Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ask the RD: How To Start Cooking...When You Don't Know How

Hi friends!  So, I thought this would be a popular topic for the blog.  One of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy diet is to prepare your own meals at home - sounds pretty simple right?  Unfortunately, it's not always that easy.  If you see an RD, they'll tell you to incorporate whole grains, lean proteins, lots of veggies, fruit and healthy fat.  I tell my clients how many servings they need and give them easy recipe ideas.  However, if you barely know how to pickup a knife, you might go home wondering how in the world you're going to do this - soon you'll be cooking chicken, eating steamed frozen veggies and brown rice and thinking that following a healthy diet is impossible and wonder how in the world you are going to eat this way forever.  

Unless you were fortunate enough to have a mother that forced you to learn how to cook, you might finish high school with no idea how to.  For me, when I went to college I knew how to bake cookies and that was about it.  I had dabbled in other kinds of things -  I took a food science class in high school that slightly broadened my skills, but not quite.  I ate a lot of frozen meals (blech!) and prepacked snacks with sides of fruits and veggies.  I lived in a dorm my freshman year, then a sorority house and it was awhile before I needed to cook meals on my own.  At that time, I stuck to the basics.  I never looked up recipes online and I never broadened my skills.  Eventually, I fell in love with cooking and now I even have a blog about it!  You can learn how too cook - want to know why? I'm going to teach you.

First things first, tools for the kitchen.  You'll need these for success and you'll need to know how to use them.

Tools Required:

  • An absolute must have!!!  Also, super inexpensive, my favorite spatulas come from the $1 bin at Target.
Dry Measuring Cups
  • Your new best friend.  Use them to portion out fruits and veggies!  Also, use them for recipes that use flour.  When you use these, make sure you use a spoon and scoop flour/sugar/protein powder into the cup and then level off the top with the back of a knife. 
Liquid Measuring Cups
  • Pour in your ingredient and read the line at eye level, not sitting on the counter.
Tablespoon/Teaspoon Measuring Set
  • I use these for pretty much everything - once again, make sure you level off the top with the back of a knife. 
Good Quality Knife & Cutting Board
  • You want it to be sharp enough to go through whatever your cutting without having to apply a lot of pressure. This makes it safer to use in the kitchen - the more pressure your putting on the knife the more pressure that's going to hit your finger if whatever your using slips!  The cutting board means you don't have to worry about messing up any of your plates :)
Baking Sheet
  • I always line mine with parchment paper or aluminum foil for easy clean up. 
Small Pan
  • Use a non-stick pan or spray with cooking spray.  You can find these for under $15 at Bed, Bath & Beyond.  This pan is your best friend for eggs, toasted sandwiches, making meats, crisping tofu, sauteing vegetables etc. 
Microwave Safe Bowl & Plate
  • A must for any kind of cooking you're doing that requires the microwave!

Secondly, you'll need to learn a couple of additional things.  One is to get familiar your kitchen appliances.  Make sure you know how to turn your oven on - anytime that you use it for a recipe, you'll want to let it pre-heat to the desired temperature before you start sticking stuff into it.  Learn if your oven has a timer and how to use it - if the oven doesn't, your microwave probably does.  The timer is so important because it's going to keep you from burning the things you make.

Consider adding a couple of other user friendly appliances to your kitchen - a high speed blender (it doesn't have to be expensive, just look for one with good reviews), a mini food processor and a rice cooker are all good starting points.

 Now that you've got your tools and appliances.... let's get cooking.

Step 1
Make a list of everything that you can cook. 
  • Sample list: scrambled eggs, peanut butter & jelly sandwich, grilled cheese, baked potatoes, boxed macaroni and cheese (think Kraft), pasta
Step 1a: I don't know how to cook ANYTHING
  • Think of some simple things you would like to learn how to cook (see above for ideas) and make a list of those - google the internet to find basic tutorials
  • After you've accomplished those steps, move back up to step 1 and continue through the list
Step 2
Think about things you could add to those foods to make easy variations.
  • Scrambled eggs: add spinach and cheese to the eggs prior to scrambling = egg scramble
  • PB&J: substitute banana for the jelly = PB & Banana
  • Grilled Cheese: use a different kind of cheese & add veggies = grilled veggie sandwich
  • Baked Potatoes: slice in half, scoop out the middles, add a few tablespoons of milk and cheese, restuff and baked for an additional 10 minutes = twice baked potatoes
  • Kraft Mac & Cheese: add edamame or broccoli = veggie mac & cheese
  • Pasta: buy frozen cheese ravioli and top with marinara sauce = ravioli with pasta sauce
Step 3
Think of similar foods that you could tackle and look for recipes and step-by-step tutorials of how to make them.
  • I can now make scrambled eggs and an egg scramble.. so let's learn omelets
  • I can now make PB&J and PB&B.... so let's try soaking my sandwich in an egg mixed with cinnamon, vanilla and milk to make.... stuffed french toast
  • I can now make grilled cheese and a grilled veggie sandwich.... so now let's put them on a grill pan or George Foreman and make... paninis
  • I can now make baked potatoes and twice baked potatoes... so now let's learn how to boil the potatoes and how to make mashed potatoes
  • I can now make boxed mac and cheese and add veggies too it... so why don't I find an easy recipe for homemade mac and cheese
  • I can now make pasta and ravioli with pasta sauce... so let's learn how to saute veggies so I can make pasta primavera 
There you have it~ you'll be on your way to cooking in no time!  

Did anyone teach you how to cook or did you teach yourself?