We all know that fast food isn’t good for you even though it tastes great, but did you know that even those fancy meals that you order at your favorite restaurants aren’t actually the healthiest either? Of course, they’re a better choice over fast food, but nothing really beats homemade cooking! Other kinds of meals and foods contain all sorts of additives and preservatives to make them taste better and last longer, but when you’re the one cooking your meals you can actually make sure that all of your ingredients are fresh, natural, and nutrient-rich! That’s one of the great benefits of cooking at home: Having more control over what you actually eat. Even the plainest and simplest meal at a restaurant may contain a lot more salt or butter than what you would use at home, so keep that in mind when you’re thinking about ordering some food next time.
Cooking at home isn’t only about eating healthy, but feeling healthy too! When you change up your routine from only eating takeout to cooking homemade meals, you actually feel the changes happening in your body. You feel lighter, more energized, and just better overall! But we know that cooking at home isn’t as easy as it sounds, so we’re here to help you get started with it little by little to help you build a healthy habit that you keep for the long run!
Tips to help you start cooking for yourself
You’ve probably given it a thought before but didn’t really know where to start, so you just didn’t. But don’t worry, here we have a few tips for you to get started with your home cooking successfully:
Figure out and address why you're not cooking
This is probably the first step that you need to take in order to build the habit of healthy cooking at home. Figuring out why you’re not cooking will help you get around that and really make the first step towards your goal! So… Is it because you don’t have time? Or because you haven’t learned how to cook? Maybe you’re afraid of messing it up, so you just resort to buying takeout or pre-cooked meals as a quick solution. But practice makes perfect! So if you never try it, you won’t get any better at it. There’s nothing more satisfying than cooking for yourself and actually enjoying what you just made, and you’re your best judge, so just pick a quick and simple recipe that you’re interested in and start with that! Make sure to follow the correct quantities and the timing to get the best result possible, and with time you’ll get more and more comfortable in the kitchen, allowing you to spice up the recipes with your own touch or cooking several things at once. And if the problem is that you don’t have enough time, then meal planning is probably what you need to get over that obstacle! So with that in mind...
Try meal planning and prepping
One of the hardest things to do after deciding to start cooking more at home is keeping up with it because it is a big change after all. Finding the time to actually cook three meals every day can be difficult, especially due to work and other responsibilities, but there’s a clever way around it! Instead of cooking all of your meals right before you eat them, try planning them ahead of time and prepping them in order to save you time! Take a specific day of the week, like Sunday for example, to write down which healthy meals you want to eat for the week. After you’ve done that, start with the meal prep! This could be chopping up your fruits and veggies, shredding your chicken, or making different sauces and dressings in order to store them in the fridge for later. Having a list of the meals that you’ll be eating and most of the prepping work already done will make cooking your own meals at home way more easy and enjoyable for you!
Start small and with familiar recipes
You’re not going to become a chef in a day, but you can work your way up! That’s the key when creating any habits. Start by cooking one or two good meals a week, maybe a family recipe that you’ve known for years, or that first healthy meal that you learned how to cook at the beginning of the pandemic. Get used to the ingredients, their taste, quantities, and varieties - and become familiar with seasonings and spices, they’ll be your best friends! Once you know how to make a handful of different meals, you can start learning new recipes, or creating your own plates with your newfound knowledge! If you go in and try to make 10 different recipes in a week, you’ll be left exhausted and cooking will feel more like a chore than anything else. So start small, work your way up, and enjoy the learning process!
Buy and cook new things
After you’ve gotten acquainted with your kitchen, your usual ingredients, and a few recipes, the next step is trying completely new things! Usually, when people start cooking for the first time, they don’t have many options since they’re only used to eating certain kinds of meals. But there’s so much more out there! You could start small, like choosing a different pasta variety than the one that you always buy, or go big, like buying meat that you’ve never tried before. Search for new recipes that you can cook with your new ingredients plus your regular ones, and soon you’ll have lots of new and delicious meal options for your whole week!
A big part of having a good and enjoyable cooking experience is having the kitchen tools necessary to do it. You probably already have most of the basic tools, like a spatula, a whisk, and a blender, but you’ll also want at least one good knife! It doesn’t have to be a chef’s knife, just a regular but sharpened knife that can help you chop your foods quicker and easier. A good pair of mittens and an apron is also good to have around so that you don’t burn your hands or stain your clothes while cooking, as well as a cutting board, a sheet pan, and a non-stick pan which is a lifesaver and can be used for so many things! If you’re serious about getting into home cooking and you’re planning to do it a few times a week, buying an instant-read food thermometer is a great idea in order to quickly check if your foods have cooked enough.
Don’t get into it thinking it should be 100% healthy
One of the main reasons why people struggle to cook their own food at home is that they think that it should be 100% healthy all the time, or else you’re doing it wrong. While yes, homemade always means healthier than store-bought, it doesn’t mean that you should just be eating steamed veggies for the rest of your life if you choose to cook at home! The reason why you should be cooking more for yourself is to avoid all the added sugars, artificial flavorings, unhealthy fats, and other additives that fast food and pre-cooked meals contain that are bad for your health. So just by cooking a simple meal without trying to make it extra healthy, you’re already doing a big favor to your body! With time, you’ll learn more recipes and you’ll be naturally inclined to cook healthier and more nutrient-rich meals, but for starters just cooking your favorite recipes is a great step to take in order to lead a better and healthier life.
Repurpose your leftovers
When you’re cooking big meals, sometimes you end up cooking more than what you need, but those leftovers can be a blessing! Using them to create completely different meals or to mix up other recipes that you already know how to make is a great way of changing things up a bit in order to avoid getting bored of what you always eat. This is what makes cooking fun, trying new things, and getting creative! So next time you’re left with some leftovers from your previous meal, instead of just making the same plate with it, think of all the different and new ways that you could use it to prepare your next healthy food!
Learn how to tackle your cravings at home
The weekend finally arrived and you’re really craving a cheeseburger? Resist the urge to pick up the phone to order it, and instead try to make your own! The best thing about it is that you can make it however you want, without all the additives and extra fats that a cheeseburger from the nearest drive-thru has. You can search up different recipes, and find the quickest and easiest one if you want to eat as soon as possible, or a more detailed and complex one if you really want the best homemade experience that you can get! A great tip is writing down or just saving your favorite recipes and ideas, so that next time you can just take a look at it and start cooking right away without the need to scroll for 15 minutes until you find the right recipe for you.
Sometimes we crave something more specific that we can’t make at home, like a decadent chocolate bar, and while there’s nothing wrong with indulging ourselves from time to time, learning how to make clever food swaps is a great idea to keep your meals healthy! For example, instead of just eating a whole chocolate bar, you could try cutting up some fruit and covering them with melted chocolate to tackle that craving. Or maybe don’t use chocolate at all, but some honey and cinnamon to change things up while still keeping it sweet!
Stock up on good ingredients
By good ingredients, we mean both healthy ingredients and ingredients that you know you’ll use! Having a bunch of bags and cans of foods that you don’t really enjoy cooking or eating isn’t really going to help you cook more, it’ll just make you feel like there’s so much but yet so little that you can do. Instead, make sure to stock up on ingredients that you know you’ll use, like fresh veggies and fruits, lean meats, and your favorite kinds of beans. Seeing your pantry and your fridge full of stuff that you actually like will make the process of cooking way easier for you, and you’ll enjoy it a lot more. If you’re meal planning, the trips to the grocery store will be a lot easier and quicker too, since you’ll already know which ingredients you’ll need for your meals. And if you’re not sure which ingredients you should have at home, we’ll help you out, so stick with us!
Best ingredients to have to create easy, delicious meals
Everyone has their own taste in food, and we all like different things, but there are a few foods and ingredients that are a must-have in your kitchen. You may not particularly enjoy some of these, but make sure to stock up on the ones that you do in order to be ready with the basics next time you’re cooking at home:
It’s cheap, easy to make, and there are so many recipes that you can cook with it! Rice is very versatile, you can cook it in a pot or use a rice maker, and just mix it up with different kinds of sauces, veggies, meats, soups… Whatever you’re in the mood for that day! Even plain rice with just some chopped green onions on top is delicious and you can pair it with almost anything.
Eggs are a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that your body needs. Plus, they’re delicious and very easy to make! They’re a healthy breakfast favorite because you can make them into omelets, scrambled, or sunny-side up, but you could also drop them on top of rice, soup, or even a salad and you’ve got yourself a nice lunch or dinner! Even a hard-boiled egg with just some salt and pepper on top makes for a delicious snack.
- Leafy greens
Having all kinds of veggies is important, but leafy greens like spinach and kale will improve almost any meal! They’re highly nutritious, and you can make green smoothies with them or just cook them the traditional way accompanied by other veggies or your meat of choice! You can also try them with rice or salad to change things up a bit.
Pasta is one of the quickest meals that you can cook, and there are so many varieties to choose from. You can buy regular pasta, ravioli, macaroni, and even healthier and more nutritious varieties like lentil and chickpea pasta that you can mix with marinara pasta sauce, garlic shrimp, creamy mushrooms, or maybe some pesto, your choice!
- Frozen fruits
While having fresh fruit is always great, you can’t expect them to last for a good while, so cut them up and freeze them or buy them already frozen! You can use your fresh fruits to eat a healthy fruit bowl with some oatmeal, or use the frozen fruit to blend it with some yogurt and create a delicious smoothie! Some great fruits to have in your fridge are berries (like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries), bananas, and kiwis.
Legumes are delicious and very rich in protein and fiber. You can buy them dried to make huge servings that can last you for a whole week, or canned for a more quick and fresher meal. You can stock up on black beans, chickpeas, lentils, green beans… You decide which ones, but having a variety of legumes and beans in your pantry will ensure that your meals are always flavorful!
- Greek yogurt
It’s packed with protein and other nutrients, doesn’t contain as many carbs and sugar as regular yogurt, and it’s fermented so it’s highly beneficial to your gut microbiome... Greek yogurt really is the whole package! And you can eat it alone, with nuts and seeds, with fruit, blended into a smoothie, or with oatmeal. So many options for any time of the day!
- Extra-virgin olive oil
This variety of olive oil is very rich in antioxidants, micronutrients, and it also has anti-inflammatory benefits thanks to the way that it’s processed, so it’s one of the best and healthiest oil choices for your kitchen! And it’s one of the tastiest too, so it goes well as a dressing on top of your salad, or you can use it to drizzle your sweet potatoes before putting them in the oven. Adding it to your pans when cooking will also ensure that your meals get that rich Mediterranean flavor!
So there you have it! As you can see by now, getting started with cooking and healthy eating at home is not as difficult as it may have sounded at first. The trick is starting slow, and working your way up by learning, practicing, and trying out new things! The more you learn about different foods and ingredients, the better you’ll get at cooking and you’ll start enjoying your time in the kitchen way more. So try these helpful tips in order to improve your cooking skills, and don’t forget to pay a visit to the grocery store to stock up on some of the basics!