If you want to make a real, lasting change in the way you eat, you’re going to have to learn how to cook. Well, unless you can afford a personal chef to prepare each of your meals, or have a partner who cooks all of your meals for you. Regardless, it is empowering to learn to cook, and not as difficult as you may think. I had the goal to learn to cook for about 13 years before acting on it… I understand the struggle, lol. I won’t bore you with personal stories, but will use this section to provide some practical advice to get you started in gaining proficiency in preparing meals.
Basic Cooking Equipment
To start cooking, you’ll have to invest in some basic cooking equipment. When I began this process myself, I consulted The Kitchn Cookbook. The book has a very simple, practical way of explaining how to equip your kitchen. I’ve summarized what I’ve learned here and combined it with some personal preferences as well.
That’s Not a Knife…
You’ll need at least one knife – a chef’s knife is the most versatile. A paring knife will also come in handy. As you progress in cooking, you may add more knives, but these two will get you through just about every recipe.
You’ll need a cutting board. I like wood boards. Bamboo is nice too. Plastic is typically thin and flimsy. And glass will wear out your knives. Cutting boards come in all sizes. I like a medium-sized board without any indentations. This way, when you cut things into small pieces, the board is not too heavy that it is hard to lift, and it is easy to control where the veggies etc.. end up (in a bowl or pan rather than on the floor ;-)). The indentations may also catch small things like minced garlic and can be frustrating. Very small boards can be frustrating as well, and very large boards are hard to handle and can be hard to clean if you’ve got a small sink.
Sheet pans are real handy for baking most things. Unfortunately, most are of the non-stick, aluminum variety. Try and avoid those. Look for a stainless-steel option that is not dipped in aluminum. From the perspective of prudence, I believe that best option is to put your food item directly on to the pan. You can coat the pan with an oil which does not smoke at the temperature in which you are baking. Examples are oils such as coconut, or if you’ve got some money burning a hole in your pocket, avocado oil. You can get a Misto which is like a PAM spray but allows you to use the oil of your choice. It’s not necessary though, but an option if you would like to lightly coat your pan with a healthy oil.
You can use a silicone silpat to cover your pan or unbleached parchment paper, and these are considered inert, although I still have my suspicions about them. The idea behind using them is that cleaning will be easier, but if you use enough healthy oil on the pan and a bit of elbow grease when cleaning, the food particles should come off pretty easily.
Size is important here. Make sure the sheet pan can fit into your oven! Just measure it. Half-size, or 18×13 inches, is usually a good size.
9 x 13 inch (three quarts volume on average) is a good size. I like glass baking dishes as glass is an inert substance. Casseroles, cakes, and other recipes require a baking dish.
Skillet or Sauté Pan
A cast-iron skillet can serve a pretty similar function as a sauté pan, as the sauté pan is a skillet with high sides. So, if you’ve got a sauté pan, you don’t really need a skillet, and vice-versa. I’m biased to preferring cast-iron skillets because I’ve used them so much throughout my life, and it was one of the only high-quality cooking pieces I had available to use while working as a wilderness guide for two years. A 10-inch sauté pan is deep enough to simmer a batch of tomato sauce, which proves more difficult in a skillet. But the skillet is great – you can lather it with coconut oil, toss on some veggies, any source of protein, some seasonings, and you’ve got a meal! I’ll let you decide which you prefer, and you can always get both.
A 2- or 3-quart saucepan will allow you to make soups and sauces. If you get too large a saucepan these takes prove more difficult.
Stockpot or Large Dutch Oven
A 4- to 6-quart pot is essential. You can use them to make stews, braises, soups, and pastas. You can roast veggies in the Dutch oven as well, which is a very simple way to make your veggies taste delicious without much effort at all. I’ve got a crockpot too, although most recipes that can be made in a crockpot can also be made in a Dutch oven. I like that with the crockpot you can finish cooking and walk away from it for hours without worry.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
One set of measuring cups and one set of teaspoons will suffice. It is a good idea to get high quality sets made of steel. This way, you will have them forever. Narrow teaspoons is a good call so that you can fit them into spice containers. This will make cooking less frustrating. A 2-cup glass pitcher can also prove very useful.
I like big, stainless steel bowls. I bought a set which ranged in size from ¾ of a quart to 8 quarts. Big bowls are great for making monster salads. And if you’re feeling blue, they can double as cereal bowls… (hope you caught the movie reference, lol). Anyway… they’re also great for ensuring perfectly cooked eggs (warming eggs before cooking and ice-cooling them after). The smaller bowls have proven useful too, such as in mixing spices.
A long wooden spoon, a medium wire whisk, metal tongs, a whippy metal spatula, and a silicone spatula will serve you well. Wooden spoons are used for stirring, the whisk for dressings and sauces, tongs for handling food on the stovetop, the metal spatula for flipping foods like burgers, and the silicone spatula for scraping bowls. I also use salad tongs when boiling eggs, they’ve proven very useful for this purpose.
Blender and Food Processor
Blenders are helpful when making soups and shakes, and a food processor can help you chop vegetables fast. The food processor is also useful in making sauces, dips, and even nut butters.
Quick Product Listing
Below I included a quick reference to help you find these products. Ordering everything online is not the best way to go about attaining everything, it is just the most convenient. For instance, I got a great Chef’s knife at Goodwill for $2, and many of the other items at Fred Meyer who had sent me a coupon for $50 off. They also had a bunch of deals such as, “buy one piece of equipment, get the other for half off.” A restaurant supply store may prove useful as well. I included links to items which are a bit harder to find in typical retail stores.
- Chef’s Knife
- Paring Knife
- Cutting Board
- Sheet Pan
- Baking Dish
- Skillet or Sauté Pan
- Measuring Cups
- Measuring Spoons
- Mixing Bowl Set
- Wooden Spoon
- Medium Wire Whisk
- Metal Tongs
- Metal Spatula
- Silicone Spatula
- Salad Tongs
- Food Processor
Non-Stick Pans – Not the Wisest Choice
I’m sure that you have heard that canaries were once used in coal mines to detect poisonous gases. This is because canaries have very fast metabolisms, and if poisonous gases were present, the canaries would die. This would alert the miners to get of the mine ASAP.
This may be unsettling to read, but if you caged a canary and put it near the stove while you were cooking with non-stick pans, the canary would likely die. Independent research has shown that pans with nonstick coatings can release fifteen toxic gases and chemicals, two of which are known carcinogens.
Most non-stick cookware contains Teflon, and Teflon contains an ingredient called perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA or C8. In animal studies, Perfluorooctanoic acid has been shown to increase the risk of developing cancer. In humans, PFOA is classified as a possible carcinogen. Because of this, PFOAs are being phased out and replaced with other compounds. Unfortunately, these compounds are very similar to PFOAs and may carry analogous risks.
Aluminum, Copper, and Low-Grade Stainless Steel – Not the Best Options Either
Any time you heat metal cookware, that metal can be leached into the food it is cooking. This is potentially dangerous with both aluminum and copper cookware. Aluminum may be a causative factor in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease and copper cookware is lined with metals known to cause deleterious health effects in the body such as nickel. Stainless steel cookware of low quality can contain high amounts of nickel as well. Consumption of nickel has no known benefit but is known to cause toxicity if consumed in excess.
Healthy Cookware Options
When considering healthy cookware options, I’m simply looking for cooking pieces that are inert and do not contribute a major toxic load to the body. Most of the following pieces I recommend contribute little or no substances that are potentially toxic to the body. Unfortunately, these cookware pieces tend to have a higher price tag than the cheap aluminum or Teflon pieces, but they are far safer, and I believe worth the investment.
Cast iron is great and enameled cast iron is even better. Non-enameled cast iron will leach iron into your foods. It essentially serves as an iron supplement. It is perfectly fine if your iron levels are normal, but if you already have high iron levels, it can be problematic. A physician can check your iron levels and let you know where you stand. In general, adult men and post-menopausal women are at a higher risk for iron toxicity, along with any individuals with disorder affecting iron metabolism.
The amount of iron that gets into your food is dependent on the particular food. For instance, if you put rice in a cast iron skillet, the amount of iron present in the rice doubles. Spaghetti sauce in a cast iron skillet can increase the amount present in your food by tenfold!
If you used enameled cast iron, no iron will get into your food. The coating serves as a barrier between the iron and your food.
Other Forms of Healthy Cookware
Enameled cookware, ceramic, titanium, high-quality stainless steel (nickel-free), and glass are typically good choices for cookware. Again, if they are very low cost, it is possible that they are also low quality and manufactured with potentially toxic metals or chemicals. But, in theory, these types of cookware are nonreactive and will not leach anything into your foods.
Cooking schools – https://www.thekitchn.com/collection/cooking-school-373
*lessons on how to get started cooking – knife skills to making whole meals
how to use a food processor – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqxL3kVqNJo