If you’re looking for tips for cooking from scratch for beginners, you’re in the right place!
I grew up in the ’90s when packaged foods were at their peak. Despite the prevalence of processed foods, my parents always cooked and they taught my sister and me how to cook.
Of course, some of our meals were based around packaged foods and unhealthy ingredients (cream of mushroom soup pasta, anyone?) but I still learned the basics of how to cook from scratch (like this squash soup) and that helped me immensely when it came time for me to learn how to cook with healthier ingredients.
But as I learned how to cook healthier foods from scratch, it occurred to me that not everyone had parents who knew how to cook and passed on their knowledge. Some people never ate a home-cooked meal growing up (whether the ingredients were healthy or not).
So I wanted to create a guide for cooking from scratch for beginners. I want to give you some steps you can take to learn to cook healthier food without going crazy.
Cooking From Scratch for Beginners: Why We Do It
Believe it or not, I don’t love cooking. It’s funny because friends and family often mentioned that I must love cooking because I cook almost every meal from scratch.
The truth is I don’t really like it that much. Cooking can be enjoyable, but I would just rather be doing something else. I don’t cook from scratch because it’s something I really enjoy doing. I cook from scratch for the following reasons:
Packaged and boxed foods may be more convenient but they’re anything but healthy. Even mainstream medical advice is to reduce or avoid processed foods. Now that I’m eating an AIP diet it’s even more important that I make our food.
It Saves Money
With services like Paleo-on-the-Go, it’s possible to eat healthy food without actually cooking it. But if I did that every day or even every week it would get really expensive really fast.
Even if we’re talking about cheap food, I think there is still a cost savings, it’s just not as immediate. I like to consider the cost of being sick and tired. Feeling sick and tired means you spend a lot more time sleeping or recuperating and there’s less time for the things you want to do like going for hikes, planting a garden, playing with the kids outside, Etc.
Reviving a Lost Art
While cooking isn’t my most favorite activity, I can still find some enjoyment in it. When you cook, you take something in its raw state (inedible or not tasty) and transform it into a delicious and nourishing meal. There’s definitely an art to it and I’m not surprised that many people really love cooking.
Reviving a Lost Skill
Cooking may not be my favorite skill to practice, but I’m immensely grateful that I have it. Our ancestors knew how to cook because if you were hungry, you (or someone in your family) had to cook. Today, many people don’t have even basic cooking skills. At the end of the day if you don’t know how to cook you don’t know how to take care of yourself.
How to Switch from Packaged Food to Whole Foods Cooked from Scratch
It’s pretty simple. Go into your kitchen right now and gather up the unhealthy packaged foods and throw them out. Now that your kitchen is empty, sit down and cry because there’s nothing to eat…
Okay, don’t actually do that. It may be tempting but trust me, you need this to happen gradually. The real first step is to take your time and be okay with where you are on the journey.
When I first decided to make cooking from scratch a bigger part of my life, I wanted to just jump in. I knew what foods were bad for us and didn’t want to have them around anymore. But I’m glad I didn’t make a huge change all at once.
There’s nothing worse than being hungry because you don’t know how to cook anything in your house!
Here are some basic steps you can follow to phase packaged foods out of your diet and begin to cook from scratch more.
Find Healthier Convenience Foods
This may be a surprising suggestion since we’re talking about cooking from scratch for beginners, but hear me out. If you’re choosing to cook from scratch so you have healthier food, it makes sense to find some convenience foods that you can still rely on once in a while.
Yes, they’re still packaged, and yes, they still have a few ingredients that aren’t ideal. But organic and natural packaged foods are better than conventional packaged and convenience foods.
Since you are relying on these packaged foods much less frequently, you probably can afford the organic ones the few time you need them.
Having these as a backup while you learn to cook from scratch can save you a lot of stress. It can also help avoid last-minute dinners out.
Get Higher Quality Ingredients as You Can
You can cook from scratch using corn oil, and other processed fats but that kind of defeats the purpose of cooking from scratch.
It may be something you do for a while as you learn, but make a plan to phase out unhealthy ingredients and phase in healthy ones.
Trading unhealthy fats for healthy fats (like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, grass-fed butter) is what I recommend starting with.
Eat in Season
It’s expensive to buy ingredients that are out of season or don’t grow locally. Focus on learning a few go-to seasonal recipes (bonus if it’s made with things you grow or can grow).
Eating seasonally helps keep your budget in check and means you may have higher quality produce.
Another skill to master is freestyle cooking.
Freestyle cooking is cooking from what you have and what you already know. You might look at a recipe for guidance or you might not.
It’s about taking the general idea of a meal and tweaking it for the ingredients you have on hand and for your tastes.
This is an advanced skill, so don’t feel overwhelmed! It will come with time. As you learn to cook from recipes, you’ll start to understand where you can substitute and tweak.
I’m not much of a recipe follower so I’ve pretty much always done freestyle cooking. It saves me time and money because I can substitute ingredients instead of having to spend more at the grocery store or take another trip. It’s also really helpful for cooking in season.
This is one of the best tools I can recommend for cooking from scratch for beginners.
You may already know that I have Hashimoto’s disease which Is an autoimmune disease. One thing I do to manage this is I eat a healing diet — Autoimmune Paleo (AIP). The AIP diet is a stricter form of Paleo Diet and requires 100% homemade food.
So I make about three meals a day every day.
One of the ways that I am able to do this is by meal planning. I use a meal planning service called Real Plans where I can add AIP recipes (I pay a little extra for AIP meals to be included already).
It takes care of planning meals and compiling a grocery list for me (but I can also tweak it if I want to). Having a meal plan is a huge help for staying organized and making sure that there is a home-cooked meal on the table every day.
Another way that I eat home-cooked meals regularly is batch cooking. What I’m currently doing is: I make a large breakfast two or three times a week and eat the leftovers on the other days.
Lunch is leftovers or salad with leftover meat. Dinner I make most days but I try to make extra so there are leftovers for the next day’s lunch. I also only make meals that take less than 45 minutes preferably 30 minutes.
I may make a meal that takes longer on the weekends.
You can also make extra meals and put them in the freezer for later. If you spend one day each month and make a batch of casseroles for the freezer, you can potentially have 1-2 meals already made each week.
Slowly Add Necessary Equipment
As you cook more recipes from scratch, you’ll find that there are some tools that are indispensable.
A food processor is probably my favorite tool (this is the brand I like). I can make cauliflower rice, dairy-free ice cream, or I can just chop or shred vegetables quickly.
If you plan on making bread, a standing mixer may be your most used kitchen tool. We don’t eat bread, so I don’t have much use for a standing mixer.
You’ll find quickly find which tools are most important in your kitchen.
FInd a Good Cookbook
Even though I don’t follow recipes very often I do need them for inspiration. Especially when you’re just starting out, a cookbook is indispensable.
But look for one that features real food ingredients so you know you’re making a healthy meal. Here are my suggestions:
- From Scratch by Shaye Elliott of the Elliott Homestead
- Nourishing Traditions Cookbook by Sally Fallon
Using a “real food” based cookbook will help you learn the skills you need to get started cooking from scratch.
Cooking From Scratch for Beginners
Here’s the video I made on this same topic!
Cooking From Scratch for Beginners: Final Thoughts
If you’re a beginner cook and want to make healthy food for your family, you may feel overwhelmed. But learning to cook takes time and patience. These tips should help you get started serving your family the healthiest food you can.
Now it’s Your Turn!
What are your tips for cooking from scratch for beginners?