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 than fast food, but nothing really beats home-cooked meals when it comes to nutrient density!
Fast food and restaurant meals 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.
Maybe you're trying to achieve a fitness goal, or just made a New Years' resolution to cook more at home, whatever the case is cooking at home will help you live a healthier lifestyle, and you'll save money along the way! However, getting started cooking at home isn't as easy as it sounds. It can get overwhelming and stressful trying to think of new things to cook at home, and don't forget that it can be time-consuming! But don't worry, 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
Cooking at home doesn't have to be complicated. There are so many easy foods to cook at home, so you're not spending too much time in the kitchen on busy weeknights!
Save time, money, and start making cooking at home a healthy habit that sticks with you by following these tips...
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 – it is a big change after all. Finding the time to actually cook three meals every day can be difficult, especially during busy weeknights and weekends, 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 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
Home-cooked meals don't have to be complicated or chef-worthy, at first. Do what you can with the time you have, and the best way to get started and build the habit of cooking at home is by working your way up to it. Start by cooking one or two weeknight meals, maybe a family recipe that you’ve known for years, or a healthy dish you learned recently! 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 to cook at home, you can start learning new simple 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 for your pasta dish, 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!
Other stuff you don't need, but it can be useful at making cooking easier is a slow cooker or an air fryer. With a slow cooker, you can easily throw in a few ingredients, and let it sit and cook for a few hours while you're finishing up with all your other responsibilities! Air fryers come in handy when you want to make an unhealthy meal, healthier, like fries, chicken wings, etc. You can even easily cook salmon, chicken, and other things in it!
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, home-cooked meals are 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 meal!
Learn how to tackle your cravings at home
The weekend finally arrived and you’re really craving a cheeseburger or some creamy mac and cheese. 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 from the nearest drive-thru or restaurant. 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, your grocery shopping trips 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, here's a list of some you should have for easy meals to cook at home...
- Rice: 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: 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: 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: 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!
Cooking at home is easier than you think
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!