5 Tips for the Overwhelmed Newbie Cook

I have spent the greater part of the last year attempting to learn how to cook. It has always been something that I figured that I probably could do but wasn’t sure where to start, and the sheer number of ingredients that are required to cook even basic things when you have an empty spice cabinet, pantry, and refrigerator makes even a basic meal “expensive” when it requires buying a whole bottle of chili powder, for example. Those of you who really cook may think that’s crazy, but I’m betting I’m not the only person who has found herself in the kitchen clueless about where to begin.

I’m sitting here a year later with the ability to read a recipe and realize that I have everything on hand or I only need to run to the store for a couple items on the way home. It’s a huge change and it took a long time to get to this point, so I thought with the new year I would take a look back and see if I could take a few lessons from the experience.

Note: I am by no means an expert, an expert cook, or have a perfect pantry. This is just my own newbie experience. 🙂

  1. Start small. This probably seems obvious, but I had to learn this the hard way. Look for basic recipes that include only a few ingredients so you don’t have to shell out $30 just to make a chicken breast with a chili garlic white wine reduction (Is that a real thing? I just made that up, but it sounds kinda good…) when all you own is salt and pepper. Find a recipe that includes garlic or chili and start from there to keep your grocery bill and your chances of things going wrong down.
  2. Stick to Google; avoid the shiny Pinterest beacon. I know everyone is Pinterest obsessed these days, but I’ve found that a lot of the popular/delicious looking pins are links that go nowhere or end up being the notorious chili garlic white wine reduction chicken. Instead, try a simple Google search for “garlic chicken” and see what your search savvy fingers can find! I’ve had a lot more personal success with Google than Pinterest. Also, I personally find Pinterest to be a time suck and by the time I’ve pinned 25 salmon recipes that sound good, I’m so over the idea of cooking salmon.
  3. Think small in the bulk foods. I’m very lucky to have a Sprouts grocery store near my apartment, and one of the things they have is a huge bulk foods section. Now, despite the name which sounds like you should be buying Sam’s Club-sized quantities, bulk foods means that you can buy tiny amounts of stuff of which you don’t need an entire container. If you want to try a quinoa, but you’re not sure if you like it, grab one of those plastic bags and scoop yourself a 1/2 cup from the giant quinoa bin and only risk a few cents instead of a few bucks for a prepackaged 1 lb. bag. Sprouts also has a bulk spice section which really helps cut down the cost on spicing up a recipe when your spice cabinet is bare. Whole Foods also has a sizeable bulk foods section if you don’t have a Sprouts.
  4. Pick an ingredient and start there. I found I had the most success when I started with an ingredient and looked around to see what I could do with it. For a couple months, I was quinoa obsessed and found a few recipes that were built on it. When I started with the entire world of cooking open to me, it was too much to figure out, but choosing a base to start from and expand from there was enormously helpful in giving me some focus.
  5. Have fun and make leftovers! Yes, cooking is a practical and life-sustaining skill, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, too! Don’t be afraid to try new things, make mistakes, and have enough leftovers to sustain your week in lunch. If you’re going to spend a solid chunk of your evening chopping vegetables, might as well make enough to take a couple extra meals for later.

I hope these were tips were at least mildly helpful. If you have any other suggestions for someone just starting out with cooking, leave a comment and maybe we can even build this list out more!

Also, stay tuned for a lot more great food-related content on the blog! Starting this Friday, Lyz is joining the Routine Refinement team and will be sharing her much more seasoned (see what I did there?) insight on all things food! So, be sure to check back on Friday! I can’t wait to see what she has to share!

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3 thoughts on “5 Tips for the Overwhelmed Newbie Cook

  1. Great advice! Also if you want to make a little suburban trip, there are TONS of ethnic markets in Plano that have amazing things for WAY less than you typical grocery markets. For example, there is an indian market on Spring Creek and Alma that has TONS of spices for super cheap! For example, you can get 2 CUPS of chili powder for $3.00! Or there is a HUGE asian market at Spring Creek and Central Expy where you can get things like sesame oil for $1.00/$2.00. Let me know if you are looking for anything in particular, case I go to one of these places at least every other week! It’s a great way to stock up for cheap!

    • Great suggestions, Jenna! I definitely will take you up on that, especially with chili powder. I seem to burn through that pretty quickly…now that I’ve figured out what to do with it!

  2. When I was learning to cook, the best book I had was Better Homes & Garden Cookbook. The basic one. The one with red-and-white plaid checks on the cover. Relatively simple instructions. I didn’t know how to cook, but I did know how to follow instructions. And that’s what got me started. (Now maybe for you young folk, the computer is way easier. I’ll just go back to my cane and rocking chair and drool on myself for a while….)

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