Cooking can save you money and help you and your family eat healthier, which will lower your risk of getting cancer. (It’s also really helpful when you’re trying to lose weight, which is why it’s a part of the New American Plate Challenge.)
However, if you don’t cook a lot, getting started in the kitchen can be daunting. I know when I started cooking, even basic meals seemed overwhelming. It might be that you don’t have a lot of time, the right tools in the kitchen, or you’ve just never really tried.
But cooking can be a lot of fun, and it doesn’t have to be challenging. Here are some tips to make it easier.
Get your kitchen essentials:
- 3 quart (or larger) sauce pan or stockpot
- 10-12 inch frying pan
- Large chopping knife
- Cutting board
- Glass or ceramic baking dish
- Spatula and wooden spoon
- Measuring cups
- Set of mixing bowls
Spice it up with herbs
Make sure to also stock up on a few basic herbs and spices – these can help flavor food without adding a lot of salt. I recommend a basic Italian herb mix or any other salt-free blends, like those by Mrs. Dash.
Get a cookbook
Once you have the kitchen basics, the next step is to find some simple, healthy recipes. A basic cookbook is a great place to start, like “Get Cooking” by Mollie Katzen. AICR’s Test Kitchen is also a great place to find recipes.
Save time with prepped ingredients
If the process of chopping and preparing foods is overwhelming and stops you from cooking, there are lots of ways to speed the process. Buy bags of pre-washed lettuce, already cleaned and chopped fresh vegetables, jarred minced garlic or frozen steamer bags of vegetables. You can also buy whole fresh vegetables and chop them up when you have time on the weekend so they are ready to go on a busy weeknight.
Have a friend or family help
Cooking is easier and more fun with company. Ask if a friend or family member will help you pick out a recipe that you can cook together. Don’t forget to get your kids involved too – they are more likely to enjoy healthy foods if they helped make the meal.
You can always try out more elaborate recipes as you get more comfortable in the kitchen, but start with recipes that are short and easy to follow. Start with something like baked chicken with steamed vegetables, and explore new recipes as you become comfortable. Follow the instructions and give yourself plenty of time. Take notes as you go and mark recipes you really like.
Cook in bulk
Make enough food for leftovers so you won’t have to cook the next night, or bring leftovers for an easy lunch the next day. You can also freeze individual portions of meals like casseroles, soups or lasagnas in Tupperware for future meals.
Make sure you have all the ingredients ahead of time. Plan out the meals you are going to make and bring a list to the grocery store. You can also make a large batch of a side like brown rice ahead of time to be used over several days with different meals.
Even though cooking may seem like an ordeal at first, following these tips can make it much easier. The first time I cooked, the salmon was a bit burnt on top and the green beans were done 15 minutes after the fish. Even though it wasn’t perfect, I learned how to change things the next time and most importantly, I enjoyed the meal I cooked myself.
How do you save time in the kitchen?
Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity. You can follow her on twitter @SonjaGoedkoopRD.