I began writing down all the dinners I planned to eat, each week, around the autumn of 2015. I was a Junior in college with my very first kitchen and it was just a means to focus my grocery lists; okay Sam, you’re having tacos on Wednesday, so pick up some tortillas. Then it turned into a way to plan dinners based on what I had the week before (I had chicken last week, so I’ll keep it vegetarian this week), then my newfound “dinner diary” made me a better cook.
Why start a dinner diary?
My dinner diary was no longer just a way to plan ahead or memorialize the bangin’ eggplant parms of dinners past. I found myself going back to dinners that needed some improvement, writing down suggested tweaks in the margins or simply reporting “GOOD!!” if no changes were necessary. My dinner diary helped me learn from my mistakes and improve both as a cook and a discerning eater. The best part is, you don’t need fancy knives or equipment (dorm kitchens will do just fine!) to improve your culinary skills. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper.
Don’t get an actual diary
You’re all excited to start your dinner diary and you want to buy a cute, potentially monogrammed notebook dedicated to the thing. Don’t. It should exist in something that you already use, like your day planner, google calendar, or even in the notes on your phone. I put mine right in my daily assignment pad for school, because in my opinion dinner is just as (more?) important as Econ homework. Integrate your dinner diary into your pre-existing routine and you’re more likely to stick to it.
Plan 3 dinners
If planning out the week’s meals sounds daunting, just pick three. I choose one new recipe, one that needs improvement, and one guaranteed good recipe to ensure that I learn something new and practice old recipes each week. Since those three dinners won’t be enough for the whole week, pick up a few extra produce items or an extra box of pasta when you’re at the grocery store. That way, you’ll have enough food to last you for those meals you didn’t plan for.
If you’re like me and enjoying dinner with another person is half the fun, get someone to give you honest feedback on your meals. It will help you get better at cooking for other people – an exciting, frustrating, terrifying, and rewarding challenge in itself. Living at home and cooking for roommates in their sixties (sup Mom n Dad!) with different tastes and candid opinions has challenged my cooking philosophies, my culinary repertoire, and made me a better cook.
Snap a pic
Since my culinary obsession began, my entire iPhone photo library transformed into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I fell in love with the way food tastes and looks, and decided I had to take pictures of every delicious memory. I did nothing with these pictures, and I’d suggest you do nothing with them too. Don’t worry about how they’ll look on Instagram or your Facebook cookbook club. Use them as a personal, visual accompaniment to your dinner diary and an easy way to scroll back through your culinary journey.
And that’s just what your dinner diary will become- a journey. You are about to start something transformative, something that will make you more creative, more inspired, and better fed – you’ll want to remember what it all tasted like.