Do you feel confidence in your kitchen abilities? Does the idea of cooking a multi-course meal from scratch make you feel fear or shame? What about when it comes to teaching your kids kitchen skills— do you have the confidence you need to feel comfortable leading the way for your children?
Imagine this scenario, and see if it resonates with you: you’ve been inspired by something you saw on Pinterest or Instagram, and you are feeling hungry. You have a basic idea of what you want to eat, but you aren’t sure what recipe you should use. You don’t have a ton of confidence in the kitchen, but you really want to eat this delicious thing you just saw! You Google around a bit, looking for crunchy tostada or creamy Mac and Cheese recipes. You find a few that you like, but you’re either missing some ingredients or some specific tools or it just looks too complicated for your energy level and available time. Plus… there’s that whole confidence thing, and it’s definitely helping to keep you out of the kitchen. You wind up giving up and either ordering takeout or making a sad bowl of cold cereal for dinner. Sound familiar?
Feeling overwhelmed and having a lack of confidence in the kitchen is a real thing. It can seem especially daunting if you aren’t entirely confident in your own kitchen skills. Maybe your parents never taught you anything beyond the basics of opening packages and baking a cake by filling the directions on the back of the box. Maybe you were so busy with school and sports that cooking seemed like a waste of time. And now that we have such delicious options available to us— either at Trader Joe’s or the prepared food section at Whole Foods, any one of dozens of local restaurants via Uber Eats or Door Dash, or even through meal delivery services that deliver entire meals for the entire family right to your door, ready to heat and eat. While these options make life super convenient for busy families, they don’t necessarily help you increase your confidence in the kitchen.
Why is confidence in the kitchen such a big deal? Well, besides the fact that it would be nice to be able to make yourself the food you are craving whenever you want it, like in the example above, it would also be really nice to be able to teach your kids how to cook too. We know they aren’t going to learn it in school (heck they barely learn art and music anymore)! And giving our kids more— more adventures, more education, more experiences— than we got in our childhoods is a pretty universal desire for parents around the world. So teaching our kids to cook should be pretty high on our lists, and confidence in your own ability seems like the only thing that will get you there.
So how do we gain more confidence? How can we feel more comfortable getting in the kitchen and being a little less terrified/overwhelmed/stressed out?
Here’s my secret— Forget the recipe.
What? Does that sound utterly insane? How can I possibly recommend doing away with the one thing that exists to help you figure out the ingredients and the steps and the entire freaking method?? A recipe is a road map! How will you ever get to your destination without it?
Ok, it’s true that recipes can help you figure out some key details. But they are actually terrible at teaching you how to cook. And if we are confronted with something we are unfamiliar with in a recipe— say an exotic ingredient or a method we’ve never heard of or seen demonstrated before— we have a tendency to freeze. It’s a blow to our confidence, especially if this happens multiple times in one recipe.
So, don’t use them! Sure, you can peruse a few to get a feel for what you are supposed to do, but the real work— the real confidence booster— will come from just doing it (Nike’s slogan is the best bit of marketing genius ever, isn’t it?!), even if it doesn’t come out perfect. Start small, with boiling pasta or toasting cheese sandwiches. Google some videos to see proper knife holding skills and practice chopping fresh veggies until you feel more confident. Check out Samin Nosrat’s book, Salt Fat Acid Heat and learn the context of cooking, instead of just rote recipe following.
There’s lots of other suggestions for ways to gain confidence in the kitchen. You could pick one or two recipes that you like and make them over and over again, but you’ll probably get bored rather quickly, not to mention you’ll only gain a few skills at a time.
You could set a timer and make a game of it, giving yourself an extra five or ten minutes over what the recipe calls for to complete the task. But what happens if you fail to complete the recipe in time? Couple the stress of that plus whiny toddlers in the background, and you have a recipe for disaster. Do you really think that will help you gain confidence in the kitchen?
Another suggestion I see thrown around a lot is to have your mise en place all set, which is to say, get all your ingredients together. And this is great advice, you should definitely get all your ingredients together! This is a fundamental part of cooking. But I don’t know that I would rely on it to boost your confidence in the kitchen. It might even prove a bit overwhelming— here you are, surrounded by all these beautiful ingredients, with no idea what to do with them!
Ultimately, you just need to get in the kitchen and DO IT. Make simple food that you don’t need a recipe for. Google your heart out and watch videos about basic culinary skills. Read a good how-to blog, like The Spruce. Even if you aren’t sure of all the steps, I promise you that the simple act of standing in your kitchen and cooking something basic will do wonders for your confidence.
I suppose you could sum this up with a total cliche and say it’s a “fake it til you make it” type situation. But there’s some truth in those tired words! If you believe that you can get better in the kitchen, if you believe that confidence in the kitchen is something that already rests deep inside you, and all you need to do is peel back the layers to let it shine out, then you are well on your way! No fancy recipes required.