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Move Out Skills: How to Cook a Meal (Without Calling Mom)

Knowing how to cook a meal is a life skill your teen needs to have before he or she leaves home. Your teenager should be able to cook a few simple recipes before leaving home. Many college students move off campus by junior year and, let’s face it, eating healthily (and on a budget) means knowing how to cook for yourself. Hand your teenager these instructions, then help where you’re needed (like a ride to the store) with an eye toward making your involvement unnecessary after your teenager gets some experience learning how to cook a meal.

How to Cook a Meal

1. Pick a simple recipe.

Look for a recipe with a small number of ingredients (5-6 maximum) that you can make with the kitchen equipment you have on hand (if it calls for a food processor and you don’t have one, move on). Google is your friend here. If you want to make macaroni and cheese, for example, google “easy macaroni and cheese.” Another way to cook a meal is to focus on one or two ingredients you want to use. For example, if you like brown rice, google “easy dishes containing brown rice”— you’ll get thousands of hits.

2. Make a grocery list.

Check every ingredient in your recipe. If you don’t have it at home, add it to your list, and head to the store to buy what you need. Make sure you indicate how much of each ingredient you’ll need. If a recipe calls for a pound of apples, don’t just write “apples.” You will likely forget the amount you actually need by the time you get to the store. (Tip: keep the recipe on your phone, so you can refer to it at the store if necessary.)

3. Read the entire recipe before doing anything.

This helps you know what to expect in advance, including what you should prep before starting to cook. For example, a recipe may say add onions, then cook for a minute and add garlic and the rest of the spices. If you have not prepped the garlic and spices, you will not be able to do so in the minute the recipe gives you.

4. Prep ingredients, then cook.

Prep your ingredients (cut the vegetables and meat, measure spices and other ingredients, etc.) and set aside. Now you are ready to start your recipe. Make sure you follow every step! Recipes work well when you follow the directions, not so well when you don’t (though once you are comfortable with a recipe, you may find ways to improve it).

5. Clean Up.

Not only is cleaning up after yourself courteous and appreciated by others with whom you live, but a clean kitchen can help prevent foodborne illness. Immediately refrigerate any uneaten food. Any surface or utensil that came into contact with raw meat should be washed with hot soapy water. Wash your dishes and dispose of the trash. Wipe the counters and sweep the floor if necessary.

Ideas for recipes to start with: frittata (like a quiche, but easier); simple pasta dishes, like lasagna (use store-bought sauce); and basic meals, like baked chicken, mashed potatoes, and a salad. For more ideas, google “easy meals to learn how to cook.”

Jane Parent

Jane Parent is senior editor of Your Teen.