Cooking vs Arranging: Why Ariel is better at not cooking than Megan

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The simplest lunch

You all know I don’t cook, right? In my house, my husband Andreas does most of the cooking, vacillating between elaborate terrines and simple stir-fries. But whatever we eat, chances are very good that I had nothing to do with cooking it.

Last night, however, I cooked. Well, that’s the thing: I didn’t really cook. I prepared. Most of my cooking involves melting stuff or boiling stuff, and then artfully arranging stuff. Last night I actually baked stuff. Yes, I poked three potatoes with a fork, and put them in the oven. FOR AN HOUR! Thanks to my excellent fork-poking, the potatoes did not explode their skins in the oven.

Then, I diced half a tomato, some green pepper, and green onion. Then I boiled two pieces of corn. Then I put the potatoes on a plate, cut them open and put butter and the veggies on them with grated cheese. Corn went on plates, and just to make it fancy, I sliced a couple thin spikes of green pepper and arranged it carefully. Oh, and we each got half a pear sprinkled with cinnamon.

And that was it. Potato, corn, pear. But with some artful green pepper arranged on top! Unlike my parents (the people who tried to entice a child by calling lentil stew “poop soup”) or Andreas (“it all looks the same in your stomach”) I’m a big fan of the food always looking good. When it’s pretty, it conveys the love.

This distinction between cooking and preparing is one that always comes up when I talk to Megan about her inability to cook. I’m always like, Bitch, I don’t cook either! That still doesn’t mean you have to eat frozen pizzas for every meal!

Like most Americans, Megan defaults to packaged food… while my hippie parents with their poop soup taught me to default to cutting up produce and cheese and setting them on a plate. Megan’s food might taste better, but my food is infinitely cheaper and definitely healthier.

Sometimes my meals are literally what you see in the photo above: cheese melted on toast, microwaved frozen veggies, sliced fruit, string cheese. It’s simple, it’s healthy, I can prepare it in less than 5 minutes. Some day I’ll convince Megan that she doesn’t need to learn to cook: she just needs to learn to arrange.

So, in the interest of teaching Megan to ARRANGE, what are your favorite whole food meals that taste great? If it takes more than 5 minutes or has more than 5 ingredients, I’m giving it the side-eye.

Comments on Cooking vs Arranging: Why Ariel is better at not cooking than Megan

  1. Ha! Love it. This is totally my cooking style too – I’m going to have to steal that term of “arranging.” If we are having what I deem to be a more “elaborately” prepared meal, my husband does it. But I’m the queen of pasta, fried eggs, cheese plates and baking/microwaving anything that comes frozen from Trader Joe’s 🙂

  2. This borders on “simple cooking” but….

    Throw some chicken (I use boneless breasts and thighs) in a crockpot with a can or two of chicken broth, cook until done and shred with a fork. Now you have shredded chicken for ALL THE MEALS.

    For example:
    shredded chicken + shredded cheese + tortilla + toppings of choice = quesadilla
    chicken + lettuce + avocado + apple + honey mustard dressing = dinner salad
    chicken + can of green chilis + can of corn + frozen peppers + white beans + chicken broth + cumin = chili
    chicken + tomato sauce + provolone + spaghetti noodles + parmesan = “healthy chicken parm”

  3. Oh, and I totally forgot my infamous ploughman’s lunch. 2-5 lunches (depending on number and heartiness eaters) Buy a loaf of Italian bread, a head of lettuce, 2 apples, a bottle of Caesar dressing and an 8 oz brick of cheddar or other semi-hard cheese. (A Salami is a nice optional addition for meat-eaters) Transfer Caesar to a wide-mouth container, like a jar or a Tupperware cuppie.
    To serve: Lay it out in front of you. Bring a sharp knife (I always carry my Swiss) Cut chunks of food off of the main hunks. Dunk into salad dressing as desired. Eat. It’s simple and yet feels super fancy.

  4. At least once a month my partner and I have a “graze,” where we buy some nice bread, a little salami or capicola from the nice market, and then just pull everything out of the fridge that needs eating: cheese, fruit, avocado, carrots/veggies, crackers/bread/wraps, condiments, pickled beets, jam, really anything. Then we stand over the counter and cram it all in our mouths going “oh god it’s so good.”

  5. Rice has been mentioned in passing, but I have to say that a rice cooker has been my savior so many times when I’m too tired for real cooking. I’ll sometimes eat it just plain, but most of the time I’ll dress it up with pantry items. For instance:
    -Cooked rice + lemon juice + drizzle of olive oil + capers = feels fancy as hell
    -Cooked rice + soy sauce + sesame seeds + (maybe some ground ginger or sriracha) = yeah, I’d eat this forever
    -Cooked rice + seasoned rice vinegar (sushi vinegar) + shredded seaweed + pickled ginger + sesame seeds = am I a lazy sushi genius???? (Can also add veggies to this to make it actually a meal and not just carbs and condiments)

    I also like throwing a spoonful of salsa in the rice cooker with my dry rice and water and pretending like that’s a real meal. Could even put beans right in as it cooks for a complete meal!

    Seriously — if you are lazy, buy a rice cooker. I am not a fan of one-use kitchen tools, but it’s so great for preparing rice and quinoa in the easiest way possible.

    • Brown rice, tablespoon of lemon juice, and teaspoon of sea salt. Boom. I’m vegan, but I’ve heard it’s good with fish (they make microwavable fish, did you know that?).

      • This is absolutely fantastic. Sometimes I do sesame seeds, sesame oil, and/or soy sauce instead of or in addition to hot sauce. And sometimes it’s leftover vegetables (I’m a big fan of cooking more than I need of something that I can use as an ingredient in another recipe the next day).

    • Yep, my best “arranging” is a rice (or cous cous… or pasta… or quinoa…) salad!

      Cook your carbs, let them cool. And then mix in… anything!

      My favourites would be tomato, pesto, cucumber and bits of cheese, but when it come to rice/pasta salad THERE ARE NO RULES.

  6. SANDWICHES!!! Sandwiches are basically “arranging” food, imho, and can be SO MUCH MORE than those sad baloney or turkey sandwiches on soggy bread you remember from elementary school lunch. I used to hate them, now they’re my preferred method for using all the “extra” food I have in the house, or when I want something filling and nutritious with zero effort. See also: Dagwood. I’ll take the Alton Brown category approach:

    Encasing device (bread, wrap, crackers, bagel, rice cakes, KrispyKremes, etc.)
    Condiment for flavor and wetness (mayo, mustard, sriracha, Frank’s, guacamole, salsa, greek yogurt, jam or marmalade, cream cheese, pasta sauce, any combo of the above)
    Main Soft Component, generally protein, up to three (lunch meat, cheese, beans, nut butters, nutella (yes, it’s a main and not a condiment, no judging), eggs (hard boiled, fried, or scrambled), chicken breast, fish fillet, shrimp, you get the idea)
    Crunchy supporting actors, generally vegetation based, as many as you can fit (lettuce tomato onion, sprouts, potato chips, apples, asparagus, corn, Funyuns, pickles/pickled veggies, broccoli, carrots, peppers (hot or not), pears, sliced grapes, etc)

    Slap that thing together. Feeling fancy? Throw it in the toaster oven for a few minutes, or use you trusty George Foreman as an impromptu panini press. Or two frying pans. Or heck, ONE frying pan. On the stove. With heat, generally. Don’t have some component? Deconstruct what you DO have on a plate (ala Ariel’s example) and eat, preferably with tea, preferably with nicknames like Ms. Mumsy and Sir Pennington-Livingston-Wellington-Pouffs.

  7. Kickin’ it old school with ants on a log… minus the ants. I always keep peanut butter in stock because it’s a) yummy b) contains decent protein c) doesn’t spoil quickly d) requires no cooking. It goes well with celery, apples, crackers, toast… or just scooped straight out the jar.

    Another easy and healthy one I like is hummus with veggies. My favorite is black bean hummus followed by spicy red pepper. Just whip it out and dip away. Blamo!

    • What is ants on a log?
      Is this some American childhood thing that never made it to England?

    • Pretty much the only “cooking” that my husband asks me to do are apples covered in peanut butter. It’s like a gluten-free pbj!

      • I saw an “apple dip” somewhere that mixed peanut butter, greek yogurt, and honey together. Not sure if those things are gluten-free, but that combo is delicious!

    • I sub in chopped dates for the raisins on some of my logs and save them for desert. I also like to have some carrot sticks or bell pepper strips on the side if I’ve got time.

  8. I just made a simple salad yesterday that was so pretty I posted it on Facebook. Lettuce, mini bell peppers, grape tomatoes, avocado & a can of tuna, topped with (Newman’s Own) sesame ginger dressing. Veggies, protein, fiber, and it’s hard to mess up the presentation. I only sliced the peppers and of course the avocado, and opened the tuna. So colorful! I’ve also been known to just eat the avocado with the sesame ginger dressing.

  9. Scrambled eggs, greens (kale/bok choi/etc.) wilted with soy sauce, toast – BAM, you got a meal goin’.

  10. Yes yes yes yes to this post! I was thinking of writing up and submitting something similar and you beat me to it. I call my style of eating “picnic” as in I usually grab foods that are ready to eat with minimal prep and toss them on a plate or in a lunch bag.

    I stand in the produce section of my grocery store and challenge myself to take home as much as I can possibly think I can eat in a week. Most days my meals consist of raw veggies often with hummus, whole fruit maybe with peanut butter, nuts, granola, yogurt, and if I’m feeling really fancy I might roll some veggies and cheese up in a tortilla (avocado, spinach, cukes, tomato, and mushrooms with pepper jack = AMAZING).

    When I do manage to turn on an appliance, it’ll be for frying an egg, baking a potato, or boiling water for quinoa or rice. Or chocolate chip cookies. 🙂

  11. My daily breakfast fix takes 1 minute, Instant banana bread oatmeal:
    microwave quick oats w/ a little water for 1 minute
    while oats cook, cut up and smash 1 banana
    mix together with cinnamon, dash of vanilla and a little milk
    no need for sugar, the banana gives you all the sweetness you need.
    sometimes I use unsweetened applesauce and a dash of agave instead of the banana

    Lunch: deviled egg Sammy and arugula salad
    hard boiled egg, smashed with 1 teaspoon of mayo, 1 teaspoon of brown mustard, dash of paprika
    spread on toasted wheat bread
    prewashed arugula, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, mix (also great with fresh baby kale in place of arugula)

    Dinner: grocery store rotisserie chicken is your new best friend! You can use it to make tacos/burritos with no actual cooking at all, or throw some in a pot of chicken stock with a few frozen veggies. Also excellent with just a quick veggie side.

    • Making a roasted chicken from scratch isn’t actually that hard and can last several meals. If you cook it on a day when you can wait for it (that’s most of the effort), then you can cook the chicken and a couple types of vegetables for several meals. Just dress the chicken and some root vegetables like carrots or parsnips or rutabegga with salt and pepper and a little olive oil, pop them all into a roasting dish together on 425 for 1 1/2 hours. Simultaneously, potatoes or sweet potatoes that have been generously poked with a form can be cooked in the over for the same amount of time on the same temperature.

      Dinner #1 is the chicken and diced vegetables with some butter, salt, and pepper on the potatoes or sweet potatoes. Dinner #2 is hash made from the leftovers. Dinner #3 is fancy hot sandwiches with chicken and a side of the roasted diced root veggies. Dinner #4 is chicken soup with the chicken, vegetables, and potatoes chopped up and in low sodium broth, parsley, greens, and garlic. Dinner #5 is stuffed baked potatoes with stir fried greens, garlic, and chickpeas with optional chiles if you like it hot.
      If you roast the chicken and vegetables on Sunday, you won’t have to cook for more than a few minutes until Friday.

      • I suggested the rotisserie for ppl that are looking for more arranging and less cooking, but I love me a roasted chicken. We cook a large chicken once a week for dinner. Then I pull the leftover meat to make him chicken salad, and we use the carcass to make chicken stock. (we use a lot of chicken stock in this house)

  12. When I’m lazy, I get out a medium pan, put the burner on medium heat, and start picking out cans. Canned tomatoes, canned black beans, canned corn (and maybe a little green chiles) stirred together with salt and cumin (or, hell, use a taco seasoning packet) is my default combo. Heat until desired temp & eat with tortilla chips. Or, if you’ve got a rice cooker, put that shit on rice.

    but seriously:
    1. get pot on a medium heat burner
    2. open cans, put contents in pot (use judgement on whether or not to strain can-juice)
    3. get silly with spices
    4. stir (or don’t) until you’re ready to put food in your face
    5. put food in your face

  13. I have always enjoyed cooking but my favorite go to meal in the summer when I don’t want to heat anything up is:

    French Bread (sometimes a multigrain if I wanted to be “healthy”)
    Marinated Mozzarella
    Fresh Tomatoes
    Small salad

    I also used to love cottage cheese either with pineapple or tomatoes depending on if I was feeling sweet or savory at the moment. And if there were triscuits in the house then it was all the better.

    This unfortunately had to change recently as I can’t eat dairy or wheat anymore. So now it is a large salad with whatever veggies I happen to have around and usually half a can of tuna or salmon thrown on top.


    It’s Magical.
    Put Dumplings/Frozen Veggies/Whatever in Steamer. Ignore for 15 minutes while you tidy-attack something. Unstack onto Plates on Table.
    The bamboo makes it pretty and your peoples will have fun picking stuff out of the baskets.

  15. Eggy spaghetti (serves 2)

    Cook 1/2 box spaghetti
    Put back in pot
    Crack 3 eggs into pan
    Stir through until egg is cooked.

    Invite 25 of your friends round for dinner because I can never estimate the right amount of spaghetti.

  16. Baked potatoes (regular or sweet) are totally my go to also.

    Top with black beans, whatever veggies are around, cheese if I have it, and salsa: taco potatoes!
    Top with grated carrots, green onions, cilantro, and peanut sauce (okay, I do make the sauce, but it’s just stirring, and I’m sure you could buy it in a jar too): Thai potatoes!
    Top with cut up sausage, spinach (from a bag in the freezer), and tomato sauce: Italian potatoes!
    Top with spinach, nuts, and goat cheese: fancy potatoes!
    Etcetera, etcetera.

  17. Offbeat home – this is it. This is the moment I lay down my ‘You killed Offbeat Families!’ pissy feelings and succumb. Knew it would happen eventually.

  18. I love cooking, but I love arranging food even more.

    Boil a box of store-bought chicken broth in a saucepan. + sliced onion or garlic, +tortellini from the store + several handfuls of spinach. Boil 10 minutes. Bam. Soup. for bonus points, top with cheese. You can also open a can of tomatoes and dump it in there.

    Open can of beans. Pour into bowl. Top with salsa, cheese, any leftover cooked veggies or frozen veggies. Microwave. Eat.

    Put bagged salad greens on a plate. microwave some asparagus. put it on top. Sprinkle with lemon juice and olive oil. Add a soft-boiled egg* on top. Eat with toast. (make like a hardboiled egg, but only cook 4-5 minutes.)

    Also, soft-boiled eggs on Wasa crackers is my go-to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  19. I love platters. Usually mine has fruit and veg, cheese, carb, protein. Such as strawberries and grapes, broccoli, 3 kinds of cheese, crackers, hummus and/or peanut butter and/or nuts. I put it on nice pottery, and then I just graze!

    Also sometimes I just pretend I am hiking and eat summer sausage chunks, cheese, trail mix, etc.

    • “Platter” is such a brilliant fancy term for this! My mum always called this “things on a plate”. 🙂

  20. Also! Not arranging but I have a 5-ingredient smoothie ~ dollop of plain Greek yogurt, some unsweetened vanilla almond milk, splash of OJ, 1 banana and a shit ton of baby spinach. Press button. I have been having this every single day for lunch for months now. It’s great because you can really put a ridiculous amount of spinach in and still taste good (I would never eat enough veggies if I didn’t do this daily). Plus it is very well-rounded and pretty low in sugar, unlike most smoothies.

    For BONUS easiness: a $15 Hamilton Beach blender that is a single serve, to-go sippy cup. This was a Christmas present that changed my life!!

    • I have a similar blender as you! The one with the sippy cups! It’s definitely changed my life for the better.

      I’ve been on a smoothie kick for breakfast lately. My favorite smoothie is chocolate almond milk, 1/2 a frozen banana (peel bananas, place in ziplock bag overnight), frozen strawberries and hemp seed. Tastes like chocolate covered strawberries. <3

      Or my other favorite is vanilla almond milk, 1/2 a frozen banana, handful of frozen peaches and hemp seeds (so I can get my omega 3's in). All the noms.

      • I make almost those exact same smoothies, they rock! I love frozen blueberries in mine. Peaches sound interesting, might have to try that. Instead of almond milk and hemp seeds you could just use hemp milk. Add a bit of cocoa powder if you want it chocolatey (I always do this, it’s the best!)

  21. These began when my daughter hit 6/7 months and we started baby-led-weaning (i.e. – started solids but she feeds her self – no purees here). Favourites are:

    Edamame. Any way you like it. Costco stocks it in Aus and it was the first and only place we’ve found it frozen, so we binged for a few months. Currently on a hiatus til we can love it again. Still, that stuff rocks and makes one easy meal paired with pan fried frozen shelled prawns (comes in under the time limit!) + a good mayo. DELISH.

    Brie/camembert + apple slices. This was my lunch today. Who needs crackers when you have perfectly good apple slices anyway?! I’m coeliac and GF crackers are damn expensive. Apple is delicious and feels healthy, cheese is delicious and is filling, WIN!

    Floor picnic. Chop whatever you have in the fridge/pantry that takes your fancy. Fruit, berries, veges, cheeses, cold meats etc, serve with lettuce leaves for wrapping up assortments, dips for dipping, bread with oil and dukka if you’ve got it (that stuff is YUM). Sit on the floor and have at it. Kids LOVE this, and eat more with all the assortment and plate sharing.
    Hot tips – fresh figs are super yum with a crumbly vintage cheese. Strawberry, avo and marinated feta are delish wrapped in lettuce together. Mini mozzarella balls (called bocconcini in Aus, never saw them when I was in the US and I SEARCHED because I was missing them!) make anything better and are also amazing on pizza. They’d even spruce up a frozen pizza. *cough*

  22. This goes well for entertaining too; This is my summer lunch for 6 people:
    Two baguettes, sliced
    1/2 pound each ham, hard salami, provolone
    Two sliced tomatoes
    a pile of basil leaves
    some fresh mozzarella in olive oil from the deli counter
    a jar of pitted kalamatta olives and/or roasted red peppers
    a bowl of strawberries/peaches/grapes/apples

    I can’t wait for summer.

  23. I have 3 kids under 3, a full time job and a husband who works nights. I love to cook big elaborate dinners but have totally embraced the arranged dinner.

    At our house we pretty much on the regular eat what I call the “garbage plate”. I put a big platter of slices of baguette or Italian bread (I work across the street from a bakery), scoops of hummus or other bean spread, slices of cheddar or goat chez, sliced veggies (what ever I have in the fridge), sliced apples or pears, what ever other fruit happens to be in season. Maybe some olives or roasted red peppers if I’m wearing my fancy pants. The husband can grab a handful before he runs out the door. The kids and I can eat leisurely with dirtying minimal dishes. It’s well balanced, healthy and cheap.

  24. -Use dehydrated onion for easy, no-chop tuna salad. Just tuna, mayo & onion. You could throw in whatever spices float your boat…same would work with chicken too. Anyhoo, pair the tuna salad with ripe tomatoes and crackers. This was many a childhood summer dinner.
    -Chips (not a whole food, I know), salsa, and cheese…warm until the cheese melts…nachos!
    -Potatoes in all their forms. Baby, sweet, mashed, all good. Yesterday’s lunch was some sliced roasted potatoes leftover from the night’s before dinner, sauteed with chopped red onion, topped with cheese. (And okay, ketchup.) And I’ll do mashed potatoes (there are actually some good quality instant, if you know what to look for) with soft cheese (like those little laughing cow wedges) mixed in, then some grated cheese on top.
    -Don’t neglect salad if you don’t like greens. I’m not able to do frequent shopping, so I don’t often have lettuce. But I will mix together chopped tomato, shredded carrot, whatever veggies I have, throw a little shredded cheese (I like cheese, ok?) and some salad dressing on top. Maybe some bacon bits, if that’s your thing. Sometimes I’ll eat it by itself, out of the bowl with crackers, or throw it onto a wrap/roll/some bread.
    -Buttered noodles…egg noodles (or whatever pasta you have), butter, salt, lots of pepper.
    -Toasted cheese, aka the lazy grilled cheese…throw cheese on bread. Put on cookie sheet. Put in oven until the cheese is melted, and as bubbly and brown as you like!

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