We’re big advocates of learning how to cook here at the Shop & Enroll blog. It’s healthier, fun, and can save you money! The only stumbling block is getting started. (After all, there’s an entire industry built around having someone else make meals for you!)

You can cut any kitchen anxiety you feel by learning how to safely prepare dinner. All you have to do is follow these tips!

Use Recipes

Before you even start cooking, you’ll want to have a game plan. This will help you keep everything organized when the heat is on. Think about it this way. If you’re driving somewhere for the first time, you’d use a GPS or a map, right?

That’s what a recipe is — your roadmap to a good meal. After you’ve traveled that road a few times, you may be comfortable getting there without help. But, when you’re first starting out, it’s a good idea to follow recipes.

As a beginner, you most likely haven’t developed a sense for what flavors pair well together or the specifics that go into creating meals. The best way to grow this sense is by using recipes. Once you have a few recipes memorized and mastered, you can start to branch out.

Go Easy on the Seasoning

Just like following recipes early on, be careful with adding spices and seasoning. Without much experience, it’s very easy to over-season your food, and very few things are as unpleasant as a dinner that’s way too salty or spicy.

Until you get a feel for the exact amounts to add, be cautious with hot peppers or sauce. A good rule of thumb is to add seasoning little by little. You can always add more later.

Learn Basic Knife Skills

Many recipes call for you to dice, mince, or cut up the ingredients. Learning basics knife skills and guidelines is crucial to getting the job done safely. For instance, it may seem contradictory, but a sharp knife is a safe knife. The reasoning behind this is simple: A properly sharpened knife will prevent it from getting caught or slipping.

You’ll also want to make sure you’re holding the knife properly. The correct way to grip a knife is to hold the flat of the blade between your thumb and index finger. Use the rest of your cutting hand to grasp the knife’s handle. Your alternate hand should hold the ingredient you’re cutting with the “claw grip.”

This involves holding the ingredient with the tips of your fingers and curling your knuckles forward. When you’re ready, use your knuckles to guide your cut. Done right, this method keeps your fingers away from the blade of the knife.

Get Your Kitchen Mise en Place

Mise en place, roughly translated as “put in place,” means getting everything cut, measured, and ready to cook. There are several reasons to build a mise en place kitchen.

The most obvious one is it prevents you from rushing around while you’re in the middle of cooking. By laying out all your needed ingredients, you’ll also be able to spot if anything is missing before beginning.

Staying Safe While Cooking

You may cook an unforgettable feast, but if you don’t do it safely, it’ll be memorable for all the wrong reasons. Cooking offers a rare combination of hazards, from a hot stove to a sharp knife to the potential for foodborne illnesses. To avoid putting yourself or others in danger, following good kitchen safety standards is key.

One easy way to prevent foodborne illnesses is to not cross-contaminate certain foods. What does this mean? Well, don’t use the same cutting board or knife for raw meat and vegetables.

By the same token, don’t use the same mixing bowl for raw ingredients and cooked ingredients. You’ll also want to wash your hands every time you handle raw meat, especially before touching other ingredients.

Thawing meat safely is also important to keep your food, yourself, and your guests safe. One common way people thaw food is to allow it to sit out at room temperature. Don’t do this. The USDA states that “perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter or in hot water.”

They must also not be “left out at room temperature for more than two hours.” Room temperature is firmly within the bacteria danger zone, aka the perfect temperature for bacteria to grow.

Foodborne illnesses aren’t the only concern in the kitchen. For thwarting other hazards in the kitchen, here’s a good piece of advice: Be mindful, and don’t rush. If you’re paying attention to what you’re doing, you’re less likely to touch a hot pan or drop a knife. Having a mise en place kitchen massively helps. Keep that and other kitchen safety tips in mind while prepping meals.

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Knowing how to safely prepare for cooking takes away a lot of the stress associated with taking a more active role in the kitchen. With these tips in tow, all that’s left for you is to get started cooking!

To learn more, check out any of our recipe articles in the Diet section. Our “Getting Creative with Comfort Food” series takes your favorite, though often unhealthy, meals and makes some healthy tweaks. Another of our series, “Superfood Snack Hacks,” introduces ways to incorporate healthy superfoods into your diet. Happy cooking!

Further Reading

BBC Good Food — 25 skills every cook should know
The Shop & Enroll Blog — The Benefits of Cooking for Yourself
The Kitchn — 10 Common Mistakes That Every Cook Makes
The Shop & Enroll Blog — Cooking for Beginners: Cooking Techniques and Tips