Family sitting around table with candlesticks inside kitchen

8 Tips for Making Cooking at Home Simple, Delicious, and Fun

As inflation continues to eat away at consumer buying power, especially at the grocery store, home-cooked meals continue to trend among American consumers. Between 79 and 80% of American meals are consumed at home, a number that hasn’t decreased even as the pandemic has somewhat loosened its grip on life.

Eating at home has its benefits—portion control, knowing what’s in your food, healthy ingredients, less expense—but if you’re not someone who enjoys the process, grocery shopping and preparing food can be a chore. Yet with a little planning, even the most kitchen-resistant among us can learn to put healthy, delicious, and simple meals on the table, and have fun doing it.

Make a plan. Spend a few minutes on the weekend planning what you’re going to cook and eat during the week. Keep in mind that you don’t have to actually cook every meal. Grill a big steak for dinner one night, save the leftovers, and you’ll have sandwiches/salads/tacos for lunch for the next couple of days. 

Make a budget and a list. (The tedious part.) Once you have a basic menu outlined, then make a shopping list, keeping in mind your food budget for the week. It’s easy to bust the budget by impulse buying lots of meat, cheeses, and expensive condiments, but meat doesn’t have to be the center of your plate at every meal. Fill in with lots of fresh vegetables and beans and use less-expensive cuts, like stew meat (for soups and stews), steak strips (for kabobs) or brisket, which will feed a crowd and still give you leftovers for sandwiches or other meals. And of course, Panorama Organic’s grass-fed ground beef is an excellent choice for burgers, meatloaf, or tacos. The key with meat is to buy the best you can afford, but then use it sparingly and extend it through more than one meal.

Stock your freezer. It’s just as easy to make a big batch of soup or stew as a small one and then freeze what you won’t eat in a few days. Just be sure to wrap it well so you don’t end up with freezer burn, and label and date it so you aren’t faced with mystery containers later. It also helps to keep a list of what’s in the freezer. A small magnetic dry erase board on the outside makes inventory management a snap. It’s super-gratifying to know that on a chilly day, you can pull a package of delicious beef stew out of the freezer and have dinner on the table in no time at all.

Stock your pantry. Buy things like beans, rice, pasta, and other staples in bulk so they’re always ready to cook when you are. Canned stocks and tomatoes are also essentials for soups and stews. But make sure you stock up on things you’ll actually use—we’re still choking our way through the gluten-free quinoa pasta we bought in bulk at the beginning of the pandemic when there wasn’t anything else in the store.

Use prepared foods. You don’t have to bake your own bread, hand make pasta, or cook anything from scratch unless you want to. Panorama Organic has created a pre-cooked line of grass-fed meatballs, sausage, and hotdogs that help you get delicious and wholesome meals on the table quickly and easily. Visit our recipe page for ideas.

Commit to trying one new recipe a week. It’s easy to get into a rut in the kitchen, always making the same set of meals over and over. It’s easy, but it can get pretty boring for both the cook and the eaters. Spend a little time on one of the thousands of recipe sites (Simply Recipes is a good place to start) and come up with a list of new things to try, then pick one each week. Experiment with a new cuisine, a new cooking method, or a new ingredient or spice. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to make it ever again, but it might add a new meal to your rotation and make things a little more interesting.

Make good use of your slow cooker and/or Instant Pot. A slow cooker is great for soups, stews, chili, or even oatmeal for a nourishing breakfast in the morning. And if you have an Instant Pot and some dry beans in the pantry, you can get a delicious soup on the table in a little over an hour without soaking or precooking the beans. It doesn’t get much easier.

Get everyone into the act. Even young kids can learn to make simple dishes like hotdog mac and cheese, so let them cook, with some adult supervision of course, one night a week. And be sure that those who don’t do the cooking are there for the clean-up. Making it a team effort is more fun than having one designated cook who has to shoulder the entire responsibility.

Finally, don’t forget to treat yourself once in a while and go out to eat. Local restaurants are still struggling to recover from the pandemic, so give them your support.

Three meatball sliders with cheese on cutting board with bowl of meatballs in background and tomatoes on side

Easy Meatball Sliders

Makes 12 sliders

This is a simple and delicious basic red sauce you can use for just about anything—sliders, meatball subs, spaghetti and meatballs—use your imagination. You can also spice it up by adding red pepper flakes to your taste. If you have leftover sauce, it freezes well.  The meatballs are precooked, but browning them a bit in the oven caramelizes them and brings the flavor out. Don’t skip that step!

  • 1 package Panorama Organic Grass-fed meatballs
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 large basil leaves, cut into thin strips
  • 6 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 slider buns
  • 12 small slices provolone

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Arrange the meatballs on a sheet pan and place in the oven to brown for 20 minutes, turning once.

In a heavy pot over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil together. Saute the garlic and basil for a minute, just until fragrant. Add the tomato sauce and salt and bring to a simmer. Add the browned meatballs, then cover and let cook for an hour. You could also cook this in a slow cooker for 4 hours on low.

Toast the slider buns on another sheet pan in the oven until brown. Cover each of the bottom buns with a piece of cheese and allow to melt. Remove from the oven.

Place a meatball and a generous scoop of sauce on each bun. Secure the tops with toothpicks and serve immediately.

Pizza with meatballs, cheese, and seasoned mushrooms with one slice missing

Pizza with Meatballs and Seasoned Mushrooms

Homemade pizza is the best! If you’re feeling ambitious, you can make your own dough and sauce, but you can also buy fresh dough at places like Whole Foods and use your favorite jar sauce. 

Makes 3 12-inch pizzas

  • 2 packages Panorama meatballs
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 pounds prepared pizza dough
  • Cornmeal, for the pizza peel
  • 1½ cups pizza sauce
  • 6 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan

Heat a pizza stone for 30 minutes in a 500° F oven.

Thinly slice the meatballs and set aside.

In a medium skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their moisture. Add the Italian seasoning and salt and cook until the mushrooms are browned, adding more butter if necessary. Remove from heat and set aside.

Divide the dough into one-pound balls. Generously dust a pizza peel with cornmeal. Stretch the dough into a 12-inch round and place it on the peel. Cover the surface with ½ cup pizza sauce, then layer on 2 cups mozzarella and 1/3 cup Parmesan. Add 1/3 of the meatball slices and 1/3 of the mushrooms. 

Carefully slide the pizza from the peel onto the hot pizza stone. Bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is brown and the cheese is melted. Repeat the process for the other 2 pizzas.

Italian meatball soup with green beans, chopped carrots, and ditalini pasta in bowl

Italian Meatball Soup

There’s nothing like a hearty soup to warm you up on a chilly fall evening. Using precooked meatballs makes it easy to create a delicious, warming weeknight meal in about an hour.

Serves 6

  • 1 package Panorama meatballs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • ¾ cup chopped celery
  • ¾ cup chopped carrots
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 small potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 quarts beef stock
  • ½ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups chopped zucchini
  • 1 14.5 ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 ½ cups small pasta, like ditalini
  • Grated Parmesan, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and bake until browned, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a stock pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions, celery, and carrots, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Add the potatoes and stock and bring to a simmer. After 10 minutes, add the green beans, zucchini, cannellini beans, and browned meatballs. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until the pasta is cooked, adding water if necessary.

Ladle into bowls, garnish with grated Parmesan, and serve with crusty Italian bread.