How to Start Cooking at Home

This is a beginner’s guide to cooking at home. If you want to start eating more meals at home, you’ll love this article.

This article walks you through a five-step process for cooking at home. You’ll learn about meal planning, buying and preparing ingredients, cooking, and much more. This article also includes many tips that I wish I had known when I was new to cooking.

Step 1: Make a Meal Plan

If you want to start cooking at home, you first need to decide what to cook. You can do this by creating a meal plan.

What Is a Meal Plan?

A meal plan is a schedule of your meals. It can be detailed or it can be brief; it just needs to work for you.

I do my meal planning twice a week, and during each session I plan my meals for the next three or four days.

I find it helpful to make a meal plan that is comprehensive. My meal plan maps out my main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) as well as snacks (morning tea and supper). For me, a detailed meal plan is the key to being able to eat home-cooked meals every day.

How to Decide What to Eat

Sometimes meal planning is effortless, but other times it’s a struggle.

Here’s my best advice for times when you need a dash of meal planning inspiration:

  • Cook with the seasons. Plan comforting soups and stews in the winter, and colourful wraps and sandwiches in the summer. This is a wonderful way to live in harmony with nature.
  • Recreate childhood favourites. Which meals did you most look forward to when you were a child? Add these to your meal plan and prepare to revel in nostalgia.
  • Take inspiration from your favourite restaurants. Try making your own version of a restaurant dish that you enjoy. Many restaurant meals are surprisingly easy to recreate.

Step 2: Get Ingredients

You’ve decided what to cook. Now it’s time to obtain the ingredients.

Use these tips for a successful shopping trip:

Before You Go

  • Figure out what you already have. Look inside your fridge, pantry, and freezer. Don’t forget to check your fruit bowl, too. This will prevent you from accidentally buying items that you don’t need.
  • Make a shopping list. Use your meal plan to create a list of the items you need to buy. Write down the quantity you need as well.
  • Clean and tidy your food storage spaces. Wipe down the shelves in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Wash your fruit bowl. Create an inviting environment for your new groceries.
  • Have a snack if you are tired or hungry. Grocery shopping can require a lot of physical and mental energy. You will get through your list more efficiently if you replenish your energy before you go.

At the Supermarket

  • Inspect each item before you buy it. Choose fresh, unblemished produce. Make sure that any packaging is in good condition. If an item has a best before or expiry date, read it and check that you can use the item in time.
  • Be wary of impulse buying. If you feel tempted to buy an item that is not on your list, make sure that it fits into your budget and that you will actually use it. If you are unsure about an impulse purchase, don’t buy it. You can always get it next time.
  • Check your list frequently. Keep referring to your list while you shop. You can also check it one last time before you leave. This helps to ensure that you don’t miss anything.

After Your Shopping Trip

  • Unpack your shopping bags as soon as you get home. This helps to keep your food in optimal condition.
  • Store each item appropriately. Take the time to place each item neatly in a suitable space. Some items are best kept at room temperature, while others should be kept in the fridge or freezer.
  • Write down the amount you spent. It’s useful to know how much you are spending on groceries.

Step 3: Prep Your Ingredients

Now that you have your ingredients, it’s time to prepare them for cooking. This is the key to a relaxing and enjoyable cooking session.

Here are my favourite tips for preparing ingredients:

Before You Start Prepping

  • Put on an apron. This precaution has saved my clothing countless times. As an added bonus, I find that donning an apron propels me into the right state of mind for cooking.
  • Give yourself enough time. Different dishes require different amounts of prep time. A cheese and tomato sandwich may only need five minutes of prep time, while a curry might need an hour of prep time. Some recipes might even require you to let your ingredients soak, defrost, or marinate overnight.
  • Familiarise yourself with basic prep techniques. Learn how to wash, measure, cut up, and season your ingredients. These basic skills will be useful to you again and again.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands with soap and water before you begin prepping. Keep your hands clean by washing them throughout the prepping process, especially after handling raw meat.

While You Are Prepping

  • Stabilise your chopping board. If your chopping board moves when you use it, place a tea towel underneath it to keep it in place. It’s easier and safer to work on a stable surface.
  • Cut each ingredient to the same size. This will help ensure that your food cooks evenly. It can also make your final dish look more appealing.
  • Finish prepping before you begin cooking. Whenever I try to prep and cook at the same time, I find myself hurtling around the kitchen, simultaneously chopping vegetables, seasoning chicken, and managing the frying pan. This frantic style of cooking tends to produce dishes that just don’t taste right. I want my cooking experience to be therapeutic, not hectic, so I much prefer to have all my ingredients ready before I start cooking.

Step 4: Cook Your Meal

Once you have prepared your ingredients, it’s time to cook.

Here are some tips that can help you produce an appetizing plate of food:

  • Preheat your pan. When cooking food in oil on the stove, it’s often best to heat your pan and oil before you add any food to the pan. Preheating your pan helps to improve the texture, flavour, and colour of your final dish. It also helps to prevent your food from sticking to the pan.
  • Use an appropriate heat level. When you are cooking on the stove, choose a heat level that is appropriate for your cooking technique. Also, pay attention to your food while you are cooking and adjust the temperature when necessary. In general, food will cook more quickly on high heat and more slowly on low heat. If your food is cooking too quickly, turn the heat down. If your food is cooking too slowly, turn the heat up.
  • Season your food. Proper seasoning can make home-cooked meals taste more like restaurant meals. Many dishes can be dramatically improved with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a pinch of sugar, a splash of soy sauce, or a dash of lemon juice. I usually season each dish multiple times throughout the cooking process. I find that seasoning in stages gives the final dish a more complex, well-rounded flavour.
  • Taste your food. You should know exactly how your meal tastes before you serve it. Taste your dish at least once before you turn off the heat. This is your opportunity to make sure that your final dish tastes delicious. If necessary, you can fine-tune the flavour of your dish by adjusting the seasoning.

Step 5: Keep It Up!

The hardest part of cooking at home is being consistent. It’s easy to throw together a meal or two at sporadic intervals, but it takes Herculean discipline to prepare three home-cooked meals every single day with clockwork regularity.

The good news is that it gets exponentially easier with practice. If you keep cooking as much as you can, eventually cooking will settle seamlessly into the rhythm of your everyday life.

Here are some tips to help you build a habit of cooking at home:

  • Make cooking a priority. Integrate cooking into your daily routine. To me, eating well is just as important as brushing my teeth or getting a good night’s sleep. It is sacrosanct, and therefore I make a concerted effort to eat home-cooked meals every day.
  • Take notes. You will improve much faster if you keep a record of your culinary adventures. Write down the good, so that you can replicate it—and also write down the not-so-good, to save yourself from making the same mistakes twice.
  • Keep your kitchen clean. Reset your kitchen after each cooking session. Wipe down the stove, splashback, and benchtop, and wash the dishes immediately after you have finished eating. You will feel more motivated to cook when your kitchen is sparkling clean.
  • Vary your meal plan. Create a meal plan that inspires you. I have noticed that I feel more excited to cook when I vary my meal plan from week to week. As a rule of thumb, I avoid cooking the same dish more than once every fortnight.
  • Cook (at least) double. You can save time and energy by cooking big batches of food. I cook double portions almost every time. It feels so satisfying and luxurious to pack up the leftovers for another meal.
  • Take a day off. I take at least one day off cooking every week. I call it my cooking holiday. On this day, I serve precooked meals that I prepared earlier in the week. I always feel rejuvenated after a cooking holiday.

Bonus Tip: The Golden Rule of Cooking

Over the years, I have noticed something curious. I have noticed that my kitchen is a mirror reflection of my life.

The meals that come out of my kitchen have an uncanny way of revealing the vagaries of my mood. When I feel contented, inspired, and energised, I send out bold, punchy feasts that nourish and delight. But when I feel anxious, distracted, and fatigued, I find myself sighing as I stir insipid, uninspired, stodgy dishes.

You might have heard the saying that the kitchen is the heart of the home. I like to modify this statement by removing the last three words. The kitchen is the heart.

Your kitchen is a secret window into the inner recesses of your heart, and each dish that you create is the manifestation of a whisper from your soul.

Your cooking ability is intimately attuned to your emotional state. That is why the golden rule of cooking at home is to enjoy yourself. Allow your kitchen to be your haven and your playground. When you feel good, it will shine through in your cooking, and every dish that you create will provide balm for both body and spirit.