Get Comfy in the Kitchen!
Terry Passano RDN, LDN, CLT – University Dietitian
Cooking at home will save you money and provide nutritious meals when done right. You have total control over what goes on your plate and are not at the mercy of what eatery is open and what you can afford at the moment, which is often fast food. Here are some simple, essential tips toget you started.
- Learn a skill, not a recipe. Learn one or two cooking skills such as searing meat or making a stir fry. This way, you can make meals using what is available in your kitchen, without complicated recipes. You can easily substitute tofu for meat in these techniques.
- Keep flavorful staples on hand such as sriracha, fish sauce, your favorite herb and spice blends such as Herbs d Provence or an Italian Blend. Sprinkle these on your seared protein, stir fry, etc. Add flavors that you enjoy to bring inspiration to your cooking. Herbs and spices also provide nutrients that benefit your body. They are potent purveyors of antioxidants that help us fight invaders such as viruses and bacteria.
- Don't be afraid to build your pantry. You might come across a salad recipe that calls for olive oil, vinegar, oregano and lemon juice and balk at the cost of those items. But, once you've bought them, you will have them in your pantry for a long time.
- Cooking from a recipe is forgiving.You can add a smidge of this; omit a bit of that, substitute some plain Greek yogurt for sour cream, etc. You don't even need to follow a recipe for some dishes. Whole-wheat pizza crust + cheese + sauce or pesto + veggies at 400°F = pizza! However, baking is a fickle art; careful measurement and observation of the written recipe is critical.
- Pick a few relatively easy things to start. Some suggestions include:
- Eggs : hard-boiled, scrambled, fried, poached—eventually, you will graduate to omelets and frittatas
- Pasta : Whether it is buttered egg noodles ortraditional spaghetti with tomato sauce, pasta is a popular and cheap place to start your cooking adventure. Add lots of veggies and try whole grain or gluten-free versions.
- Pizza : As mentioned above, it is super simple and a real crowd pleaser!
- Rice : Rice is really easy for some people to cook and difficult for others. If you are in the latter bunch, invest in a rice cooker, which can cost as little as $15. After you master rice, you can graduate to other grains such as quinoa, couscous, bulgur wheat, orfreekeh!
- Salad : Step away from the iceberg lettuce, cucumber, and tomato. Add fruit, grains, lean protein (salmon, chicken, hard-boiled eggs, chickpeas, green peas, black beans), and a nice dressing. Use dark leafy greens, peppers, cherry tomatoes, olives, a little cheese or nuts—whatever floats your boat!
- Chicken tacos or quesadillas : They are easy; just cut the cooked chicken, season with taco seasoning, warm tortillas, and add your favorite toppings.
- Roasted vegetables: The main idea is not to attempt to roast soft vegetables, like mushrooms, and hardy vegetables, like carrots or sweet potatoes together, because the mushrooms will cook faster. A little olive oil, seasoned salt, and garlic are good with just about every vegetable. Add your favorite herbs to up flavor and nutritional punch.
- Learning to cook is easier when you are with other people. If you don't live with someone who shares your interest in cooking, invite a friend so you can learn together, pull up a YouTube video or team with someone who can show you what they know.
When in doubt, cook what you love