How To Overcome Your Fear of Cooking

by | Jun 2, 2010
Moroccan Stew

Moroccan Stew

The biggest obstacle in trying to eat healthy is often the cooking process itself.

Our “convenience generation” grew up expecting our meals to come wrapped in plastic, and for the most part our parents were willing accomplices in the move away from real food.

When we are hungry we go to a restaurant or stay home and zap something in the microwave. Fast food is no longer a special occasion adventure to share with the family (I got to go to McDonald’s for my 10th birthday), it is now a part of our daily lives. Occasionally we might bake a pre-made lasagna or boil some water and mix it with powdered cheese, but we all know that’s not cooking. We’ve never really learned to cook.

Worsening the situation is the fact that we are left to fend for ourselves much longer than previous generations. Marriage and family are being postponed later and later for the sake of education and career, so there is no real incentive for us to create real, structured meals. We go off to college, eat horribly (I’m pretty sure I ate out every single meal for 4 years straight), then move on to our jobs or graduate studies with the same bad habits. If we’re lucky over the years we learn to spend a little more money and get slightly better fare, but in the end it is usually the same low-quality food.

This is a recipe for disaster.

As I explain in my free guide How to get started eating healthy, food prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients is the easiest, tastiest and most effective way to improve your health and body weight. You can’t expect to have good health if you continue eating processed convenience foods, no matter how much you try to skew your intake of macronutrients to reflect the latest diet trend.

I write frequently about the benefits of shopping at farmers markets, but for most people I talk to cooking is the ultimate barrier to healthy eating. Kitchens scare us (they certainly used to scare me), and farmers markets can be intimidating if you do not know your way around.

(Read: Top 10 Mistakes Made By Farmers Market Noobz)

There are many approaches to cooking, but certainly a degree of creativity and sense of adventure are required if you are going to experiment with seasonal vegetables. If you see something interesting at the farmers market but don’t believe you can cook it, you probably aren’t going to buy it. But you should.

Being comfortable in the kitchen is the key to making this whole process work, but you do not have to be a superchef with fancy knives to prepare a wonderful meal. You just need a few basic tools, a few basic techniques and some good, fresh ingredients.

If I could I would use these next paragraphs to outline the basics of cooking, but since I’m really not a chef I probably wouldn’t do a very good job of it.

Luckily, Mark Bittman (@Bittman) and Alice Waters (@chezpanisse) have already done this for us. Bittman offers his definitive guide to basic cooking, How To Cook Everything and its arguably more useful companion, How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. Waters argues that the best recipes are the ones we learn by heart, and explains how it’s done in her books In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart and The Art Of Simple Food.

These renowned chefs do an incredible job of breaking the cooking process down into its elements, starting with the equipment you need (not much) and very basic cooking techniques. They explain how to create simple recipes, but offers dozens of variations on each one, essentially teaching how to make yourself into an innovative, creative cook.

In other words, these books can teach you how to cook from the farmers market. Eureka!

There are an infinite number of ways to learn to cook, but you can’t go wrong by learning from the best.

For an electronic option, Drew Kime of How To Cook Like Your Grandmother put together a fantastic step-by-step guide of basic cooking techniques in layman’s language. I’ve read through it and it is absolutely awesome. Definitely check it out if cookbooks intimidate you. This one won’t.

What are your favorite guides for simple cooking?

Article was originally published June 17, 2009. It has since been updated.

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9 Responses to “How To Overcome Your Fear of Cooking”

  1. I look forward to getting Mark Bittman’s vegetarian book. I’m not a vegetarian either, but I eat my meats very simply prepared. They are the side dish to my vegetables. Today I made farmer’s market dragon tongue bush wax beans boiled, topped with shallots sauteed in butter. Really simple, no fuss, but exquisite to eat. And anyone could do it.

  2. Hanlie says:

    That is excellent advice! I will actually mention that on my blog, because I did a post about cooking this week…

  3. ps says:

    I love the How to Cook Everything Book (mine edition is so old, it’s yellow!). Another good book is the Moosewood’s Low-Fat Favorites from the restaurant in Ithaca. It’s index/glossary rocks. It has so much useful information about vegetarian and low-meat cooking as well, describing all the ingredients used in the book in great detail as to where it comes from. Also, the beginning section of the book really explains how to cook low-fat without resorting to processed low-fat substitutes — including using a nonstick pan and cooking on low heat for longer to reduce the amount of oil you need to use (I knew about the nonstick pan thing, but I never knew low heat cooking used less oil until I read this — it really does, I sometimes use only a tsp when I used to use a tbsp!).

    Anyway, I just discovered Summer Tomato (when I was searching for new recipes for kale!). I’m hooked already!

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for visiting, ps! I love the Moosewood cookbooks as well. I don’t follow the low-fat part (it is a myth that dietary fat is bad for you, it is actually one of the healthiest things you can eat), but the fresh flavors are delicious and everything is wonderfully healthy 🙂

      So glad you found Summer Tomato, don’t hesitate to email me using the contact form if you have any questions!

  4. E. Foley says:

    I have How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and it is great! I like how he goes through each type of food and tells you about it, how to store it, what cooking methods are best for it, etc. Really helpful. 🙂

  5. Linda says:

    Hi there, I’ve recently discovered your blog, & really enjoy it, you discuss concepts close to my heart. I write 2 food blogs in SA; I find unfortunately the fast/convenience food way is catching on here, lots of young people don’t know how to cook. I believe in fresh, quality food, prepared from scratch – and a particular hobby is cooking everything on an open fire! Thank you for all you are doing to make people aware that opening a packet and reheating is not cooking, nor is it healthy. 🙂

    Linda aka Zabwan

  6. Karen B. says:

    I grew up cooking and now I teach my kids to cook too. I want them to always be able to whip up a healthy meal in a few minutes.
    You’re lucky you have access to good farmer’s markets. There are quite a few of them in my area but they all sell jewelry, essential oils, soaps, pottery and very few, if any vegetables and fruits. When I do see fruits and veggies they are in commercial crates and I wonder about where they come from.

  7. Egohsa says:

    I just discovered your blog last night and have been loving it! The interesting is that I have no fear of cooking, I just never know what I WANT to cook. The indecisiveness of the process is what hinders me, not the actually act of cooking. Except when I’m being lazy.

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