Consider this recent report in the New York Times Business section: “A twice-a-week kung pao chicken takeout habit can easily drain you of about $10,000 over 10 years.”
And that’s if you just order in twice a week! Call for pizza a couple other nights and you might as well just set your savings on fire. Picture yourself in ten years, thousands of dollars poorer and at least a few pounds heavier, still sitting in your first apartment because you couldn’t afford to move anywhere bigger, waiting for the delivery guy to bring you the evening’s meal. Not so pretty, right?
Yes, learning to cook for yourself pays. You don’t need to be able to fix yourself anything fancy, but the ability to conjure up a meal without the help of a takeout menu is one of the most valuable (and pleasurable!) skills you will learn during your first years on your own.
You have a lot of options when it comes to cooking yourself simple, inexpensive meals. You can get frozen foods, prepared meals, or half-prepared meals to which you simply need to add heat or a couple of ingredients. These are great confidence boosters when you’re first starting out, and they’re great time savers even when you do know what you’re doing with a skillet. Prepared meals can add up, though, and if you rely on them too heavily you may may not be saving all that much.
The first and best thing budding cooks should invest in is a simple cookbook. If your parents don’t have any lying around the house that you can bogart, visit your local mega bookstore–they almost always have a variety of well-illustrated, easy-to-use cookbooks on their bargain bookshelves. Look for a three- or four-ingredient cookbook to start out with. My rule of thumb when I was learning to cook? Choose the recipe with the lowest number of ingredients. The fewer ingredients there are, the fewer opportunities to mess up.
You can also turn to the Internet for inspiration. There are a number of Web sites that allow you to search for recipes based on what ingredients you have in the house. There is also a huge number of food bloggers out there who share their recipes and their experiences cooking online. Reading these shared experiences can help make the learning process a lot less scary. Similarly, if you’ve got cable, check out the Food Network. It’s a constant source of free cooking lessons, and if you’re anything like I was, you’ll need all the help you can get.