How to Learn Cooking by Yourself

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Ordering takeout or tossing a premade frozen dinner in the oven may be quick and convenient, but there’s something special about being able to cook your own meal. Plus, foods you make yourself are almost always healthier and more wholesome than processed or prepackaged foods. If learning to cook seems intimidating, don’t worry! You don’t need fancy equipment or lots of experience to make good food. Once you master a few simple techniques, you’ll be able to create all kinds of tasty dishes.[1]


[Edit]Trying Basic Cooking Techniques

  1. Toss chopped veggies in olive oil and roast them at . Roasting is an easy, healthy, and delicious way to cook just about any vegetable. Use a sharp kitchen knife to cut vegetables into bite-sized pieces, put them in a bowl, then coat them in of a healthy vegetable oil, such as olive, canola, or sesame. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper, then spread them on a baking sheet. Roast them in the oven until you can easily pierce them with a fork and they’re slightly browned or charred around the edges.[2]
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    • Roasting is especially good for root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, but you can also roast things like brussels sprouts, cauliflower, zucchini, and bell peppers.
    • Some vegetables take longer to roast than others. For instance, potatoes will roast a lot more slowly than something like asparagus. Most veggies will need to spend at least 15 minutes in the oven before they’re tender.
  2. Cook meats in the oven for a flavorful and tender result. You can cook almost any cut of meat in the oven. Preheat your oven to the recommended cooking temperature for about 20 minutes while your meat sits at room temperature to ensure even cooking. Season the outside of the meat with plenty of salt and pepper and set it in a wide roasting pan, preferably on a rack or a bed of vegetables. 30 minutes before your recipe says the meat is supposed to be ready, use a meat thermometer to see if it’s reached a safe internal temperature.[3], while poultry and precooked meats should be cooked to .[4] If you prefer your steak rare, though, don’t worry—it’s generally safe to eat beef, veal, or lamb cooked to lower temperatures as long as you use clean cooking utensils while preparing it.[5]}}
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    • The amount of time it takes to roast a piece of meat, and the recommended cooking temperature, will vary depending on the type of meat and how big it is. Check the packaging or look online for recommendations.
    • For example, some chefs recommend starting a beef tenderloin at for the first 10 minutes, then cooking it at until it reaches an internal temperature of . The cooking time will depend on the weight and thickness of the tenderloin.[6]
    • Seasoning the meat with salt and pepper will give it flavor and help it stay juicy as it cooks. You can also lightly rub the surface with oil or butter to help the seasonings stick.
  3. Stir fry proteins and veggies in a skillet for a quick stovetop meal. Stir fries are some of the most versatile and simple meals you can make. Cut some meat or tofu into bite-sized chunks and toss it into a skillet or wok at medium-high heat with convert of vegetable oil. Brown the meat (or cook it through, if it’s chicken, pork, or shrimp) and set it aside. Cook some chopped-up vegetables in the pan for 2-3 minutes, then return the meat to the pan and cover it with broth or sauce. Take it off the heat after 1 more minute, or once the sauce is bubbling hot![7]
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    • You can either buy pre-made stir fry sauce, or make your own by combining of chicken or vegetable broth, of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon (13 g) of sugar, and of rice wine vinegar.
    • To make your stir fry extra flavorful, add in some aromatic veggies and let them fry for 30 seconds before you pour in the sauce. Some tasty options include garlic, shallots, onions, fresh ginger, chilies, and celery.
    • You can also spice it up by adding fresh herbs at the very end of the cooking process, such as parsley, basil, cilantro, or chives.
  4. Simmer brown rice for 45 minutes if you want a simple side. To make simple brown rice, put 1 cup (about 180 grams) of rice in a strainer and rinse it with cool water to remove dust. Put the rice in a pan with of water and 1 teaspoon (4.16 g) of salt, then bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, tightly cover the pot, and let the rice simmer for 45 minutes without stirring or checking on it. After 45 minutes, the water should be absorbed and your rice should be tender. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit with the cover on for 10-15 minutes.[8]
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    • Give the rice a more complex flavor by toasting it for a few minutes in oil before you add the water.
    • Grain-based sides like rice, pasta, quinoa, or couscous are simple to cook and will nicely complement most meals. If you’re pressed for time, instant rice or couscous can be ready in just a few minutes! Simply follow the directions on the box.
    • Serve your rice on the side with a meat and vegetable, toss a stir fry over it, or eat it with a fried or poached egg on top for a simple but nutritious meal!
  5. Boil veggies in stock or broth to make a simple soup. If you have a lot of stray vegetables in your fridge or pantry, you can easily turn them into a comforting and nutritious soup. Dice up the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Sauté hard veggies, like carrots, potatoes, or cauliflower, in a frying pan with a little butter or olive oil to soften them a little and bring out their flavor. Then, bring some broth or stock to a boil, add the veggies, and turn down the heat. Let your soup simmer for about an hour or until the veggies are nice and tender.[9]
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    • Your soup will take on the flavor of the vegetables, but you can also boost it by adding salt and pepper, fresh herbs, aromatics like garlic, onions, or bay leaves, or sweet and tangy diced tomatoes. Experiment around with different flavors to figure out what you like best!
    • If you want some protein in your soup, brown some bite-sized chicken pieces in olive oil and add them to the soup along with the vegetables. Or, if you prefer non-meat proteins, add some tofu or beans.
  6. Steam vegetables to preserve their texture and nutrients. Steaming is an easy way to make tender, tasty vegetables without boiling away all the vitamins and minerals. Pour of water into the bottom of a stovetop steamer and put it on the stove at medium-high heat until it boils. Reduce the heat so the water goes down to a simmer (just bubbling slightly), then place your vegetables in the top part of the steamer and put on the lid. After a few minutes, check to see if you can easily pierce your veggies with a fork. Most vegetables will be ready within 5-10 minutes.[10]
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    • Really dense vegetables can take a lot longer to steam. For example, whole artichokes may take up to 40 minutes.
    • Leafy greens like spinach will be done within about 3-5 minutes.
    • You can speed up the steaming time for slower veggies, like potatoes or carrots, by chopping or slicing them before putting them in the steamer.
  7. Experiment with different seasonings to add flavor. The right seasonings can take even the simplest dish from okay to amazing. As you get more comfortable with basic cooking techniques, move beyond the basics of salt and black pepper and try a variety of other herbs, spices, aromatics, and other flavor-boosters. For example, you can:[11]
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    • Use lemon, vinegar, or other acidic flavors to brighten up the taste of your dishes and give them a little zing.
    • Add a hint of heat with chilies or crushed red pepper.
    • Impart a savory flavor with soy, oyster, or Worcestershire sauce.
    • Give your dishes an instant flavor boost with an aromatic, such as garlic or shallots.
    • Liven up your food with distinctive-tasting herbs, like basil, oregano, mint, or rosemary.
    • Have fun with contrasting flavors, like sweet and salty or hot and sour.
  8. Move on to fancier techniques once you master the basics. Understanding basic cooking techniques will give you a solid foundation for the harder stuff. Once you know how to do things like sauté veggies, roast a chicken, or make a stew, start getting outside your comfort zone a bit. Choose something you’ve always wanted to try, like baking bread, creating delicious sauces, or even making candy.
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    • Try starting with a few simple “next-level” skills, like making your own tomato sauce or gravy, melting chocolate properly, or getting a loaf of bread dough to rise.[12]
    • In addition to using cookbooks and written recipes, it can be helpful to watch videos demonstrating more advanced cooking techniques. Visit websites like YouTube,, or to find tons of free videos and other visual aids.

[Edit]Working with Recipes

  1. Start with simple recipes that have few ingredients. There are endless recipes online and in cookbooks, so picking one to start with can feel intimidating. If you’re just learning to cook, start with basic recipes that don’t require lots of ingredients or fancy equipment.[13] Pick up a cookbook for beginners or search for recipes online using terms like “quick,” “easy,” and “basic.”
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    • For example, check out this list of easy recipes from BBC GoodFood:
    • You can also browse cooking websites like or for quick and easy meal ideas and recipes.
    • If you’re really new to cooking, start with super simple dishes that only require 2 or 3 ingredients. For example, you might start with learning to make scrambled eggs or pasta topped with olive oil and garlic.
  2. Read the recipe a few times so you know what to expect. Before you actually start cooking, take some time to familiarize yourself with the steps involved and the materials you’ll need. That way, you won’t encounter any unpleasant surprises partway through the cooking process. This is also a good time to look up any unfamiliar cooking terms in the recipe.[14]
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    • If you have trouble visualizing what you’re supposed to do based on written descriptions, watch a video so you can see a demonstration. For example, if you have no idea what a “stiff peak” should look like when you’re whipping egg whites, you can find a ton of videos demonstrating it on YouTube!
  3. Get your materials together before you start. If you’re running around in a panic trying to find a utensil or ingredient partway through the cooking process, you’re not going to have the greatest cooking experience. Before you begin cooking, review the recipe carefully and make sure you have everything you’re going to need ready to go. This includes:[15]
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    • Ingredients, including things like seasonings, oils, and cooking sprays
    • Cutting surfaces and containers for mixing ingredients
    • Pots and pans
    • Tools and utensils, such as measuring cups, knives, spoons, whisks, and spatulas
    • Any special materials that the recipe calls for, like parchment paper or cheesecloth
  4. Follow instructions carefully when you’re starting out. As you get more experienced in the kitchen, you’ll develop a stronger instinct for what works and what doesn’t, and you can start improvising more freely.[16] When you’re new to cooking, though, it’s a good idea to follow recipes closely so you get the proportions of ingredients right and avoid over- or under-cooking your dishes. Pay close attention to details such as:
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    • How many servings the recipe is supposed to make
    • How much of each ingredient you need
    • The order of the steps in the recipe
    • The correct way to combine and process the ingredients (e.g., many baking recipes call for wet and dry ingredients to be combined separately, then gradually mixed together)
    • Cooking time and temperature
  5. Use measuring cups and spoons to measure ingredients. Eventually, you’ll probably get comfortable enough with cooking to “eyeball” how much of a particular ingredient you need. When you’re still learning, though, don’t leave it to chance. If a recipe calls for a cup of flour or 5 ml of almond extract, use a measuring cup or spoon to get the right amount.[17]
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    • Some recipes call for you to measure ingredients by weight instead of by volume. If you need to weigh your ingredients, you can get a simple kitchen scale online or at a department store.
    • It’s especially important to get the proportions right if you’re baking, so take extra care to follow the recipe if you’re making things like cake, cookies, or bread.
  6. Look up substitutions if you’re missing an ingredient. If you get partway through a recipe and discover that you’re missing a key ingredient, don’t panic! It’s often possible to substitute one ingredient for another. Many cookbooks have an appendix listing common substitutions, or you can search online for substitutions for a specific ingredient.[18]
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    • Be careful making substitutions without checking first to see if they work! For example, baking soda and baking powder aren’t interchangeable.
    • Common substitutions include butter for shortening, yogurt for buttermilk or sour cream, and lemon juice for vinegar.

[Edit]Building Healthy, Balanced Meals

  1. Pick out good, fresh ingredients for the best results. The ingredients you put into your meals can make a big difference in the quality of your dishes. In addition to selecting ingredients that you think will combine in fun and flavorful ways, look for ingredients that are fresh and appear to be in good condition. Avoid vegetables that are wilted, slimy, or squishy, and stick to meats that have a healthy looking color and a mild, pleasant odor.[19]
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    • Purchasing fruits and vegetables that are in season will help ensure that you get good-quality ingredients. For example, in the U.S., the best time to get fresh corn is in the summer and fall, while asparagus is at its peak in the spring.[20]
    • While there’s nothing wrong with using dried, frozen, or canned ingredients, fresh foods usually have the best taste and texture. Using fresh ingredients also makes it easier to avoid unhealthy additives, like salt, sugar, and preservatives.
  2. Focus on fruits and veggies to load up on fiber and vitamins. One of the big advantages of cooking your own meals is that you can control the nutrients you’re getting.[21] To create a healthy meal, aim to fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables. If you’re not a big fruit and veggie fan, this is your chance to experiment with cooking them in ways that make them more tasty and interesting to you![22]
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    • For example, you could spice up your breakfast by tossing some apple slices in a little bit of vegetable oil or butter, sprinkling them with cinnamon and nutmeg, and baking them in the oven at for 20-30 minutes.
    • Or, if you hate brussels sprouts, try roasting them in the oven or searing them in a frying pan with some oil until they’re slightly browned around the edges. You might be surprised at how tasty they are that way!
    • Choose fruits and veggies in a rainbow of colors, since this means you’ll be getting a greater variety of nutrients.
  3. Incorporate whole grains into your meals to boost your energy. Whole grains are full of healthy fiber, and they also give you the complex carbs you need to power your body. Look for breads, pastas, cereals, and sides that are labeled “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat,” and incorporate these nutritious foods into every meal.[23]
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    • For example, you might whip up some oatmeal for breakfast, boil quinoa and stir fry it with garlic and mushrooms for lunch, or drizzle whole wheat pasta with lemon and olive oil as a tasty side with dinner.
  4. Add lean proteins to boost heart and muscle health. Proteins are another important part of your daily diet, but not all proteins are created equal. To cook healthy meals, stick to nutritious sources of protein like chicken and turkey, fish, beans, nuts and seeds, dairy, and eggs. Limit red meats, like beef and lamb, and try to stick to lean cuts when you do eat them.[24]
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    • Getting your protein can be as simple as boiling an egg for breakfast or adding some walnuts or cottage cheese to your salad at lunch.
    • If you’re concerned about extra fat, avoid frying your meats. Stick to healthier cooking techniques like grilling or roasting.
  5. Cook with healthy fats to boost your energy and manage your weight. Fat has a bit of a bad reputation, but it’s actually an important part of a healthy diet! It’s important to choose the right fats, though. Avoid cooking your foods in trans or unsaturated fats, like margarine, lard, shortening, or hydrogenated vegetable oils. Instead, opt for healthy oils, like olive, canola, peanut, or sesame oil.[25]
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    • Other healthy sources of fat include olives, seeds and nuts, nut butters, fatty fish (like tuna, mackerel, and salmon), and soy products (like tofu and soy milk).
  6. Avoid processed ingredients to minimize empty calories. If you’re cooking your own meals, you’re doing a lot of this already. Still, you can create even more nutritious and wholesome meals by avoiding ingredients that have lots of additives or have been overly processed. For example:[26]
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    • If you’re baking, stick to whole wheat flour instead of bleached or refined flour.
    • When cooking with canned fruits, vegetables, or broths, look for options that don’t have added sugar or salt.
    • Consider making your own sauces, dressings, and condiments, since pre-made ones are often loaded with preservatives, refined sugars, and salt.


  • Always wash your cooking utensils and food preparation surfaces carefully with soap and water both before and after cooking, especially if you’re working with raw meat. If you use a utensil or surface to prepare raw meat, wash it before allowing it to come into contact with other ingredients.
  • Be careful when working with sharp knives. Always keep your fingers out of the way when slicing, chopping, or peeling your ingredients!
  • Use oven mitts or potholders when handling hot pans, pots, or cooking dishes so that you don’t burn your hands.

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