Two Tips to Cook Better At Home (With or Without the Kids)

Cooking at home is one of the best ways to be sure your family gets healthy nutrition and enjoys time together. But no matter how good your intentions, unless the cooking is comfortable, fun and fairly easy for you, pizza delivery is easier. These two tips will go a long way to help you keep your good cooking habit going.

They will be especially good at teaching children to cook with confidence.

One tip will shock your mother who told you never to deface a book. The other is the one secret every single great chef learned in training and always, always uses.  

First Thing… Before You Start, Organize Your Thought and Cooking Process

Our first tip is about how to feel in charge and confident in the kitchen. This is especially good to do with children who are learning to cook.

The ugly secret of the cookbook industry is that most recipes are badly written. Make that very badly written. It’s OK to let the kids see that. They’ll learn that no matter how great the chef, they don’t need to be intimidated by the recipe.

Some recipe-writing glitches are obviously ripe for mistakes. Like the maddening ones that list a teaspoon of salt in the ingredients when half of it is intended for the sauce, a fourth of it goes on the meat, and the rest is to be sprinkled over the finished dish.   

Another problem is harder for recipe writers to avoid. Some cooks are experienced, some are not, but the recipe is offered up to both of them. That’s another reason to read through before starting.

When I read a new recipe and discover the 4 T of oil in the ingredients list is meant for sautéing, I know I don’t need to measure anything. I’ll just put the right skim of oil in the pan and carry on.   But the person who is less experienced does need to know how much to use.  On the other hand, if it’s a cake batter, I know I’d better measure the oil. 

Taken to the extreme, some helpful recipe writers use three pages to convey how to make an apple pie. I can fit everything I need to know about that on half a postcard—oven 425 for 15 minutes, turn to 350 to finish.

Yes, I know you were trained not to spoil your books, but if you are not writing in your cookbooks, you are not using them right. Circle important points, draw arrows, whatever speaks to you. My cookbooks are littered with numbered brackets to separate ingredients by step. I also make notes about changes in ingredients and seasoning adjustments for the next time.  With baking recipes, I convert teaspoons, tablespoons, ounces, and cups to grams I can weigh.

That brings us to the second tip.

Second Thing, Mise En Place Ends Misery In the Kitchen

My cupboards near the stove have dozens of small cups and bowls, and they get a constant workout when I mise en place.

Mise en place means “put in place.” So if you were going to stir fry, for instance, you would arrange vegetables on the cutting board in the order they should go into the wok. If there’s a sauce to finish, you would put the ingredients for that in small cups to be ready… for instance, the garlic and ginger in one cup, the soy and other liquids in a different cup.

Isn’t that a lot of work?


You have to chop, dice, squeeze, slice, peel, season and prepare exactly the same ingredients. The only difference with mise en place is how easy it makes the actual cooking.

When you mise en place, you don’t have to read and work at the same time. You do not have to go back to the recipe and look for the amounts and hope you get them measured before the previous ingredients burn. You also won’t accidentally leave something out.

If you are teaching your children to cook, teach them this skill. It also helps them assist you in the kitchen more easily. And by the way, teach them that mise en place also means tidying up while working and putting things away.

Mise en place is crucial when trying to conquer a new recipe without getting confused, but I also use it on standbys that I fix so often no recipe is needed. It allows me to prep first so I can work smoothly and remember everything.

Try this for just one week and you will make it a habit because what you are doing in the kitchen will feel so effortless. There will be no rush or confusion.

Now, pull out the great cookbook you’ve been meaning to use, pick something that sounds good to you and the kids, and do it. Write all over that book. Then mise everything in its place.

And cook. Enjoy your dinner.