So you’re a bright young adult — maybe you’re even enrolled in or hold a degree from a top-tier college. You’re articulate, ambitious and hard-working. But you’re missing one key skill: How to feed yourself.…
So you’re a bright young adult — maybe you’re even enrolled in or hold a degree from a top-tier college. You’re articulate, ambitious and hard-working. But you’re missing one key skill: How to feed yourself. It’s OK — I see a lot of smart young folks like you in my clinical nutrition practice. So I’m going to share with you what I share with them: My advice for learning to cook a few simple, healthy meals.
First, make sure you know how to turn on a gas burner and use an oven (hint: Ask your parents!). If you’re afraid to turn on the stove, your food prep options will be limited. Then, make sure you have some basic kitchen equipment including a medium-sized pot with a tight-fitting lid, a large nonstick frying pan, a baking tray that fits into whatever oven you’ll have access to, a can opener, a decent chef’s knife, a few plastic cutting boards, a potholder, a strainer, a set of measuring cups and spoons, a spatula and a wooden spoon. Finally, practice these 11 recipes:
1. Hard-Boiled Eggs
Learning to make both hard-boiled eggs and a basic omelet ensures you will always have a cheap, nutritious option for breakfast, lunch or dinner. To make hard-boiled eggs, place eggs in a pot and cover them with at least an inch of water. Bring the water to a boil and let it boil for one minute. Shut off the heat, cover the pot and let the eggs sit for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the hot water after 10 minutes and let the eggs cool before trying to peel them.
2. An Omelet
Watch chef Jamie Oliver make the perfect omelet on YouTube; he demonstrates a completely unfussy, fool-proof technique for making a basic cheese omelet. As you master the basics, try tossing some chopped fresh spinach leaves into the center before folding for added nutrition.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a nonstick frying pan. As it’s heating, drain and rinse a can of beans. Pour them into the pan. Sprinkle on 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin and a 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder. Stir with a wooden spoon to blend and cook until the beans are warmed through. Taste for seasoning and add more of any of the spices to taste before serving. You can also doctor them up more for a nutritious meal on the cheap — just pair the beans with rice, and you’ve got lunch. Or, top them with an egg or shredded cheese for extra protein for a dinner meal, or fill a whole-wheat wrap with them alongside some avocado, lettuce and cheese, and you’ve got a breakfast or lunch burrito to go.
Chop up a medium onion and two cloves of garlic. Toss the chopped onion into a pan with hot oil, stirring it around with a wooden spoon for a few minutes until pieces start to soften and turn translucent. Add in the garlic and stir for another 20 seconds or so. Add 2 teaspoons of garam masala spice blend, 1/4 teaspoon of powdered ginger and a sprinkle of salt. Then stir until all the onions and garlic are coated. Add a can of drained chickpeas and a 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes ( including their juices). Simmer the mixture until it thickens and becomes stew-like, add additional salt and seasonings for taste as needed and serve with rice, riced cauliflower or both. If you are feeling fancy, garnish with any of the following: chopped fresh cilantro leaves, hot sauce or plain Greek yogurt.
Sure, frozen pre-cooked rice is now sold in supermarkets. But there’s nothing simpler — and cheaper — than cooking it from scratch. Simply follow the package instructions to know exactly how much water to put in the pot and how long to cook it — it may be anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, depending on the kind of rice. Combine the recommended amount of water with the rice in a pot, add a sprinkle of salt and turn on the heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. It’s done when all the liquid is visibly absorbed.
If you can cook rice, you can cook quinoa. Rinse quinoa grains under running water for a minute; it will reduce the likelihood of a bitter flavor. Then measure 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of quinoa. Combine the grain and water in a pot, add a sprinkle of salt and turn on the heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. It should cook in about 10 to 15 minutes; it’s done when all the liquid is visibly absorbed.
7. Microwaved Sweet Potato
Wash a sweet potato and dry the skin. Puncture it six times with a fork. Place it on a microwave-safe plate and microwave it on high for six minutes. Check the doneness with a fork — if you can’t spear it easily, cook it for another two minutes. Repeat the process, adding two minutes of cooking time after each check, until the potato is soft all the way through.
8. Vegetable Stir-Fry
You can add a warm vegetable side to dish to any meal by simply buying a bag of frozen vegetables and cooking it as indicated on the bag. Or, you stir-fry its contents (while still frozen) in a frying pan with well-heated oil along with a capful of soy sauce until the vegetables are warmed through, about five to seven minutes.
9. Steamed Vegetables
You don’t need a steamer basket to steam veggies — just a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Fill the bottom of the pot with about an inch of water. Toss in fresh vegetables like baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower florets, trimmed string beans or sliced zucchini. Cover. Turn on the heat and bring water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, leafy greens like spinach or frozen peas will steam in about three minutes. Broccoli florets or green beans will take five to seven minutes. Baby carrots will take eight to 12 minutes (depending on thickness). Once your veggies have reached your desired tenderness, turn off the heat, pour the pot’s contents through a strainer to drain excess water and drizzle some olive oil or melt a pat of butter on your still-hot veggies. Sprinkle with salt to taste.
10. Roasted Vegetables
Preheat an oven or toaster oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Chop the roast-able veggies of your choice — cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, beets, Brussels sprouts, zucchini and butternut squash are all good options. The trick is to chop the veggies into similarly-sized chunks so they’ll cook at the same speed. Arrange the veggies on the parchment-lined tray. Drizzle olive oil over them and, using your hands, gently toss the oil with the veggies until they’re all lightly coated. Sprinkle some kosher salt over the veggies. Roast them in the oven until veggies are tender and looking nicely carmelized — anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes for most small- or medium-sized chunks.
My patients of all ages fear cooking fish — but it’s one of the easiest (and healthiest) meals to whip up. In the time it takes to bake a fresh fillet, you can also microwave a sweet potato and toss some dressing on pre-washed bagged salad mix for a completely respectable grown-up meal.
Just buy any fresh fish fillet from your supermarket fish counter — sole, cod, halibut, sea bass, tilapia or salmon will do. Preheat an oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees F. Spray the bottom of an oven-safe baking dish with spray oil to prevent sticking. Place your fish fillet, skin-side down, in the oiled dish. Sprinkle salt and pepper on your fish. If you wish, you can also put a few pats of butter, thinly sliced garlic and fresh herbs of your choice atop the fish. Alternatively, buy a yummy-looking pre-made marinade and just pour it over the fish before tossing it in the oven.
Baking time is 10 minutes per inch of thickness of the fillet, measured at the thickest part. (Or, 10 minutes for a 1-inch thick fillet, 20 minutes for a 2-inch thick fillet and so on). After removing the fish from the oven, squeeze a lemon wedge on it and serve.