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How to Start Cooking If You Have No Idea How

Getting tired of living off ramen noodles, fast food and coffee? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Cooking for yourself can seem like a daunting task at first, especially if you have no previous experience in the kitchen, but it doesn’t have to be like this. If you break it down into easy, manageable steps like these, you’ll soon be able to prepare meals that look like they could win you a trophy on MasterChef. 

Stop saying, “I can’t”

All too often, you hear people say that they can’t cook, and that simply isn’t true. In the words of Ratatouille’s Chef Gusteau, “anyone can cook.” Once you acknowledge your own capabilities and allow yourself to step out of your comfort zone, you’ll be amazed what you can accomplish. It can be difficult, but the work is worth the reward. We’ve all been there – constantly readjusting the heat on the stove because you’re terrified of burning something, listening for the smoke alarm when you know you’ve got something in the oven – but every time (okay, most of the time) it turns out just fine. Trying new things, whether in cooking or in life, can be scary, but you shouldn’t let that stop you. Remember, if you think you can, then you can. If you think you can’t – then you’re right.

Make a food budget

Before you begin buying food, sit down and plan out your food budget. Then, prepare a list of key food items that you plan to purchase regularly. Knowing what you can afford each week will not only help you plan meals, it will also help you save time and money. If you stick to a grocery list, rather than perusing each and every aisle, you’ll be able to navigate the grocery store quickly and efficiently, greatly reducing your chances of purchasing *impulse items*.

Start simple

One of the most important things to remember is to start small. If you’ve never set foot in the kitchen before and decide that you’re going to attempt to prepare Consommé, a dish that even some of the most experienced chefs have yet to master, chances are it’s not going to be a success. However, if you start with simple dishes, such as chicken with roasted veggies or spaghetti, you’re much more likely to be successful, and will easily be able to begin building your skills (and confidence!) in the kitchen. Often, it is best to start with three to five simple dishes and learn to master those before you move on to anything more difficult. An important rule learned from an old roommate is that you must prepare a dish well at least four times before you can truly say that you’ve “mastered” it. As you master your first few meals and move on to others, you’ll find that you’ll be able to prepare more complex dishes with ease by simply building on what you learned when you first started this process.

Consider your lifestyle and dietary needs

If you’re having trouble deciding what dishes to begin with, consider your lifestyle. Do you eat most of your meals at home or on-the-go? If you often find yourself rushing to and from classes, work, sorority or club meetings, and other events, it’d be best to make meals that can be transported easily and won’t spoil. Also, consider when you’re most busy during the day. For example, if you have early classes several days a week, consider making breakfasts that can be prepped the night before, so that you can just grab it on your way out the door the next morning. 

Related: 6 Tips To Make College Cooking Easier

The next thing you need to consider is your dietary needs. Are you trying to focus on consuming more fruits and vegetables? Are there certain foods and spices that you like or don’t like? Do you have any food allergies or intolerances that’ll limit your dietary choices? These are important questions to answer when deciding what to cook. It’s always great to know how to properly cook seafood, but if you don’t enjoy it, there’s no reason to waste your time and money learning to cook something you’ll never eat. Research different kinds of lifestyles and dietary choices, taking the time to figure out which one is best for you and your health. While it may take a while to find something that sticks and your body’s needs may change over time, that’s ok! If nothing else, it’s a new opportunity for you to step out of your comfort zone and learn to prepare new meals.

The most important thing to do when learning to cook is to remember to have fun. This activity should be one that relaxes you and brings you confidence and joy in your newfound skills. Good luck, collegiettes!

Audrey is a senior studying agricultural sciences at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. After graduating, she plans to get a teaching credential and master's in Agricultural Education, and pursue a career as an agricultural science teacher and FFA advisor. Outside of school, she works as a teaching assistant at a local high school. In her free time, she can be found square dancing, rocking out to Taylor Swift, or whipping up tasty treats and (attempting) to take a decent photo of them for Instagram. Facebook: Audrey Lent Twitter: @TheAudreyLent Instagram: @Audrey_Lent
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