So your kid is going out into the world. Flying the coop. Time for them to learn how to cook.
Maybe, just maybe, you didn’t do as good a job as you’d planned teaching them their way around the kitchen (cough — me too, despite what one might think). And just maybe you’d like to give them a little help before they are standing in front of an empty fridge with a frying pan in their hand and a blank expression on their face.
Here are 5 basic dishes that should give anyone a head start in the kitchen, including options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
These are talked-through recipes, without specific quantities, just to get the ball rolling. If you are working to help your kid get more comfortable in the kitchen, you may want to use these as guidelines, and print out or copy some family favorite versions or other simple recipes.
1. ROAST CHICKEN BREASTS OR THIGHS
A roast chicken is also something many people consider a classic, but what’s even easier — and requires no carving at the end — is roasted chicken pieces.
For the most basic, roasted, bone-in and skin-on chicken breasts and thighs, start by preheating the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub the chicken pieces with a bit of olive or other oil, place them, without touching, on a rimmed baking sheet or baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and roast for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces, until cooked through — to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit if you have an internal thermometer, or until the juices aren’t pink when you cut into the pieces with a sharp knife. Play around with different spices and herbs along with the salt and pepper, such as sesame seeds, an Italian blend or a mixture of chili powder, paprika, and cumin, and rub those into the skin after you oil the chicken pieces.
Knowing how to cook simple rice on the stove means that whatever leftovers you have (either homemade or from takeout) can be stretched into a full bowl meal. And then you can top the bowl with condiments and add-ins like Sriracha sauce, soy sauce, sliced avocado, chopped tomatoes or shredded cheese.
To make white rice, bring 2 cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add ½ teaspoon salt and an optional tablespoon of butter or cooking oil. When the water has returned to a boil, stir in 1 cup white rice. Let the water return to a simmer, stir, cover the pot, and turn the heat down to low. Simmer covered until the rice is tender and all of the liquid is absorbed, which will take from 17 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it sit, covered, for three minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the rice with a fork and serve warm.
3. ENGLISH MUFFIN PIZZA
Sounds kind of specific, don’t it? Well, it’s safe to say that if you know how to make an English muffin pizza, you could have breakfast, lunch and dinner covered. Also a hearty mid-day snack.
This is a recipe for plain pizzas, but you can add anything on top that you would add to regular pizza: sliced cooked onions or peppers, sliced olives, chopped cooked broccoli, pepperoni and so on.
Toast a split English muffin in a toaster or in a preheated, 350-degree Fahrenheit oven until very lightly brown, three to four minutes. Spoon a few tablespoons of jarred tomato paste evenly over each half. Lay a slice of mozzarella, about the size of the muffin, over each half. Put them on a baking sheet or some foil, and bake or toast until the cheese is melted. Give a final sprinkle of salt and pepper, and, if available, dried oregano.
If you have the basics of soup down, then you can almost always make a meal out of the odds and ends in your fridge, and from random produce that might be on sale. Also, soup is always a good vegetarian option.
Start by heating a bit of oil in a large pot, then adding some longer-cooking ingredients and aromatics, like chopped onion, shallots, carrots, winter squashes, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower. Make sure all the ingredients are chopped into pieces small enough to fit in a soup spoon. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes.
Then add several cups of broth — chicken, beef or vegetable — and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are close to tender, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.
Then add shorter-cooking ingredients like chopped or crushed tomatoes (canned or fresh), drained and rinsed canned beans, zucchini or summer squash, shredded or cubed cooked beef, pork, turkey or chicken, cooked rice, orzo or grains, peas or corn . Stir in some dried or fresh herbs (such as thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary), and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 15 minutes or so until it smells like soup. You can top the bowls with grated or crumbled cheese.
5. CRUMBS (MADCAP EGG SCRAMBLE)
Many cooks feel that knowing how to make an omelet is a baseline kitchen skill, but that might feel a bit fussy to a young person just starting out. Scrambled eggs are good to know too, but let’s go one step more interesting.
Migas is a flexible, madcap egg scramble, with roots in Spanish, Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking (depending on who you ask), and it’s easy and satisfying. You essentially saute up some vegetables, like peppers and onions, and maybe add some crumbled chorizo or other sausage. Then add beaten eggs and crushed tortilla chips, and stir the whole thing up in a skillet until the eggs are cooked and the tortilla chips have softened slightly into the mixture. Finish with some cheese and maybe salsa, sour cream or other toppings, and you have the kind of breakfast (or lunch or dinner) that will make a whole lot of people a whole lot of happy.
If new graduates have these five dishes under their belt, that is a very good start.
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” A version of this story first appeared in 2019.