Cooking Basics: Getting Started

Last week I finished up the “healthful freezer” portion of my kitchen series. I’d started writing about creating a healthful kitchen way back in March, beginning with tools and utensils to have in your kitchen, then moving on to what to keep in your cupboards, and finally on to what to keep in your refrigerator and freezer. Hopefully by now your kitchen is fully equipped and stocked! Now it’s time to get cooking.

We’ve already learned that a lot of people have gotten away from cooking (for various reasons) and that some people never really learned how to cook in the first place. But if you’re not exactly a self-described chef, don’t worry, because you don’t have to be. Having a few basic skills under your belt should give you the confidence to turn your oven on or break out those fancy new pots. Cooking actually can be a lot of fun, and it’s also relaxing.

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Chopping, slicing, and sautéing are great ways to decompress from a stressful day. And if you’re mulling over an important life decision, what better way to do so than while whipping up a batch of homemade soup? Plus, let’s not forget that preparing meals at home (beyond just popping a frozen dinner in the microwave) can make you healthier and save you some money. I should add that my goal isn’t to teach you how to cook. I’ll leave that to the experts. What I’m hoping to do is to inspire you a little bit to venture into your kitchen and try your hand at cooking.

Getting Started

  • Remove pans from their boxes, unwrap your new knives… In all seriousness, part of successful cooking is being prepared. That’s why I’ve written about what to have on hand for many months now. You can’t really cook without having the right tools and ingredients. Sure, you can limit yourself to a soup pot or a Crock-Pot, but at some point, you’ll need other tools. So if you’re serious about eating more healthfully or saving some money, take stock of what you have and what you’re lacking and get the things you need.
  • Check out cookbooks and recipes. This can be a daunting task: think of all the cookbooks that are available, not to mention the literally millions of recipes that you can find on the Internet. It can be overwhelming. My suggestion is to start with what you like. For example, if you can’t get enough of chicken, look for cookbooks and recipes that feature chicken. Or, if you’re curious about how to fit more legumes (beans, peas, lentils) into your eating plan, check out a vegetarian cookbook or do a search for bean recipes.

    Words to the wise: You’ll come across cookbooks and recipes that are lengthy and involved. You’ll also see recipes that feature not-so-healthful ingredients such as butter and cheese (not that you can’t eat these, but everything in moderation). So to start, look for recipes with only a few ingredients. Narrow your search to more healthful or lower-fat recipes. You don’t necessarily have to look for “diabetic” recipes, either (besides, not all diabetic recipes are exactly healthful). You might even try subscribing to a healthful cooking magazine, such as Cooking Light, Eating Well, or Vegetarian Times. And don’t forget about the recipes in Diabetes Self-Management and on DiabetesSelfManagement.com! Finally, you might ask a dietitian for help, too. A dietitian can help you with cookbook and recipes ideas, and can also help you modify some of your family favorites to make them lower in fat, sodium, or carbohydrate.

  • Get help from the pros. No, you don’t necessarily have to go to Le Cordon Bleu. But if you live near a cooking school, they’ll often provide cooking courses that anyone can sign up for. Also, check out your local adult education offerings — they usually offer several types of cooking classes (maybe skip the one about 101 Things To Do with Chocolate, however!).

    Don’t overlook live talent, either. Maybe your sister, best friend, or coworker whips up a mean chicken stir-fry or veggie lasagna. Ask if they’ll show you how to make their favorite dish. If you’d prefer step-by-step instructions, look for cooking videos. Food Network, Cooking Light, and Real Simple Web sites offer plenty of videos that can teach you everything from how to boil water to how to prepare Thanksgiving dinner.

Anyone can learn how to cook! More next week.

  • calgarydiabetic

    I really enjoyed the movie Julie and Julia. It showed Julia putting tonnes of butter in her dishes. She lived to be 92. Is there a message in that?

  • acampbell

    Hmmmm…or perhaps it was the wine? Or she had good genes? I think there are lessons we still need to learn about food!

  • Bob Fenton

    Is there some reason that some of the Cookbooks were not listed that have the serving size, servings for the recipe and nutritional values? These have been invaluable for me as a person with diabetes. Granted they are close approximations, but in general have been a large help. Many people also must cook to stay healthy and away from all the high sodium and preservatives in convience foods.

    Of course, for those with allergies to wheat or peanuts, they must avoid those foods and need specialized cookbooks. Or am I mentioning things from future blogs?

  • sunburst1969

    I do most of the cooking for me and my wife. Shortly after getting home I am in the kitchen preparing dinner (and next day’s lunch for me).
    This absolutely is a wind down time and very therapeutic IMHO.
    Your series of articles have had alot of useful info.
    Thanks.

  • acampbell

    Hi Bob,

    I actually didn’t mention any specific cookbooks in this posting mostly because there are so many good ones! I did mention a few magazines that provide healthy recipes along with the nutritional analysis. My advice to anyone in the market for a cookbook is to choose one that lists the nutrient values per serving. But thanks for mentioning this — you gave me a great idea for a future blog entry!

  • acampbell

    Hi sunburst1969,

    Thanks for sharing that. I too find cooking to be relaxing and a good stress reliever. I’m glad you’ve found the series to be helpful!

  • calgarydiabetic

    I am going to make turkey carcass soup. The broth is from boiled turkey remains (Canadian turkey day has been). I may or may not skim off the Turkey fat , some days I still believe that saturated fats are bad. Then fry up some red peppers, celery, turnip, carrots and add to the broth. BBQ some chicken breast and add. Makes a low carb or at least friendly carb soup. I used to add boiled barley but have become so insulin resistant that any grain products skyrocket my BG.

    You can use olive or canola to fry the veggies or the turkey fat depending on your beliefs. Needs a fair bit of fridge space or cold garage to store cause it makes a lot.