Answering the question “how to learn to cook” isn’t as complicated as it may seem. You’ve already taken the first step to changing how you cook and eat: having a desire to learn. Now all you have to do is act on that, which will require practice, practice, and more practice. But don’t worry, you don’t have to go it alone—we’re here to help.
As culinary nutrition experts, we can help transform your mushy spaghetti and flavorless marinara into something that any Italian mother would be proud of.
If you want to learn how to cook, the key is loosening up on rules. Yep, that’s right. Let go of expectations of perfection. Let go of strict recipe guidelines. In order to be a better cook, you have to lean into learning. Experimenting. Trying and failing and trying again. And almost more important than anything, bringing joy and fun back into the kitchen! Before you know it, you’ll be cooking flavorful, nourishing, and beautiful meals to your taste!
So what’s the best way to learn to cook at home? Two words: base recipes.
Wait. What’s a base recipe?
A base recipe is a guide that teaches you how to use ingredient ratios and culinary techniques to create dishes suited to your taste, budget, and time. No more seeking out hard-to-find ingredients or feeling so tied to a recipe that if you swap one ingredient, the whole thing will be ruined.
While gourmet recipes and fancy culinary creations can be fun on occasion, they’re not the basis of how we cook everyday. We all have busy schedules—work, school, extracurriculars, family, and more—so maximizing efficiency in the kitchen is something that most of us could benefit from. Fortunately, base recipes are great for maximizing efficiency, as well as flavor.
While at first glance base recipes may appear boring or overly simplistic, their simplicity is actually what make them great recipes for beginners, while also allowing for flexibility and creativity.
Here are three examples that demonstrate how base recipes work.
Overnight oats are great for breakfast and can make busy mornings a breeze. This recipe teaches the basic overnight oats ratio so that you can customize any bowl of overnight oats to your taste! Change up the milk, sweetener, extracts, spices, and mix-ins, and you will discover endless variations.
- ½ cup old fashioned or quick oats
- ½ cup milk or milk alternative
- 1 teaspoon natural sweetener or to taste
- Dash flavor extract and/or spice
Optional Toppings or Mix-Ins
- ½ cup fresh, ¼ cup pureed, or 2 Tablespoons dried fruit
- ¼ cup Greek yogurt
- 1-2 Tablespoons seeds, nuts, or nut butters
- ½ – 1 Tablespoon mini chocolate chips
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- Or go crazy with a combination of all your favorites!
- Combine oats, milk, sweetener, and optional flavor extract and/or spices in a bowl or jar.
- Mix-in or top with optional ingredients or add them in the morning.
- Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Enjoy cold!
This is a fiber-filled, protein-packed, and most importantly – flavorful – sandwich recipe that will put your traditional ham and cheese to shame. Choose different breads, spreads, proteins, and fillings just like your favorite sandwich shop, but with nutrition as a priority. Give this healthy sandwich base recipe a try, and as always, adjust to YOUR taste!
- 2 ounces whole grain base (pita, sandwich bread, English muffin, etc.)
- 1-2 Tablespoons spread* (mashed avocado, hummus, mayo, etc.)
- 2-3 ounces protein (chicken, cheese, beans, etc.)
- ½ cup fresh fillings (shredded carrots, chopped greens, diced tomato, etc.)
- Optional flavors (hot sauce, spices, balsamic glaze, etc.)
- If desired, toast bread.
- Add spread on each piece of bread. Top one piece of bread with protein and fillings.
- Finish with any optional flavors. Slice in half and enjoy!
This roasted fish base recipe contains very few measurements because you don’t need them! Rather than sticking to the same seasoning, change it up for a new dish each time. Simply season the filets and roast at 400ºF for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness.
- ~1 pound fish, whole or individual filets, with or without skin
- 1-2 teaspoons spices, spice blend, or dried herbs
- Salt & pepper
Optional Flavor Additions
- 1-2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup pesto (homemade or store-bought)
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh herbs
- Lemon wedge
- Preheat oven to 400° F. Prepare a baking sheet with nonstick spray, foil, or parchment paper.
- Place fish filets skin side down (if skin on) on baking sheet. Rub on seasonings, sprinkle with salt and pepper (if not in spice blend), and top with optional garlic. For less fatty fish, drizzle with a little olive oil.
- Place in oven and roast 10 minutes for every inch of thickness.
- Once done, top with optional pesto, fresh herbs, and/or lemon juice. Enjoy!
One of our recipe promises is to provide three variations to each base recipe so that if you’re not feeling especially creative, you can use our already tried-and-true combinations, which will essentially teach you the base recipe concept in reverse.
Tips for Base Recipe Success
The basics of cooking also depend on a few other factors beyond recipes. Follow these four tips to truly learn and master base recipes and great home cooking.
Stock Your Kitchen
Having the right equipment and ingredients in your kitchen will set you up for culinary success. You don’t need to invest a ton of money in fancy equipment; you just need the essentials, which you can find on this page. A sharp chef’s knife and sturdy cutting board are nonnegotiable.
Your kitchen should also be stocked with ingredients that can allow you to make base recipes any time. Read more about healthy kitchen staples in this article.
- Spices and herbs
- Kosher salt
- Dried and/or canned beans
- Canned tomatoes
- Stock or broth
- Whole Grains
- Dried fruit
- Baking essentials
- Dark chocolate
- Fresh fruit
- Fresh vegetables and herbs
- Natural nut butter
- Milk or milk alternative
- Yogurt and/or kefir
- Corn and/or whole wheat tortillas
- Whole grain bread
- Frozen veggies
- Frozen fruit
- Whole wheat flour
- Salmon and other fish
Want to learn which ingredients are best? Download our free ingredient guide here!
Brush up on Basic Cooking Skills
Learning how to slice and dice, boil and simmer, sauté and stir fry will ensure that your recipe creations come out correctly and flavorfully.
Need some help with your knife skills? Enroll in our online knife skills course and learn how to slice, dice, mince, chop, and chiffonade from real chefs in the comfort of your own home! You will be shocked by the cost and time savings that knife skills provide.
Or watch dozens of free culinary technique videos here!
Practice, practice, practice!
It’s okay if you don’t get a recipe perfect the first or even the fiftieth time through. In fact, even as trained and experienced chefs, we mess up too! It’s just part of the process, and you learn from your mistakes. As you practice more and more, you will learn how to tweak and modify basic recipes to make up for those mistakes. Be patient and…
Cooking can and should be fun! Turn on some music, invite friends over, involve your kids, lean into learning, and see what you discover about food, nutrition, and yourself!
If you’re feeling inspired to learn to cook, but still don’t know where to start, check out our Whole Life Meal Plan! This affordable healthy meal plan teaches you how to eat well using dozens of base recipe concepts, in addition to grocery lists, step-by-step recipe videos, nutrition tidbit videos, and flexibility for your lifestyle.
Now with the base recipe concept in your culinary toolbox, all that’s left to do is get in the kitchen and start cooking to YOUR taste!