If you don’t cook often, then deciding where to start can be overwhelming. When you’re short on time and long on hunger, sometimes sifting through recipes online and trying to decipher their contents is the last thing you want to be doing. But it doesn’t have to be that hard. SheKnows asked professional chefs and cookbook authors to debunk common myths about cooking. See their advice on how to make the most out of the time you spend in the kitchen — no culinary degree required.
Myth #1: It’s too hard to plan meals
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a difficult task if you take cues from the seasons and your own hunger pangs.
“Historically farmers have used the seasons to guide their kitchens. Buy produce that grows seasonally to make meals based on what’s growing in your region, like root veggies in the winter, peaches and watermelon in the summer,” Jennifer Johnson, former chef under organic food pioneer Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, and executive chef for the Getty family in San Francisco, told SheKnows.
“Cook like the pioneers, and stick to hearty meals like baked parsnips and winter squash with roast in the winter, and gazpacho and salad with turkey burgers in the spring and summer,” she advised.
This will help eliminate some of the panic you might feel when trying to decide what to cook — just look to nature for the answer.
More: 15 meals with 5 ingredients for a simple weeknight dinner
Myth #2: Recipes are too confusing
You may find your eyes glazing over when you read a long, complicated recipe with a ton of steps. But starting with a recipe might be the wrong strategy if you don’t cook often.
“Most people start a new cuisine with a recipe rather than try to understand the methods behind it, which is like looking at a piece of modern art and not knowing which side is up,” cookbook author Nandita Godbole told us.
Instead, try mastering basic techniques one at a time. Try making crispy potato wedges from scratch, but pair them with a store-bought rotisserie chicken. Or learn how to make a simple pan-seared chicken breast, fish cutlet or steak, and pair it with salad or frozen steamed veggies. You can even try all 13 of these variations on simple three-ingredient roasted chicken until you’ve found your favorite, and serve bagged salad mix and store-bought rolls on the side to round out the meal.
As you master these basic skills one at a time, you’ll eventually be able to put the different elements together to create a simple home-cooked meal. And recipes that refer to techniques you’d previously never heard of will suddenly be full of familiar steps.
Myth #3: It’s just too complicated
Cooking isn’t a “go big or go home” situation. You don’t have to make a four-course meal or Michelin-worthy dish for it to count.
“Historically the best dinners are never complicated. Simple always wins,” Johnson told us.
Chef Christophe Kubiak, owner of La Bonne Cuisine Catering & Events, agrees. “Go easy on yourself at first. Cooking is like jogging; you want to do it more when you get used to it!”
Start slow. Sometimes simply roasted veggies tossed with pasta, a quick Crock-Pot meal or even a three-ingredient recipe is all it takes to make something satisfying.
Once you start familiarizing yourself with the kitchen, it will get easier and easier to come up with new ideas and to master basic techniques. Just because you’re not going to fuss over a dish until it’s Instagram perfect doesn’t mean it’s not worth cooking something at all. You’ll save money, eat more nutritious foods and hone a useful new skill.