Cooking for dummies: what to cook if you never cook

I'm always baffled when people tell me that they never cook. Eating is a necessity, so cooking something at least once in a while shouldn't be too far behind, right?

Maybe it's not fair to judge, since I cook for a living. Even after a day in the EatingWell Test Kitchen developing recipes, I'll often go home and cook dinner.

I know it's hard to embark on new things, but cooking good healthy meals for yourself or your family isn't that hard. For all you noncookers out there, I encourage you to try at least one of the recipes below. I've selected them to combat the different reasons you might not be cooking, but all are good for kitchen newbies. Bon appetit!

Reason 1: You don't like to cook.
Solution: Make Smoky Ham & Corn Salad. If you want to start off really slowly, try a recipe that doesn't actually involve any cooking at all. You're just pulling a few ingredients together in bowl and wham! There's a mouthwatering dinner on the table without even turning on your stove.

Reason 2: You're intimidated.
Solution: Make Whole-Roasted Lemon Herb Chicken on a Bed of Vegetables. Roasting a whole bird for beginners??? Yup. Try this one if you're stuck entertaining a few folks and you're feeling intimidated. This recipe doesn't involve anything fancy. Just cut up some vegetables, make a rub for the chicken, and throw it all in the pan as is. No fancy tucking or tying the wings or legs. And the flavor is phenomenal.

Reason 3: It's too complicated.
Solution: 5-Spice Tilapia. If you never cook, maybe you're afraid of the never-ending pile of ingredients on your kitchen counter. If that's the case, try a 5-ingredient dinner like this one. Full-flavored, with only 5 ingredients. How simple is that?

Reason 4: You're afraid of ruining the meal.
Solution: Are you afraid of overcooking something? Or actually burning something because you left it in the oven or on the stove and forgot it was there? Invest in a slow cooker. It's a fool proof way to whip up delicious meals like BBQ Pulled Chicken with little effort. Many slow cookers have a mechanism that switches to a warm setting, so even if you do get distracted dinner will make it to the table unscathed.

Reason 5: You don't have enough time.
Solution: If you never cook because you don't think you have enough time, try this delicious Black Bean Quesadilla (see the recipe below). Yes, it is possible to have an ooey-gooey dinner in only 15 minutes-about the same amount of time it would take you to order a sandwich or pizza at the local takeout place.
Related Link: Delicious, Healthy 15-Minute Dinner Recipes

Black Bean Quesadillas

High Fiber
Makes: 4 servings
Active time: 15 minutes | Total: 15 minutes
Cost per serving: under $1.50

In a hurry? These satisfying quesadillas take just 15 minutes to make. We like them with black beans, but pinto beans work well too. If you like a little heat, be sure to use pepper Jack cheese in the filling. Serve with: A little sour cream and a mixed green salad.

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, preferably pepper Jack
1/2 cup prepared fresh salsa (see Tip), divided
4 8-inch whole-wheat tortillas
2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
1 ripe avocado, diced

1. Combine beans, cheese and 1/4 cup salsa in a medium bowl. Place tortillas on a work surface. Spread 1/2 cup filling on half of each tortilla. Fold tortillas in half, pressing gently to flatten.
2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 quesadillas and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides, 2 to 4 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board and tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and quesadillas. Serve the quesadillas with avocado and the remaining salsa.

Per serving: 377 calories; 16 g fat (5 g sat, 8 g mono); 13 mg cholesterol; 46 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 13 g protein; 10 g fiber; 679 mg sodium; 581 mg potassium.
Nutrition bonus: Calcium (25% daily value), Folate (23% dv), Iron (19% dv), Potassium (17% dv).

Tip: Look for prepared fresh salsa in the supermarket refrigerator section near other dips and spreads.

By Hilary Meyer

EatingWell assistant editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.

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