut to a home cooked meal will still be far better than takeout. I am sad when my homemade stock has run out but my family is still happier with homemade soup than none at all .

  5. A great refresher! I love cleaning as I go – I often have a sink of hot soapy water on hand as I’m cooking. Also of course, freeze everything! Even just 2 homemade veggie burgers, a few extra buns, a cup or two of soup, or 4-6 muffins are nice to pull out later! You can stock a freezer very quickly this way. I am not a big fan of the all day marathon cooking/dump and freeze type meals.

  6. Cath in Ottawa says

    I think this is a great list! I would also add ‘build in time to try new things’ – I made a potato spinach curry last night which was met with thunderous eye rolling by my children. BUT they both ate it (spurred on no doubt by me having taken the last of the Christmas cookie exchange cookies out of the freezer for dessert) and even though that particular recipe might not be a keeper, the next new one might be – which for me is a huge win in terms of keeping them open to trying new things, refining their palates and laying the groundwork for all the future travel and food experiences we hope to do with them!!

  7. I seem to have a habit to meal plan for 2-3 weeks, and then I either have too many leftovers, or forget to buy a necessary ingredient and I fall out of the habit for 4-6 weeks. Then I remember it makes life easier, so I get back into it.
    My 11 year old is now at a point where she often has something started for supper by the time I get home from work. If we could meal plan together and have some of the prep done for her, it would probably work out better than what we currently have for a routine. I’m thinking out loud here 😉
    Thank you for the great post!!

  8. I think my favorite is definitely the meal prep because it does help SO much, but….I don’t always do it. I have found a pattern about myself that I get more creative in the kitchen the less food I have on hand. I’m not sure why that is, but I *hate* kitchen waste, and try to never have any. That said, if I have leftovers of something that is somewhat past it’s prime, it’s almost a game to me to see what I can repurpose it to! haha…my family doesn’t always agree, but (shrugs) I find the challenge enjoyable! LOL

  9. You have a great idea. Thank Aimee. My kitchen will be good after your advice

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