5 Honest Thoughts on Healthy Cooking as a Beginner

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Cooking as a beginner can seem challenging. Navigating blogs and cookbooks to find recipes that are healthy, tasty, and with all the ingredients you have might feel like a daunting task. Recipes with unfamiliar ingredients that require kitchen tools that you don’t have can make cooking feel intimidating.

You don’t need to be a skilled cook to make healthy, tasty, feel-good meals, but rather, have an open mind and try new things! Here are some honest tips to make healthy cooking feel less overwhelming.

1. You don’t have to follow the recipe.

If you’re a perfectionist like me and always wants to follow the recipe exactly, don’t stress! If you’re missing a minor ingredient, you can skip it as long as it’s not a major component of the recipe (say pasta noodles for a pasta recipe). Don’t let the fact that you’re missing a specific ingredient from a recipe prevent you from making it. As you gain some experience, you can even figure out ways to substitute for ingredients that you don’t have. You can get inspiration from Bon Appetite’s ‘no recipe’ recipes. Depending on the recipe, you can make ingredient substitutions, here are a few examples:

  • Swap dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, and swiss chard. You can even substitute parsley for spinach.
  • Don’t have celery? You can substitute it for another crunchy vegetable such as cucumber or carrots.
  • Different types of nuts, such as almonds and cashews can be swapped.
2. Not everything needs to be made from scratch.

Despite what you think, some pre-made foods can be healthy. While cooking your meals is a great way to eat healthier, it’s realistic to recognize that not everything we eat can be made from scratch. Identify and prioritize what you’d like to cook versus what you’d prefer to buy. You can buy some premade ingredients and make additions or substitutions to amp up your meal’s nutritional value. Here are a few examples:

  • If you purchase food or get takeout, such as pasta or chicken, make a side salad to add some vegetables to your meal.
  • You can make canned soup healthier by adding fresh or frozen vegetables such as peas, carrots, or spinach.
  • If you’re eating frozen waffles for breakfast (such as Eggo), make it healthier by adding some peanut butter and banana slices.
  • You can purchase ingredients like pasta sauce and dips such as hummus, to save time so that a portion of your meal is ready to eat.
3. Be mindful of your budget.

There are lots of strategies to ensure that you respect your budget. Seek out sales, coupons, and flyers from your local grocery store. Produce stores tend to have cheaper products than supermarkets and are a great place for fresh fruits and veggies. Flipp is a great smartphone app that lets you look at flyers and coupons from different grocery stores. You can even use it to make a grocery list and easily check out what’s on sale.

4. Plan ahead but also be flexible.

Planning what you’ll eat and when you’ll cook ahead of time can help you save time, money, and reduce food waste. Spend some time doing meal preparation over the weekend, such as cooking a big batch of lunches for the week, cutting up vegetables, or cooking your grains in advance. At the same time, you don’t have to know exactly what you’ll be eating everyday or stick to a rigid meal plan. The reality of life is that plans change and unexpected things come up. A last-minute social gathering might pop up or you might have leftovers from the night before. It’s all about being flexible and adapting to change.

5. Expect that things don’t always turn out.

Despite what the glamour of social media may show us, your meals don’t have to be ‘Insta-perfect’. Sometimes the simplest meals can bring us the greatest pleasures. Don’t be discouraged when a recipe doesn’t turn out or it’s not as tasty as you thought it would be. It’s all part of the process….learning to do anything new takes time, Pinterest fails and all. So get messy and get cooking!

For more cooking inspiration check out Cookspiration, Epicurious, and the UBC Nutrition Blog.

Post written by Naomi Oh