It's not for the faint of heart.
The answer is pretty straightforward. I cook at home, I eat at the homes of others, B"H for the growing kosher frozen foods market, and I take advantage of traveling! My cooking skills have improved exponentially despite my best efforts not to cook. Thankfully, even though I may not like cooking, apparently I'm not too bad at it. Even better, between 1/2 to 2/3 of the items in your local, run-of-the-mill grocery store are kosher. (Check with your rabbi as to which hechshers are recommended.) Yes, most of those are the name brands, and you will pay a little extra. (Going kosher is expensive. Didn't anyone tell you that?) If you have trouble getting anything, it will be kosher meats, cheeses, and wines. Nowadays, you can order all these items in bulk online. Several communities use services like the KC Kosher Coop to order in bulk as a community and have the items delivered every month or two.
Granted, it can be kinda boring to eat at home all the time. You will inevitably make the same 5-9 dishes. On the other hand, you'll be forced to be creative. Thanks to Leah Sarah, I now make awesome enchiladas! And to dispel any myths, I did not lose weight from not being able to eat out. Apparently you can get fat at home just as easily as in a restaurant :)
The worst? Figuring out you mistook something for a hechsher and the food you just went to the pantry for isn't actually kosher. (Especially when you're new, remember to double check!) Being aware of the mitzvah of not benefiting from mixtures of meat and milk, most nonkosher foods can be given away. Heaven knows my co-workers have inherited SO much food from me during the last year!
Here are some suggestions for your sanity (some of these are untested by me):
- Figure out if you can eat/drink something from somewhere. I spend a ridiculous amount of reward points at Starbucks. It's just nice to have someone make something for you. Don't underestimate that psychological benefit.
- Make friends with the good cooks in the community. If you're desperate, take whatever cooks you can get.
- Try gardening. You'll have more ownership over the meals you prepare.
- Claim you're going on a diet. Then you can justify a "raw foods diet" because you're too lazy to make anything but salads.
- Cook in large batches (only slightly harder than cooking an individual meal) and freeze the rest in meal-sized portions so that you can defrost enough for one meal at a time. This is ideal with enchiladas, soup, breakfast burritos, quiche, stew, lasagna, and most any other kind of food.
- If you're new to kashrut, consider having a meat-only or dairy-only kitchen for a while. I still have a mostly-dairy kitchen, and I added meat things as I decided I needed them. However, almost all of my meat supplies are still disposable. Hello, my name is Kochava, and I'm a fleishig phobe. (I hate being fleishig!)
- Host meals or dinner parties. This way, you feel less like a hermit among your nonobservant/non-Jewish friends, and you have an excuse to get creative and surprise yourself! If you're a conversion candidate, be very careful here.
- Don't feel tied to a cookbook if you don't like them. I bought 15 kosher cookbooks for a quarter each, and I've used them twice. A) There are incredible recipe resources online. (The Food Network website is my favorite!), B) You probably know cooks who can give you suggestions. (Hi, Dad!), and C) you might be able to create a dish all by yourself! It's really not that hard.
- Have a stash of ready-made frozen food and other ready-to-eat foods. You'll be less tempted to go for easy treif. Students, this goes triple for you.
- Deal with any eating-out-of-boredom issues. This is particularly a problem with students. I'm sure you could survive fine without dealing with this issue, but it will be easier if you can break the habit/compulsion.
- Take advantage of trips to larger Jewish communities. Pig out. You'll be glad you did.
- Remember to treat yourself with foods you love. Continue to eat Mexican food or whatever. And buy/make a special dessert every so often! Going kosher doesn't have to be as ugly as a crash diet.
- You don't have to have gefilte fish in your kitchen if you don't want it there. Insert whatever other stereotypically "Jewish" food you hate. Except matzah. I don't like matzah, yet there it is, staring at me from the cupboard. ::Shudder::
B'hatzlacha and bon appetite! Feel free to share your own suggestions/horror stories in the comments!