Confidence: It makes a difference. It can land you that job interview, get you a first date or help you deliver a successful speech. But, can it help you lose weight or eat a healthier diet?
It turns out, confidence in the kitchen is a critical part of eating a healthier diet. The research shows that people who have higher "perceived self-efficacy" in the kitchen--that is, those people who are more confident in their cooking abilities--tend to have better overall diets. Not surprisingly, the research also reveals that confident cooks tend to enjoy cooking. This joy of cooking (and kitchen confidence) can be cultivated; for example, studies have demonstrated how cooking classes help increase a person's cooking confidence, and this usually translates into eating more fruits and vegetables and having less reliance on high calorie take-out foods.
Confident cooks are usually made, not born--this means it's never too late to learn how to achieve a bit of kitchen bliss in your own life. Learning to cook is a lot like learning a sport. The beginning may feel awkward and clumsy, but as you get better, you start to flow and enjoy yourself. If you would like to eat healthier, either to achieve weight loss goals or to simply make sure your family is eating right, it might be worth it to spend the next few months focusing on increasing your kitchen confidence. Here are some strategies to get you started:
De-clutter your kitchen. Part of feeling happy in the kitchen is knowing exactly what you have and where it is. Nothing takes the enjoyment out of cooking faster than having to hunt mid-recipe for the cumin at the back of the overloaded spice drawer. Cultivating an enjoyable cooking environment is an important step to becoming a cook. In fact, a recent study published in the journal Appetite revealed that people who enjoy cooking end up cooking more. While this may seem like common sense, it's worth starting with an organized workspace to enhance the "fun" aspect of cooking.
Make a list of food you like to eat. Rather than trying the typical approach of browsing recipes aimlessly, it may be more helpful to first think of food you like to eat, and then finding a recipe specific to that food. Along with your list, think of dishes you would like to try--no recipe is too small! Maybe you're tired of buying bottled salad dressings that never taste as good as your favorite restaurant. A simple search on the internet will likely give you an easy homemade recipe that you can experiment with. Do your kids love to order fried chicken tenders? Try out one of the many baked or breaded chicken recipes that can be found on cooking websites.
Keep a recipe file. When you see recipes that you would like to try, print them off and put them in your recipe file. Once you get around to trying one, decide if it's worth making again. If it is, move it to the "recipe hits!" file; now it's part of your official cooking repertoire. If the recipe is just so-so, toss it and move on. On nights when you have little energy, you can go to the "recipe hits!" file and make something more familiar. It will be easier since you've already made it before, and eventually, you may not even have to refer to the tried-and-true recipes.
Make notes. If you're cooking out of a cookbook, don't be afraid to make notes when you try a new recipe. Write down any substitutions that you made, and include a little note about the ease of preparation, followed by how you liked it. This way, you won't forget if there's a recipe you or your family loved, and it will be easier to find the next time. The cookbook also becomes a nice family heirloom that you can pass along to your children once they are learning how to cook.
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Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @MelindaRD.