Spend Smart. Eat Smart.
Cooking at home takes some time and planning, but it’s worthwhile. Food cooked at home is typically healthier and less expensive than convenience or restaurant food. Also, cooking together at home can be quality time with your family.
In order to eat well and stay within a tight budget, you need to have a plan. If you’re scrambling to get a meal on the table each night, you may not make the healthiest choices. Start the week off with a meal plan so you can rest easy knowing that you’re prepared to get healthy meals on the table each day. Follow our meal planning tips to get started.
Knowing how to follow a recipe is a fundamental skill for home cooks. In order to understand the language of recipes, you’ll want to know a few terms and definitions.
- Beat/whisk: make mixture smooth with fast, regular motion using a wire whisk, spoon, hand beater, or mixer.
- Boil: heat liquid until bubbles break on the surface or cook in boiling water.
- Brown: cook quickly until surface of food is brown.
- Chop: cut food into small pieces.
- Coat: cover entire surface with oil, flour, or bread crumbs.
- Dice: cut into small square-shaped pieces (about ¼ inch).
- Drain: put food and liquid into a strainer or colander. Or you can pour liquid out of a pot by keeping the lid slightly away from the edge of the pan and pouring away from you.
- Mix: combine ingredients using a fork or spoon.
- Oil: apply a thin layer of vegetable oil on a dish or pan. You can substitute cooking spray.
- Preheat: heat oven to desired temperature before putting food in to bake.
- Sauté: cook in a small amount of oil or water.
- Simmer: cook at a temperature just below the boiling point. Bubbles form slowly but do not reach the surface.
- Tender: this is the “doneness” of a food when a fork can easily penetrate it.
- Thaw: slowly change from a frozen state to a liquid state.
Using a Recipe
- Read all the way through the recipe at the beginning. This will save you from unexpected problems later on.
- Make sure you understand the directions and have the equipment and ingredients you need.
- Check the number of servings and decide if you need to double or halve the recipe.
- Make sure you have enough time before serving to prepare and cook the recipe. If not, think about whether you can prepare part of the recipe ahead.
- Preheat the oven if necessary.
- Get your work area ready and clean counters.
- Set out ingredients and supplies.
- Prepare and measure ingredients.
Not all meals need to start with recipes. In fact, making the most of what you have is an important skill for home cooks. It saves money and often takes less time than cooking from a recipe. Utah State University has a collection of resources called “Create” that shows you how to combine common foods into meals.
Preparing Food Ahead
- Prep ingredients ahead when you have time: Brown and freeze ground beef; cook, chop, and freeze chicken for later use; dice and cook onions and peppers, and freeze in freezer bags or freezer containers.
- Plan ahead: Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator a day or two before it is needed.
- Prepare double proportions: One to serve right away and the other to freeze for later use.
- Plan for leftovers: Prepare enough for more than one meal. Cover, label, and refrigerate leftovers to serve on leftover night. Use refrigerated leftovers within four days or freeze them for serving later if that’s not possible.
- Use quick cooking methods for food preparation: Broiling, grilling, stir-frying, and microwaving save time.
- Use your slow cooker: Put a recipe in your slow cooker early in the day so your meal is ready when you get home.
- Stock up on foods that are quick to prepare and have many uses: Consider spaghetti sauce, rice, salsa, cheese, canned fruits and vegetables, and tortillas. Our grocery list template includes some ideas for staples to keep at home.
- Plan a Menu | Handout
- Make a slow cooker meal | Handout
- Use planned-overs | Handout
- Altering Recipes for Better Health
No one wants to make their family sick. Keep your kitchen safe and your family healthy with these food safety basics.
- Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and running water.
- Wash surfaces and utensils after each use.
- Rinse fruits and veggies — but not meat, poultry, or eggs.
- Use separate cutting boards and plates for raw produce and meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
- Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in your grocery cart.
- Store meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from other foods in the fridge.
- Use a food thermometer. Cook foods to the minimum safe temperature before serving.
- Keep food hot (140º F or above) before serving.
- Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours.
- Never thaw or marinate foods outside of the refrigerator.
- Know when to throw food out. You can’t tell by looking; follow safe storage times.