Steps to improve you culinary skills for healthier eating

What’s your excuse for not cooking family meals? Do you lack the time and energy? Are the kids fussy eaters?

Or do you lack confidence in your kitchen skills?

If so, you’re far from alone. From newlyweds who take new pots out of the boxes with no idea how to use them—to parents of school-age children—many people have no clue how to prepare a healthy family meal. They can use a microwave, but don’t know how to make a scrambled egg or roast a chicken.

Home-cooked meals have been on a downward trend for decades. No country in the developed world cooks less than the United States.

An entire generation grew up with few cooking skills transferred from the previous one. Sadly, there was no passage of “kitchen wisdom” from one generation to the next.

Many parents and guardians are intimidated by cooking dinner at home. It’s not just the cooking; it’s meal planning, shopping, cleaning up afterwards—and then what to do with the leftovers.

March is National Nutrition Month—a time to focus on healthier eating—and what better way to eat better than to cook a meal yourself?

It’s much easier to produce meals with more healthful ingredients and cooking techniques when you do the cooking yourself.

Three benefits of home cooking

• Generally consume fewer calories

• Avoid unhealthy additives

• Control the ingredients that go into your family’s meals

Steps to help improve your culinary skills

Get help. Today it’s easy. Turn to illustrated cookbooks and cooking videos on YouTube, social media, or television.

Keep it simple. You don’t learn to cook by starting with a complex, time-consuming dish. Begin by learning a few basics: a roast chicken, an omelet, or lentil soup. Prepare them several times until you’re satisfied with the result. Then move on to another dish.

Shop conscientiously. Good cooks take their time selecting their ingredients. Choose the crispest greens, the freshest vegetables, and top-quality protein sources. Even the simplest dishes will sing when you shop wisely.

Have the right tools on hand. A sharpened chef’s knife, paring knife, sauté pan, sauce pan, soup pot, and roasting pan with a rack are the basics with which you can prepare most dishes.

Have everything ready. Mise en place is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” Before starting the actual cooking, pull your ingredients out and get them prepped. For example, if you need ½ cup chopped onion for the recipe, chop the onion, place it in a bowl, then repeat for all the ingredients. The actual “cooking” will go more smoothly and quickly.

Taste early and taste often. Flavor is built up in layers. For example, notice how the flavor of a tomato sauce deepens as it cooks. And experiment with herbs and spices. A fresh squeeze of lemon juice or splash of vinegar can help brighten a dish.

Clean as you go. I learned this valuable tip while earning my Girl Scout cooking badge and I’ve followed it ever since. This makes the eventual cleanup less daunting.

Bring in the kids as you learn. By introducing them to basic techniques at a young age, it’s not about making them ready to go on Iron Chef. It’s about piquing their interest, starting a conversation, and getting them into the kitchen. And yes, kids are generally more likely to try a food if they’ve invested the time and effort into making it.

A final thought: Are you willing to put in a little extra time now to prevent paying extra money in healthcare costs down the road?

Christine Palumbo is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is a 2018 recipient of the Medallion Award from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @PalumboRD, Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition or

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