Don’t get me wrong, I’m no culinary expert. I like to leave that title to my mom and my best friend, both of whom I hope will write guest articles on this site in the future. But I have learned a thing or two about cooking in the past few months as I’ve been living on my own. If you are not-a-cooking-expert like me, I’m sure you will find this advice helpful and insightful. Let’s get started!
Cooking doesn’t have to be hard.
The countertop is full of all kinds of ingredients and cups and spoons and bowls and you can feel your blood pressure rising as the roll dough does. Where should one begin when cooking? To answer this question, I would like to take you back to your high school science class. Remember when you learned to measure, add, and mix things to exact proportions? That is exactly where to start when learning to make meals. Surely if you’ve lived this long, you’ve probably had some experience in the kitchen, but even if you haven’t, it’s important to understand that following a recipe is the best way to start.
Practicing different recipes and techniques, even if they are a disaster the first time, will add skills to your hypothetical cooking toolbelt. This isn’t as hard as you may think! You simply must put in the time and energy to get familiar with all those utensils and dishes in front of you to feel like cooking isn’t “hard” anymore. In fact, the most difficult part for me about cooking is the multi-tasking abilities (not the technical skills) required to stir the squash, turn down the pasta sauce, drain the noodles, prep the meat, and check the sides in the oven all at the same time…and this is coming from a multi-tasker! Start small and work your way up to those bigger meals.
One way to help this learning process is to collect recipes from friends and family. For my wedding, I asked my mom, mother-in-law, and grandma to make me a cookbook of their recipes. That has been the biggest help when learning to meal plan, because it outlines a tried-and-true dish I know I will love.
Cooking doesn’t have to be expensive.
You will likely get sticker shock when you begin taking on all the bills and “adult” duties that come with age, but one area this doesn’t have to happen in is cooking. In fact, you can get an entire can of green beans for $0.84 and a box of noodles for not much more! I can’t think of any other product I can buy for that price. If you’re used to paying for fast food, you’d be surprised how many home-cooked meals you could purchase for the same price as one from Zaxby’s.
There are countless ways to save money on meal prep, the most practical one being purchasing the generic brands (Kroger, Great Value, etc.). If it doesn’t make that much of a difference to your taste buds, get the cheaper product!
Another important, yet surprising, tip is to plan your meals ahead of time. This not only helps you create an accurate shopping list, it also ensures that the food you buy won’t go to waste. For example, if I planned to make tacos, spaghetti, and meatloaf one week, I can buy a larger package of ground beef for less money per pound. If I didn’t have that planned ahead of time, I might buy the larger package, thinking I was saving money, but then half of it goes unused and forgotten.
Of course coupons and special offers are one of the best ways to save money on grocery items. I have written about this more extensively in my article 5 Saving Techniques For The Savvy Student. However, don’t use coupons if you end up buying products you wouldn’t have purchased anyways. And don’t use coupons to buy the name brand if the generic brand is still cheaper. Sometimes the extra coupons don’t end up saving money if you don’t use them properly.
The biggest way to save money on cooking is being realistic about what you need and what you will eat between now and the expiration date. Shopping in stores can cause countless impulse buys that end up sitting on our pantry shelves for months on end. Resist the urge to buy and stick to your planned list for a happy tummy and a happy wallet.
Cooking is a great way to be hospitable to others.
Why do we go to all this effort to make home-cooked meals and save money unless they have a purpose? And what is the purpose of cooking? The simple answer: to create an inviting, warm, and delicious environment for family and friends to gather and share life. Let’s admit it, sitting down at the kitchen table after a long day apart can be one of the most comforting things. It just doesn’t have the same effect as sitting on the couch eating fast food.
To me, cooking is an opportunity to bless, learn, and promote health. It is one of those bonding necessities of life. Sure, I may not be a culinary expert, but I am learning to be a hospitable chef who shares the love of Jesus with every bite. And that is good enough for me.