4 Basic Cooking Skills That'll Help You Thrive in the Kitchen After College

When you walk across that stage and get your diploma, you’ve taken the first step to becoming a full-fledged adult. There are so many things that come with being truly on your own for the first time like taxes, bills and working regular hours. But it seems like cooking is one tiny detail that people don’t really talk about enough.

Although it isn’t a hot topic immediately, the necessity to cook for yourself and make sure you’re eating right for your lifestyle kicks into gear the moment you’re officially on your own. This means you need to know how to prepare some go-to meals, and how to cook them well (otherwise you won’t eat them, let’s be honest). You also need to learn tricks to make your life easier, like dicing an onion without crying and maybe even how to deseed a pomegranate, if that’s your thing.

Everyone could use some help getting started (or getting back on track), and with these totally doable pieces of advice you’re sure to own the kitchen.

1. Know how to use these basic kitchen tools

You typically don’t have the money to buy a bunch of new kitchen tools right after graduation, but it’s super important to invest in at least a few. If you don’t have the necessary supplies to make your meals, you might just go back to eating cereal every night.

It’s most helpful to own a whisk, a sturdy spatula and a good knife! And, if you’re going to be cutting veggies, make sure you have a cutting board. Additionally, a seasoned chef may be able to get away without measuring spoons and cups, but for all you newbies, don’t forget to have both.

If you’re busy and short on time, or just want to spend less time cooking, get a crock pot or rice cooker. You can make just about anything in one of those, and you won’t have to spend three hours standing over a hot stove to do it. Some crockpot recipes allow you to cook enough for a week’s worth of food.

Another way to save some time is to think about utilizing a food subscription service. While it isn’t the traditional way to gather your ingredients, it allows you to follow a recipe and learn it. It also lessens the chance of you forgetting an ingredient (or four). There are many to choose from, but two that seem to be popular right now are HelloFresh and Blue Apron.

2. Know how to make at least three meals

It may seem a little intimidating to know how to make three meals, but I promise it’s not. Break it down as having one dish for each meal. While you can eat cereal for breakfast, it’s not as satisfying as cooking up some pancakes or your (soon to be) world famous waffles. Simple meals can include stir fry, spaghetti, sloppy joes, tacos and casseroles.

Some people have what they call a signature dish. You don’t have to, though. I don’t think it’s so important to have a “signature” dish, but it is important to have at least a few recipes that are your go-to. These are recipes that are easy to memorize, always satisfying and have common ingredients.

Having a go-to meal doesn't just make your life easier. You're now able to host a dinner party and actually know what you're doing. Invite your friends over and make your new favorite pasta dish; considering you're all in the same boat right now, they're bound to be impressed that you actually cooked instead of ordering take-out. 

And, if you don't know how already, learn how to boil water so that you can prepare rice and pasta. Or make sure you know how to work your instant pot so that you can cook them that way. Jill Nussinow, MS, RDN and "The Veggie Queen," actually recommends using an instant pot. "You can cook rice, beans and other basics, as well as vegetables easily and quickly," she says. This makes learning those basic, go-to meals super simple! 

Related: 7 Healthy Meals That Have 5 Steps or Fewer

3. Grab a cookbook or download a recipe app

Not everyone considers a cookbook a handy kitchen tool, but it’s such an important thing to have around when you’re starting out. You don’t even need a super expensive or fancy cookbook to make delicious meals for your friends and family; you may not even need a cookbook at all! Tasty and blogs such as Budget Bytes are super helpful for new cooks, and even a quick look through Instagram can give you the inspo you need for your next meal.

If you are looking for a physical cookbook though, Samantha Kari, a 2016 graduate of Siena College, recommends the BrokeAss Gourmet Cookbook by Gabi Moskowitz. The cookbook itself is a super helpful way to eat for less, as each recipe in the book is under $20 – which, yes, is still a little expensive, but think of it as gourmet on a budget. Samantha notes that her favorite recipes in the book include a pumpkin macaroni and cheese and brown sugar siracha wings.

 “They’re not difficult to make,” Samantha says. “they make enough for multiple meals, and they taste good, so I haven’t strayed.” 

4. Be open to getting creative

While it would be ideal to have fresh ingredients all the time, part of cooking is knowing how to make meals with whatever you have around – even those leftovers you may really want to throw away.

If I’m having tacos one night and nachos the next for dinner at my house, I try to convince my parents to go ahead and cook all the chicken/beef and then store half of it in the fridge. I can use half of the meat for the first meal, then the other half for the second. There are also so many casserole dishes you can make with several meals, but especially leftover pasta.

Another good rule of thumb according to Antoinette Luna, a current student at the University of Puerto Rico on the Rio Piedras Campus, is to add salt, pepper and a squirt of lemon juice to any dish if you’re stuck on how to flavor it. “It’s sure to elevate any plate,” she explains.

Overall, cooking doesn’t have to be difficult. Why should something you’re going to have to do for the rest of your life in order to survive cause you stress and panic? It shouldn’t. Hopefully, these tips helped and, if you need more, don’t be afraid to hit up foodie accounts on Instagram. Lots of people on the web have your back.

Follow Katie on Instagram and Twitter.