This week I’m talking about a #30before30 topic that I actually tackled pretty successfully in my twenties: learning to cook for yo’ damn self! Here’s the thing: cooking at home isn’t just healthier than eating out, it saves you a ton of money. (Essential if you’re trying to save toward a goal like buying a home.) It’s also a fun activity to share with a friend or a partner. Finally, it’s a way to get creative and break out of a rut at home—especially during the bleak winter months, when you’re on your 857th hour of Netflix and are dying for something new to do!
If your experience with home cooking mostly involves boiling water for boxed mac n cheese, then learning to cook recipes from scratch can be intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be! Here are some of my fave tips and resources for finally learning how to cook for yourself at home.
Take a class
There are cooking classes geared toward beginners, or toward folks who want to learn to cook in a particular niche (vegan, keto, etc.). This is also a great option if you’ve already mastered the basics, and want to learn something a little fancier. Another fun option is a meal kit, which includes all your ingredients and instructions, and makes it easy and fun to learn how to cook a new dish. I’ve had good luck with Hello Fresh, but there are literally dozens of options online, including veggie and family-friendly plans.
Learn from pros who fit your niche tastes
If you’re brand-new to cooking, grabbing a giant cookbook and flipping to a random page might not offer the guidance you need. If you’re into old-school cookbooks, look for ones that advertise “easy” recipes and have a “how-to” section that explains terminology. Online, I love popular sites like Tasty and BuzzFeed Food, which offer recipes for varying skill levels, dietary needs, and taste buds. Plus, they offer video tutorials—how easy (and fun) is that?
Treat yourself to some real cooking tools
You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. But based on my personal experience: get yourself a few nice pans and good knives. You can go cheap with your stirring spoons, or your cutting boards, or your mixing bowls (round plastic food storage containers work in a pinch). Don’t do it with pans and knives. Cheap ones make prep more difficult and that takes a lot of the fun out of learning to cook.
If you’ve already got the basics and are looking for a few upgrades, I highly recommend a slow cooker. If you eat meat, then it’s a wonderful way to easily cook tender chicken for tacos or make a large batch of mess-free meatballs. You can make large batches of soup, fill ‘er up with a hot drink recipe for a winter party, and prep all kinds of dinners to cook while you’re away at work.
A few other items to consider are a wok or electric skillet, a griddle, and a nice-ish blender (one that can double as a food processor).
Make sure your kitchen is stocked with the basics
A few things to always keep at hand: butter, milk (dairy or non), eggs (or egg substitute for vegans), cheese (if you eat it), olive oil, flour, sugar. Basic spices would include salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and chili powder, which you can find in the cheapie section of most grocery stores for about a dollar.
Keep dry goods like pasta noodles and rice on hand as meal bases or to add to soups. If you don’t eat meat, lentils, black beans, and tofu all offer inexpensive protein sources to add to endless dishes. Some versatile fruits and veggies to keep on hand include bananas, berries, avocado, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and onions.
Start with a few already-prepped ingredients
I know there are people out there whose idea of taco night involves homemade tortillas and salsa made fresh with ingredients grown in their own garden. And that’s awesome. But there’s no shame in using some pre-made options to save time and effort, especially when you’re just starting out. It’s going to make mealtime a lot less daunting if you don’t have to do everything from scratch.
So grab some pre-chopped veggies, jarred sauces, or other pre-packaged items to help put together your meal. Save your big from-scratch efforts for the main ingredients that just can’t be bought. Or, put together your main dish and add some store-bought sides (like homemade spaghetti with freezer garlic bread and a pre-packaged salad kit).
Finally, a few of my favorite items you can easily learn to cook at home
All of these are delicious, healthy-ish, fairly affordable, and pretty easy to make: eight-layer burritos, lasagna, paninis, stir-fried veggies, crockpot chili, homemade fries, and chocolate chip cookies. (Okay, maybe that last one isn’t healthy…but cookies are delicious!)