Read time: 6 minutes
- Cooking can be an intimidating skill to learn, but there are a few basic tips for beginner cooks that anyone can master.
- From the art of meal prepping to kitchen hacks that maximize the shelf life of your produce, cooking is all about using your time wisely so you can make the most of your meals.
- Remember: Your One Drop coach is always there to guide you when you get confused or overwhelmed in the kitchen.
Cooking is one of those skills that doesn’t always come naturally. Some people find their flow in the kitchen with the first chop of a fresh veggie; others feel lost trying to prepare anything without a microwave. Regardless of where you land on that spectrum, there are a few cooking basics and kitchen hacks that just about anyone can master.
Make no mistake: You don’t have to be a Michelin-starred chef to work your way around the kitchen. Generally speaking, the name of the game is to minimize the amount of time you spend cooking so you can maximize the time you spend enjoying your food and the rest of your day.
At the same time, though, don’t forget about the joys that can come with cooking. Preparing your own food can not only help you manage your intake of sodium, sugar, fat, fiber, and other nutrients that factor into your chronic condition self-care, but research shows that spending time in the kitchen is also associated with improved self-esteem and overall mental health.
Ready to try your hand in the kitchen? Use the below tips to help you get started.
Tips for Beginner Cooks: Make Meal Prepping a Regular Habit
If you’re new to the world of cooking, the mere concept of meal prepping, let alone the habitual act of it, might seem intimidating. How are you supposed to plan out multiple meals per day, every day, days in advance?
Yes, it might be challenging at first to get into the rhythm of meal prepping—from figuring out which days you’ll hit the grocery store to blocking out time for prepping and cooking—but once you do, you’ll see that the habit actually tends to make your life easier. Meal prepping gives you more control over your meals and helps you know what to expect from your food, including how it affects your energy, your digestion, and even your blood sugar, says Lorraine Chu, a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES).
Beginner cooks can benefit from planning ahead in more ways than one. “Meal prepping can also help prevent burnout since it takes the guesswork out of what you’ll be eating,” adds Chu.
“Start small,” suggests Michelle Routhenstein, RDN, CDCES. “Choose one or two types of foods or recipes to start, and once you get the hang of those, you can add more.” You’ll quickly go from being a beginner cook to feeling more confident in the kitchen with a couple of go-to recipes established.
One Drop coach, Jackie, RDN, CDCES, recommends starting with one-pot and sheet-pan recipes (think: a pot of soup or stew, or a pan of roasted veggies with chicken or fish), which tend to use only a few simple ingredients and can make cleanup much easier. If you’re a little lost when it comes to seasoning, try using no-salt-added spice mixes for a quick fix, she adds, noting that you can add a touch of salt at the end of cooking if you still want to enhance the flavor while staying mindful of your sodium intake. Over time, she explains, you’ll learn which spices and herbs pair well together and start to improvise your own combinations.
“You can also start with a snack option,” adds Routhenstein. “Try chopping up a few bell peppers that you can pair with nuts or hummus, and use that for a quick grab-and-go snack for the week. We may call it ‘meal prep,’ but snack prep is just as important in setting yourself up for success!”
Once you know which foods you’ll make for the week, carve out time for both grocery shopping and preparing these meals. Maybe you’ll get it all done on a free Saturday afternoon; perhaps you’ll split up the tasks over the course of the weekend and the first half of the week. Whatever strategy you choose, do what makes the most sense for your schedule—even if that schedule changes week to week.
“It can help to think about which ingredients might spoil the fastest and have that meal early in the week,” recommends Cassie Madsen, RDN. “For example, if you have fish or seafood, that might be first up on your menu. Alternatively, you could freeze some of the ingredients that might not hold out, and pull them out of the freezer the night before you cook that meal.”
And remember: Meal prepping may be a great habit to adopt, but that doesn’t mean every single food or meal you eat has to be homemade. “We often think we have to go 100% when we’re trying a new habit like meal prepping, but that can deter your efforts in making it work for you,” explains Routhenstein. Carve out a realistic amount of time in your schedule for shopping and cooking, and when you don’t have time, use these blood sugar-friendly tips for ordering takeout.
Prep Your Produce ASAP After Grocery Shopping
One of the most frustrating challenges of eating healthy and cooking for yourself is making the most out of fresh produce. You’ve been there before: You buy a batch of fresh fruits or veggies with the intention of snacking on them throughout the week, only to forget about them as soon as you’ve unpacked your groceries, and then eventually rediscover them rotting in the back of your fridge a few days later.
Instead of falling into that cycle again and again, try prepping fresh produce as soon as you’re done grocery shopping and storing them in ways that will maximize their shelf life, suggests Chu. For example, to keep a cut-open avocado from turning brown, leave the pit and skin intact as much as possible, sprinkle the avocado with lemon or lime juice or white vinegar, and store it in an airtight container in the fridge.
“Pre-chopping veggies and slicing fruit can take the burden off of your future self, who may be too tired after a long day,” explains Chu. By having these healthy ingredients and snacks ready to go at any time, you’re that much more likely to reach for them.
Cook Once, Eat Twice
In other words, try to stick to recipes with overlapping ingredients, suggests Chu.
For instance, let’s say you find a taco bowl recipe that calls for grilled chicken. Think about other relatively simple recipes that could use grilled chicken, too, like a salad, wrap, or even a pasta dish. Bell peppers are another versatile ingredient; stuff them with lean meat, rice, and low-fat cheese for one meal, then toss them into a stir fry recipe for another dish later that week.
“Try cooking more for dinner with the intention of saving leftovers for lunch the next day,” adds Chu. “You can also cook meals in large batches and freeze them into individual portions for when life gets busy. These ideas all keep time spent in the kitchen to a minimum and keep us from burning out on our health goals.”
If you need help building your confidence in the kitchen, or you’re on the lookout for more cooking tips, tricks, and meal plans, One Drop coaches have access to over 200 recipes vetted by our dietitians. Reach out to your coach today for a taste of what we have to offer.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Lisa Graham, RN, BSN, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop.