How to Cook as an Adult
Updated: Apr 3
Cooking is hard. When I was in college, I lived mainly on pasta, grilled cheese sandwiches, and plain rice. Oh, and cookies -- lots and lots of cookies.
I was not very good at cooking, but weirdly enough, I didn't know that. So when I invited my boyfriend over for dinner one night, and he didn't seem that impressed with the meal I cooked (in fact, he said he had just had dinner to get out of eating it, so he was clearly not impressed at all), I was a little disappointed.
What was the meal, you ask? Plain spaghetti topped with pre-shredded cheese and tomato ketchup, my go-to at the time. Unfortunately, I later found out my boyfriend hated ketchup.
The spaghetti also ended up sticking together into "spaghetti bars," making the meal even less edible. It was obviously not the best dinner I've ever made. But for someone who (back then) didn't even know how to cook chicken, I still don't think it was that bad.
I've come a long way since then. Nowadays, most of my meals include at least one vegetable because, as it turns out, vegetables are kind of important for you.
Here are some basic tips I picked up along the way, including how to know if your meat is cooked (okay, I'm not going to lie, I still struggle with this one).
How to cook
Read through the entire recipe. That way, you'll know what you'll be dealing with before you start cooking. I often get excited about recipes only to realize that they're too time-consuming/difficult to make/require equipment I don't have when I read them in full.
Heat the oil in a pan/pot before tossing food in. Otherwise, the food will soak up the oil instead of cooking in it and won't taste good. Not sure if the oil is hot enough? Drop a small piece of whatever it is you're cooking (garlic, veggies, meat) into the pan or pot to see if it sizzles. If it does, you're good to go.
Prep your ingredients. Cut up your vegetables, measure what needs to be measured, etc., beforehand to avoid getting stressed out when you're actually cooking.
Use a separate cutting board and utensils for raw meat. Raw meat can spread bacteria to other foods. Using a separate cutting board and knife for meat can reduce your chances of getting sick. Wash the cutting board and any utensils that touched the meat with hot, soapy water afterward to disinfect them.
Keep perishable foods in the fridge. Leaving food out of the fridge for too long (i.e., more than 2 hours) can result in dangerous bacteria levels and cause illness.
Check the "use by" date. This is ESPECIALLY important when it comes to meat. If the meat is out of date, don't eat it, even if it looks and smells okay. By the way, "best before" is the date by which the food is of its best quality. "Use by" is the date after which the product may no longer be safe to eat. You may want to plan your meals according to the "use by" date of your meats and other ingredients. For example, if your hummus will go bad on Tuesday, have it as a snack that day or incorporate it into your dinner.
Freeze the meat you know you won't get to eat in time. Then, when you want to defrost it, put it in the fridge overnight (12 hours). NEVER refreeze raw meat.
Cut into meat to see if it's done. If you don't have a thermometer, you can tell if the meat is cooked by visual inspection. For example, chicken meat will turn white (inside and outside) when fully cooked. If it's still pink, it's not yet done.
Turn down the heat. Unless you want to burn your pan, keep the heat medium to low.
Clean as you go to save time later. Trust me, the last thing you'll want to do after eating dinner is have to deal with a pile of pots, pans, and dishes.
Need some ideas for healthy(ish) meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Here's what I like to eat. Ideally, you want to find a few recipes you like and then rotate them.
Overnight Oats. In a small glass or cup, add a layer of yogurt, then a layer of oats, and then a layer of frozen or fresh berries. Repeat until you get to the top of the glass and put it in the fridge overnight. You could also make this Chia Pudding.
3 Ingredient Banana Pancakes. Crack an egg into a bowl and mix it with a fork. In a separate bowl, mash a ripe banana. Add the banana into the egg and mix. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour to the egg and banana mixture and mix. In a preheated pan, spoon the batter into the pan, making a few small pancakes. Cook on one side, then flip. The pancakes are done when both sides are browned. Serve with toppings of your choice!
Boiled Eggs. Fill a pot with cold water and add eggs. Bring water to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid. Wait 3 mins for soft-boiled eggs, 6 mins for medium-boiled eggs, and 12 mins for hard-boiled eggs.
Omelette. Crack a few eggs into a bowl, beat with a fork and then add salt and pepper, vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, green leaves, mushrooms, and onions), and cheese. Pour the mixture into a pan and cook. Flip it after a while.
Salads or Buddha Bowls. I particularly like the Chickpea Shawarma Salad, Kale Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette, and a simple Chicken Caesar salad (toss together lettuce, cherry tomatoes, chicken pieces, parmesan, croutons, and store-bought Caesar sauce). As for Buddha bowls: the Side Chef has a step-by-step guide on how to build one from the ingredients you probably already have on hand.
Sandwiches. Never eat a boring sandwich again. Someone created galleries with award-winning sandwiches and recipes leading to them. Gallery 1; Gallery 2; Gallery 3; Gallery 4.
Pasta. With pesto or tomato sauce (fry some garlic and onion, add passata/tin of tomatoes, and cook until the sauce has thickened. When you get confident, you can add veggies and meat to the sauce, too). Also, Double Whammy Arrabbiata if you're feeling fancy.
Fish. Put a bit of butter and salt and pepper on your chosen fish (I like to go with salmon, hake, cod, or haddock), and then wrap it in tinfoil. Cook it in the oven for 20 mins. Bake a few potatoes in the oven as a side (cut them up really thinly so that they bake faster and drizzle some olive oil on top, then season with salt and pepper) and make a simple garden salad (greens, tomatoes, and cucumber drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper). If you're having salmon, you could chop up peppers and mushrooms and fry them in olive oil instead. You can add a few teaspoons of harissa on top of the mushrooms and peppers if you want to. Alternatively, make an Asian Broccoli Salad with Peanut Sauce instead.
Stir-fries. Toss together meat or tofu, veggies, and noodles/rice. My current favorite is Better than Takeout Thai Drunken Noodles.
Basically, if you have rice, veggies, fruit, eggs, oatmeal, bread, and some type of meat (optional), you can make SOMETHING.
What are your go-to meals? Any cooking tips we missed? Share them below!