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Cooking lists will inspire, save money, lower stress

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

Cooking has always been something of an aspirational pursuit for me. I'll see some recipe in a cooking magazine - or just an Instagram photo of something - and think "hey, I should probably try that!" This is how I end up with so many different ingredients in my pantry, not to mention the necessary fruits and vegetables in the fridge.

Just because we have well-stocked pantries and refrigerators doesn't necessarily mean there's something to eat. Dried beans? Takes too long. Rice? Gotta wait for it. Pasta is fast, but what to put on it or in it? That cabbage, the potatoes ... well, they're great but generally are a side to a main dish.

There's nothing more frustrating - and sadder - than a growling stomach and no clue as to what's going to fill it. Now. Tonight. That's how we end up ordering some equally sad - and often less healthy - takeout 'meals'. Is greasy delivery pizza considered a meal? Yeah, it's food, but somehow it rarely seems to deserve the 'meal' designation. Unless my daughter makes it. At home, using her own homemade pizza dough and sauce. With first-rate ingredients from the Marin Farmers Market. Okay, I've just made myself sad, since I live over in Reno, Nevada, just a 3+ hour drive away.

I love farmer's markets, and we have a couple good ones here in Reno. And, I'm a 'regular'. I'm like a kid in a candy shop at a farmer's market .... and, truth be told, in the produce aisle of a decent grocery store. "OOOOH! Look at those turnips! ... and gotta have some of those plums, and maybe a bunch of the Swiss Chard!" This is one reason that I must shop with a list.

Cooking lists are my savior. They keep me on track, and help prevent going completely nut-so in the produce section. I keep my lists scribbled on Post-It Notes up on the cupboard door above the cutting board. I go through a lot of them, as the practical benefits are many.

BTW: Post-It lists stick nicely to the handle of the shopping cart!

Food lists allow you to:

1- Shop with 'direction'. Having a plan - even just a rough one - will help you to avoid the impulse purchases that end up languishing in the back of the refrigerator. This doesn't mean that you can never succumb to a gorgeous head of cauliflower, or plump, juicy raspberries, but it reduces the risks.

2- Minimizes food waste. Once you're home, and put all your purchases, neatly organized, into the fridge, referring to a list reminds you not only that you actually have a bag of green beans or zucchini in there, but what you planned to cook with it. Finding those vegetables a day, or a week, too late and they're ready for the compost pile. Knowing what your bought, and how you planned to use it, saves money!

3- Prevents dinnertime blank stares into the fridge. We've all been there. Refrigerator door open, staring cluelessly. Hoping that inspiration will jump out and slap some sense into you. Scrambled eggs? Again? Go to the list. See what's on it. Choose what suits your palate and time frame. Done. Eat.

4- Reminds you to try something new. I see all sorts of interesting recipes on social media, in my Forks Over Knives magazines or the Bon Appétit offerings to my Inbox. But, we're all busy, and can easily forget about that delicious looking recipes. Put. It. On. The. List. Now. You don't have to make it now. Sometimes, I just know I won't have the energy to try some dishes, so roll the reminder over until I can.

5- It just feels great to cross things off your list! You tried it! Woot! Pat yourself on the back and cross it off the list. That's empowerment!

Too often, ambitious plans fall victim to inertia or lack of 'bandwidth'. The last year has proved - like nothing else in memory - that we can be pulled in so many different directions that we don't know where we are, how we got there or the great 'why' of it all. We didn't want to risk going out until we were vaccinated, and there were days when I thought I couldn't cook one more meal. Honestly, doing three meals a day at home for more than a year - even for this dedicated foodie/cook - was close to bringing me, crawling, to the gates of despair. Lists helped get me through it all.

You won't cross everything off your list. Sometimes, a list remains incomplete. That's okay. But, when you do make the lists, they can be very comforting, empowering and filled with delightful possibilities. I intend to go to Australia and New Zealand someday. That's on another list. But, until I do, I'll keep making cooking lists.

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