The problem. I wish I cooked at home more but it takes so much time, I don’t know what to make, and I’m not great in the kitchen. I want to cook tasty food without heaps of hidden calories. The solution – learn how to cook without recipes.
Relying on recipes is the main reason people don’t cook. They’re overwhelming. You take a long list of ingredients to the store, wander around, never make the meal again and have ingredients you may never use.
Learning how to cook without recipes is the answer.
Table of Contents
HOW CAN I COOK MEALS IF I DON’T HAVE A RECIPE? TRY A TEMPLATE INSTEAD.
What most diets agree on.
- Eating fewer processed foods is a good idea
- Including veggies is a good idea
- Eating protein is good for our health and physical performance. Animal or plant-based is a personal preference.
- Understanding hunger and fullness is important
- Learning about calorie balance and energy balance helps too
- Get good at these things and we’ll be super successful.
Make a shortlist of your favorite foods by jotting down 3 to 5 in each category.
You can use this list to create simple grocery shopping lists and meals.
- Starchy carbs and fruit
- Healthy fat
An example weekly shopping list might look like this:
- Proteins: Chicken thigh and 90/10 ground beef
- Veggies: Frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot mix. Bok choy and bell pepper
- Starchy carbs and fruit: Plantain, white rice, banana, and raspberries
- Healthy fat: Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado
Recipes are just someone’s else idea for how something should be cooked
Don’t be afraid to experiment or even make mistakes, cooking should be fun.
If you’re cooking for others knowing the eating habits of your household can be helpful. Ask them for their favorite 3 to 5 foods in each category and see if there is any overlap.
Another idea is to list some of your or your family’s favorite dishes. Then, finding alternative ways to make these a little healthier or calorie friendly
- Chicken fingers
- Chinese food
TAKE WHAT YOU ALREADY EAT AND MAKE IT A LITTLE BIT BETTER
Let’s say you stop at Starbucks every morning for a cafe mocha and bagel with cream cheese. You could make a simple swap today and keep your bagel with cream cheese but get a regular coffee with a splash of cream and a packet of sugar.
Is this perfect and will you wake up ripped tomorrow? Probably tonight. But you set the wheels in motion for making better choices more consistently.
Step two in this process could be subbing the bagel with cream cheese for those delicious little protein egg bites. Part three might be grabbing a black coffee and the egg bites.
Step four might be a homemade coffee and breakfast that includes some protein and veggies.
Finally, step five might be experimenting with some intermittent fasting at this time and having your first meal at lunch
I think you see where I’m going with this. Yes, you can change everything overnight if you’d like. But sometimes that can feel overwhelming and confusing. Simple swaps like this can create lasting change and begin the process of changing your identity.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I EAT WHEN I COOK WITHOUT RECIPES?
There are many different ways you can track your food intake and eat right for your needs.
You could use hand estimates, weigh and measure, or count your macronutrients. One isn’t necessarily better than the other and there’s no need to commit to only one method. It’s in your best interest to experiment with many, learn, and choose the one that you’re most likely to do.
Regardless of which method you choose. Start building the habit of reading nutrition labels and getting familiar with things like serving sizes. Calories per serving size, protein, sugars, carbs, and fats. Create awareness and learn about what you’re choosing.
- Hand size: 2 palms for men, 1 palm for women
- Measurement: 6-8 ounces for men, 3-6 ounces for women
- Macro: 40-60 grams for men, 20-30 grams for women
- Example: Chicken thigh or ground beef
- Hand size: 2 fists for men, 1 fist for women
- Measurement: About 1-2 cups (but they’re veggies – eat up)
- Macro: No idea. It’s so minimal it doesn’t really matter
- Hand size: 2 cupped handfuls for men, 1 cupped handful for women
- Measurement: 1 cup cooked for men, ½ cup cooked for women
- Macro: 40-60 grams for men, 20-30 grams for women
- Example: White rice or pasta
- Hand size: 2 thumbs for men, 1 thumb for women
- Measurement: 2 tablespoons for men, 1 tablespoon for women
- Macro: 14-24 grams for men, 7-12 grams for women
- Example: Olive oil or butter
TURN COOKING WITHOUT RECIPES INTO A HABIT: GROCERY SHOPPING, PREP, AND COOKING
If it’s not on my schedule it doesn’t exist. So I schedule meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking each week. I like to do these things on the same day around the same time to build the habit.
Planning and shopping
I use the 1-2-3 meal planning method. Each week I intermittent fast or eat the same meal (or shake) for breakfast. For lunch I choose 2 different dishes I’ll alternate. Dinner will be 2 different meals and 1 meal out.
The 1-2-3 meal planning method makes nutrition simple and allows me to eat socially without worry. An example week might look like this.
- Breakfast: Intermittent fasting or hard-boiled eggs, avocado, and raspberries
- Lunch: Chicken salad and banana. Or ground beef, stir-fry veggies, and banana
- Dinner: Ground beef, white rice, and stir-fry veggies. Or salmon, plantain, and salad greens. Or a social meal if I decide to eat out.
Prepping without recipes
After you get home from grocery shopping. Front-load some work by prepping any food you may need. This could be chopping veggies, thawing proteins, or washing fruits and veggies so they’re ready to eat.
You can also pre-package things, organize your fridge, and…
Cooking without recipes
We have an entire guide on cooking healthy meals for beginners. But one of my favorite methods is the throw it in a pan method.
- Add one to two tablespoons of oil in a skillet or wok (or spray it with a cooking spray)
- Place beef, chicken, or other meat into the wok or a skillet
- Sauté the meat for a few minutes
- Mix in your favorite vegetables of choice. Make a great stir-fry using cauliflower or broccoli.
- Stir it around a few times.
- Let it cook for 5-10 minutes until the veggies and meat are cooked to your liking.
- Eat and Enjoy! It’s as simple as that.
Protein, Spice, and Herb Combinations Without Recipes
- Beef: Cayenne, Curry Powder, Garlic, Onion, Thyme
- Eggs: Chives, Curry Powder, Dill, Ginger, Red Pepper
- Fish/Seafood: Bay Leaf, Dill, Fennel, Lemon Zest, Turmeric
- Lamb/Other Game Meat: Cumin, Curry Powder, Garlic, Rosemary, Thyme
- Poultry: Bay Leaf, Cilantro, Garlic, Paprika, Thyme
- Pork: Cloves, Fennel, Ginger, Paprika, Sage
The beauty of this method is not only that it’s almost as easy as making a sandwich. It’s a method that can be used for different kinds of meat and vegetables. That way, you can keep it simple but still manage to have a different meal every night if you want to.
HOW TO COOK DIFFERENT PROTEINS WHEN COOKING WITHOUT RECIPES
HOW TO COOK CHICKEN
Step 1: Pound the chicken
This will even out the breast or thigh, helping it cook faster and even. Place the chicken on a cutting board of parchment paper. Using
This will make the breast or thigh more even so it cooks faster and even. Lay the piece of chicken on to a cutting board or piece of parchment paper. Using a mallet, rolling pin, or saucepan pound the chicken until it begins to flatten out.
Step 2: Choose your cooking method. Pan, bake, poach
If pan-frying, let it sit out for 15 minutes. This will allow it to cook evenly. If you don’t have time, it’s fine – preheat your pan for 2 to 3 minutes. While you wait, season the chicken on both sides with salt and some of the seasonings listed earlier in this article
Spray the pan with cooking spray or add a teaspoon or two of healthy fats. Add the chicken to the pan and let it sit for 5 minutes. Do not touch it. This will create a crust. After 5 minutes flip it over and repeat. Remove it from the pan, let it cool for a few minutes, and enjoy.
HOW TO COOK GROUND BEEF
Step 1: Heat that pan
Heat up a large skillet for 2 to 3 minutes. Add cooking spray or a teaspoon or two of healthy fat
Step 2: Add that beef
Add your ground beef to the skillet. Break it up into smaller pieces with a spatula.
Step 3: Season that beef
As the beef cooks at salt and some of the seasonings listed earlier in this article. Continue mixing it around so that it seasons fairly evenly.
Step 4: Stir it up
Continue stirring every three to four minutes. Total cook time will be around 10 minutes or until no pink remains in the middle of the pieces.
Step 5: Optional
Let the beef cool for a few minutes. You can remove it and place it on a paper towel to soak up any extra grease. If you’d like to skip this step – feel free to plate and serve with whatever dish you’re making.
HOW TO COOK EGGS
Step 1: Just beat it
Crack eggs into a bowl and add salt and other spices to taste (see earlier in this article).
Step 2: Butter baby
Preheat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Spray the pan with cooking spray or add 1 to 2 tablespoons of grass-fed butter. Let the butter melt slightly before pouring in the egg mixture.
Step 3: Pull the eggs
As the eggs begin to come together. Gently pull the eggs across the pan with a spatula. Try to form large clumps of the egg. Continue pulling, lifting, and folding eggs until there is no visible liquid remaining.
Remove the eggs from the heat and let them cool for a few minutes. Plate and enjoy it!
HOW TO COOK SALMON
Step 1: Preheat that pan
Coat it with non-stick cooking spray or add 1 to 2 teaspoons of healthy fat (butter works great). Preheat the pan on medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
Step 2: Season the salmon (say that 10 times fast)
Add salt and your favorite seasonings to both sides of your salmon.
Step 3: Cook that salmon
Place the salmon skin-side down in your pan. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes without touching it. If the salmon is really thick it may need another minute or two.
When the salmon looks light pink slip it over. If it sticks to the pan while doing this – let it cook for 1 more minute. It should come off the pan without sticking.
Step 4: Cook a little more
Let the salmon cook for 4 to 5 more minutes on the other side. You can test to see if the salmon is done by taking a fork to it. If it flakes off rather easily – it is done.
You can also use a cooking thermometer to test the temperature in the center. At 125 degrees, it is done.
Remove it from the pan, let it cool for 5 minutes, and enjoy.
COOKING DIFFERENT VEGGIES WHEN COOKING WITHOUT RECIPES
I’m always looking for ways to make meal prep easier for myself and this is one of them. I buy most of my veggies frozen. They’re pre-cut, last longer, and still taste great, and are full of nutrients.
To cook them sometimes I roast them or throw them in the Instapot. But most often I use the throw it in a pan cooking method you saw earlier in this article.
But if that’s not your cup of tea. Here are a few ways you can prepare different types of veggies.
HOW TO COOK ROOTS AND TUBERS
This includes veggies like carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and beets
Step 1: Preheat
Arrange a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 425 degrees F.
Step 2: Prep the veggies
Peel root veggies and cut them into thick chunks. Cut and dice 1 small red onion and add to your root veggies. Place your veggies onto a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Be mindful of the amount – this will depend on how much you’re making. Sprinkle salt and seasonings or cook as-is.
Step 3: Cook the veggies
Add the veggies to the oven and let cook for roughly 30 minutes.
Step 4: Almost done
Remove the veggies from the oven and mix them around a little. Make sure to even them out and let sit for 10 more minutes. They will continue to roast during this time.
HOW TO COOK GREEN LEAFY VEGGIES
This includes veggies like chard, kale, collards, dandelion, or spinach
Step 1: Boil first
Add a pot of salted water to your stove and let boil. Toss in chopped or whole greens and let cook for 4 to 5 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when the ribs/stalk are tender.
The amount of water you use will depend on how much green leafy’s you’re cooking. But enough to cover them while in the water.
Once cooked, drain and rinse under cold water.
Step 2: Pan them
Add 1 to 2 teaspoons fo healthy fat to a pan. Or use a non-stick cooking spray. Preheat the pan for 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat. Add greens and a little salt and spices. Continue cooking and mixing the veggies for 3 to 4 minutes.
HOW TO COOK FLOWER VEGGIES
This includes veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and artichoke.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil to a baking pan (or coat with a non-stick cooking spray). Add your flower veggies to the baking sheet – chopped or as florets is fine. Sprinkle with salt and seasonings and mix around for 1 minute or 2.
Let the veggies bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The edges of them will look crispy and possibly slightly charred. If you’d like, squeeze a little lemon over them after done. Let cool for a few minutes and add as a side dish.
HOW TO COOK WITHOUT RECIPES: SIMPLE RECIPES
Well, this sorta defeats the purpose of this article, “cooking without recipes” doesn’t it. But, sometimes a little direction in the kitchen can help. How can you spin some of these into your own creative concoctions?
Healthy Captain Crunch Frankenberry Cereal: Serves 1
- 1 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of nuts (almonds, macadamia, walnut, etc.)
- A tablespoon shredded coconut
- 1 to 2 tablespoons vanilla protein powder
- A piece of dark chocolate (optional)
- 1/2 cup berries of choice
Pour unsweetened almond milk into a bowl
- Add nuts
- Include coconut
- Add protein powder
- Using a cheese grater – shred dark chocolate over the top of the mixture
- Add berries
- Stir and enjoy it!
Notes: Adjust serving sizes of nuts and protein powder for your needs
The Fake McMuffin: Serves 1
- 2 to 3 eggs
- 2 strips of bacon
- 4 romaine lettuce leaves (for the bun)
- 1/2 cup raspberries
- Garlic, sea salt, and pepper to taste
- Cut 2 strips of bacon in half and place in a skillet at medium heat
- Scramble eggs in a bowl with the garlic, sea salt, and pepper while bacon is cooking
- Once the bacon is as crispy as you like remove it from the pan and place it on a paper towel
- Add egg mixture to the same skillet the bacon was in. DO NOT remove the bacon grease – you’ll love the flavor it adds
- Scramble eggs on medium heat for a couple of minutes. Once done place on your lettuce leaves and top with bacon
- Add raspberries to the side of your plate and enjoy it!
Buffalo (or ground beef) Stir Fry: Serves 1
- 1 to 2 palms of buffalo (or grass-fed ground beef)
- 1 fist of Brussels sprouts
- 1/2 small onion
- Cayenne pepper
- Red pepper flakes
- Sea salt
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil
- Chop up Brussels sprouts and onions and add to a skillet on medium heat
- Add it coconut oil with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Once Brussels sprouts have softened up, remove veggies from the skillet and place them in a bowl.
- Add buffalo (or ground beef) to skillet and cook until browned. Add seasoning and taste test a little to get the right amounts
- Bring your veggies back to the skillet with your protein and cook for a couple more minutes.
- Plate and enjoy it!
Chicken and Apple Celery Salad: Serves 1
- 1 to 2 palms of chicken breast or thigh
- Celery stick
- Lettuce of choice
- 1 small tomato
- Any color of bell pepper
- Basil, rosemary, salt, and pepper (to taste)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Chop chicken and add to a frying pan. Cook on low heat with the herds above
- Chop lettuce, tomato, pepper, apple, and celery (finely or in chunks). Mix them up and add them to a bowl. I like to add a little apple cider vinegar
- Once the chicken is a nice golden brown remove it from the pan and adds to the salad
- Pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil over top and enjoy!
IF I DO HAVE TO GRAB STUFF ON THE FLY. ANY IDEAS ON WHAT I CAN GET?
There’s no need to freak out if you have to grab a meal while on the go. You’re not ruining your diet, falling off the wagon, and you won’t need to get back on the horse.
There are tons of calorie-friendly and fairly high protein options when eating out. Here are a few from some common grab-and-go places. For the love of my I can’t remember where I found it – but a great list indeed.
WHAT TO EAT AT STARBUCKS
- Classic Whole-Grain Oatmeal.
- Egg and Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich.
- Spinach, Feta, and Egg White Sandwich.
- Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Egg White Sandwich.
- Hearty Veggie and Brown Rice Salad Bowl.
- Zesty Chicken and Black Bean Salad Bowl.
- Thai-Style Peanut Chicken Wrap
WHAT TO EAT AT SUBWAY [6″ subs or salads]
- Veggie Delight.
- Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki.
- Oven Roast Chicken.
- Rotisserie Style Chicken.
- Black Forest Ham.
- Subway Club.
- Roast Beef.
- Carved Turkey
WHAT TO EAT AT CHIPOTLE
- Vegetarian Burrito Bowl.
- Barbacoa Burrito Bowl.
- Vegetarian Salad Bowl.
- Chicken Salad Bowl.
- Sofritas Burrito Bowl.
- Vegetarian Burrito Bowl.
- Chicken/Steak/Carnitas Salad Bowl.
- Build-Your-Own Kids’ Meal With Two Soft Shell Chicken Tacos
WHAT TO EAT AT PANERA
- Avocado, Egg White & Spinach.
- Steel Cut Oatmeal with Almonds, Quinoa, and Honey.
- Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich.
- Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken.
- Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken.
- Black Bean Soup.