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Lost Cooking Skills: Need Help Relearning Basics


I have brain damage and forget things easily once there's a break in my routine. Once I have that break, it is very stressful to reintroduce activities (due to autism, ADHD, executive dysfunction, multiple processing disorders, problems with memory, etc.).

I had a severe break a couple of years ago lasting into today, and the result is that I've forgotten how to cook and prepare food. It'd causing significant issues in my daily life. I am trying to gain weight (in muscle preferably but I'm not trying to lose weight, is my point).

Things I do remember:
- how to brown butter
- the concept of. what's it called. soaking the meat overnight in a mixture, whatever that's called
- how to microwave veggies. I forgot how to steam though, somehow....? But can use stove top.
- concept of a frying pan
- how to make rice
- how to chop most veggies or how to look it up
- that I used to get produce at a chain store called Kroger after the local butcher shop was shut down
- how to make eggs
- how to toast toast (toaster is currently on a broken circuit)
- how to make yogurt drinks
- how to make quiche, mostly
- how to heat frozen chicken nuggets (I used to make them in a sauce, not sure but might be able to remember how with time)
- how to follow directions for boxed noodles
- that I used to start the day with oatmeal,

Things I'm struggling to remember:
- how to start cooking
- meal times? Meal sizes?
- what do I eat?
- how do I get ingredients for food? Like how do I know what ingredients to get before I know what I need to eat?
- ???

I'm just struggling a lot. If someone who feels like it could send me some tips as if I were right years old, just as you do them or think of them, I'd really appreciate it

There's already a thread for recipes, so if you write out a recipe you can put it there for everyone, because I do see those and I don't want to have hidden secret special recipes in two different threads lol (I can't tell you what to do, though 😆)

Thanks for anything and anyone ❤️
How to get ingredients? You can look up your recipe and make a list. Depending on if you want to go shopping once a week or more often, you plan your meals in advance (if you can) and buy the ingredients for everything in one go.

Meal sizes. It depends how often you want to cook. I might cook several portions so that I can reheat that or freeze it for another day. And that saves me on cooking (and head space).

Each recipe, if you are following one, will tell you how much you need of each ingredient and how many portions that recipe makes.

When I do my food shopping, I will usually pick up some easier to cook things like a pizza or ready made item, so that I have something as 'back up' incase I am having a day where I don't have energy to cook.

In terms of how to cook items. They should have that on the packet? Like rice?

I love steaming things (including rice). You can make make shift steamers really easy. A tall saucepan with a little bit of water (2-3 cm will be enough) in it, on the heat, with a sieve (as long as it's not touching the water) with your veg in, and a lid on top (the lid will need to close onto the saucepan so no steam is escaping from the sieve). And depending on the veg, it only needs a few minutes. Depends how soft you want your veg..
I’m literally just trying to do my food order for the week (I do it online, as I can come back to it and make changes, gives me more time to think/meal plan/look for deals)

I am time limited with work and emotionally not up to complicated at the minute. So, I try and make sure I have 3 meals a day + random snacks.

Breakfast, basic - as soon as you get up. No effort required - bread in toaster, plus butter, jam, honey, whatever takes your fancy OR cereal in a bowl with milk/spoon of yoghurt. I’ve got enough to do in the morning without complicating things.

Lunch - midway between breakfast and dinner, leftovers from dinner (make a bit extra). Sometimes with added veg, put the meat part in a wrap with some extras etc.

Dinner - this is where you can do as much or as little as you fancy. I need to eat early as I have to go back and do work for a bit later in the evening. So, for me dinner needs to be around 6:30.

Pasta makes a great easy dinner. Buy a bag of dried pasta, and a tub of pre-made sauce. Pasta goes in boiling water, stick a fork in after 6 mins or so and make sure it’s cooked enough for you. Drain, add sauce to pasta in pan. Add veggies, be that peas, tinned sweet corn, anything you like, you can add pre cooked shredded meat, cook some nuggets, basically whatever takes your fancy. Tip on plate - voila.

I do make my own bread, so I can give basic bread recipes if you like. Works great for either lunch with leftover dinner in as sandwich, or soup.
- how to start cooking
- meal times? Meal sizes?
- what do I eat?
- how do I get ingredients for food? Like how do I know what ingredients to get before I know what I need to eat?
I had the same problem because my eating got so disordered. I saw a dietitian for about four months and she taught me all this stuff.

It’s a good idea to have some staples in your pantry. What’s considered a staple is different for everyone but you can Google it or start a thread just about staples. There are also staple kitchen equipment. I suggest: a good choppy knife (the big ones with no serration), a good slicey knife (the long ones with serration), and a paring knife (small and sharp, I like the curved one). Also handy are a good chopping board (bamboo is nice) and a plastic chopping mat for meat, garlic, and onions. A set of measuring spoons and measuring cups is handy and in Europe a kitchen scale is necessary. I like a good set of mixing bowls (mine are steel in five sizes but at least three sizes would be good.). For baking a casserole (around 9x12) and a brownie pan (8 or 9 square) are helpful. In terms of pots I find that the minimum are a big pot to boil pasta, a sauce pan for small cooking things, a cast iron or other large frying pan, and an omelette pan (or other small frying pan) are helpful. If you can get a lid for the big pot it comes in handy and can be used on the frying pan and a lid for the small sauce pan is helpful. You’ll need a colander for the pasta and boiled stuff. For spoons and stuff, I would say the minimum needed would be a wooden spoon, a silicone spatula, a metal spatula, and a whisk. A nice big serving spoon is helpful. Cheese graters are helpful. As are hand sieves. Oh, and tongs are very handy, I like the ones with the spring in them that lock.

My dietitian taught that you should shoot for three meals and three snacks a day. You should decide the times that work best for you and you should try to eat at those same times every day within about a 30-60 minute window. I find this hard to do but once you get it into a routine then you always have that framework to return to. My eating times are something like: B 7:00, S 10:00, L 12:00, S 3:00, D 6:00, S: 9:00. The ideal is to eat about every 3 hours.

For how much? You use fist sizes. Starting with the biggest, lunch and dinner are around 4 fists (ideally a main dish around 2 fists and two sides each around 1 fist). Breakfast is around 3 fists (one main and one side). And snacks are around 1 fist). I tend to overestimate fist size and end up eating few or no snacks because I’m not hungry but the framework is the ideal.

The most helpful way I found to stick to meal times is if I don’t have to think about what I’m going to eat or search for ingredients, which means making a meal plan. It’s a grid for seven days for all the meals and snacks. I make mine by hand but I might create a printout grid because that would be easier. This is the fun part. The way I do it is I take my previous weeks grid and carry over any regulars (I always eat the same breakfasts but I rotate the day because I like variety, ditto for a lot of the snacks) or meals I didn’t make because something shifted in the schedule or I didn’t have time/motivation. Then I fill in empty boxes with stuff I’d like to try, recipes either I have liked before or want to try. Put the meal plan in a place where you can see it every day. And don’t feel bad if you skip meals or switch them around. The idea is to make it easier for you not force you to follow it. It helps to have someone to talk to about it as you are developing your own routine.

Side note: On my phone I keep a note going that is an ever-changing list of groceries needed. I add to it as needed it thoughout the week and when I’m making my meal plan. So for a new recipe that has cumin or garlic or something, I check to see if I have that and add to the list if I need to buy it. After I made my meal plan and added necessary ingredients to my grocery list then I go shopping.

Side side note: I store garlic in the freezer because it lasts forever (no sprouting) and still tastes great. Some people like the jarred stuff if they don’t feel confident in their knife skills or are in a big rush.

Side side side note: the spices sold in the “Mexican” section which are in little clear packets are cheaper and you don’t have to buy so much (just harder to store.)

Ok, now the question of what to eat. My answer is whatever you like as long as you don’t have any allergies or other critical limitations/requirements for your own body.

Sorry I couldn’t make this a bullet point, my brain isn’t organized yet, but I’m passionate about organized eating.
When my mom got sick and wasn't able to cook for her and my dad anymore I got my dad a 3 ingredient cookbook and a 5 ingredient cookbook. Mom always thanked me for that.

They are super simple recipes usually cooked in one pan. Look online or grab a cookbook from the library.

Or look for children's cookbooks and start from there.

Another supply thing I forgot that is quite helpful is a sheet pan.

Here is a picture of my current meal plan. I went shopping midweek which is why it starts on a Wednesday. Normally it starts on Sunday or Monday. I rarely to never end up making all these things in a week, especially the baking stuff, but it’s nice to know I *could* make them if I wanted to and when I do I feel proud of myself.

I’m a big fan of freezing leftovers, especially baked goods and soupy things then I just add those on my future meal plans and don’t have to cook. After eating this way I realized that frozen, canned, and prepared foods in the grocery store are basically leftovers which is why they need preservatives.
For the first couple years after my husband fractured my skull I couldn’t remember how to cook (or how to drive to certain places, or how to work on a rotary engine, or anything else I had saved in my memory as step 1-whatever, first this, then that). And I’ve done all of those things professionally.

Over time I retrained the cognitive aspects for step by step memory... although it feels different in my mind.

When I get stressed? Those same difficulties still follow me. BUT? In both instances, acutely/relearning & under stress, if I could stop *thinking* about how I needed to do what I needed to do? It would “just happen”. Part muscle memory, part memory stored in other areas of my brain.

If I thought about it? Poof. Gone. I couldn’t even freeze water or boil it. Steps to accomplish anything? Were. Just. Too. Hard.

I had the same problem because my eating got so disordered. I saw a dietitian for about four months and she taught me all this stuff.
Ditto. I worked with German dieticians/nutritionists as I recovered from starvation for several months, and then American ones a few years later once my life/health had changed so I had different requirements.

The German ones taught me how to gain weight (restrict calories, skip meals, eat at set intervals & then random & then set, fasting, have “cheat” days / splurge, over exercise… essentially the American fad-diet, nothing but nothing is better at slowing metabolisms for long term weight gain. You’ll lose weight in the beginning and then pile it on after a few months.

Once I was back at my fighting weight, the American ones taught me how to tailor my diet to my physical needs. 20,ooo kcal a day when in physical training in hard weather (hot or cold, the body has to work harder to stay cool or warm), vs 10-15,ooo is temperate, vs 400 (dense) kcal (or 1200 junk) when lounging around sitting on my arse in climate control / air conditioning, vs my body’s needs when I was sick or injured, vs when I was pregnant, etc.

Essentially? After the first time, every time my life takes a major physical turn, I go work with a nutritionist/dietician to tweak my diet to suit my needs.
I think when times are difficult, or things feel foreign or daunting, it's good to start simple. You have great ideas above. I would say, decide how many meals you prefer a day (most people choose 3, breakfast, lunch and supper) plus snacks.

If you can, ask yourself if there is anything you like? Do you gravitate towards protein, dairy, fruit, bread, vegetables? Try to include some of each per meal. Proteins are meat, fish, eggs, nuts, peas, beans, legumes, lentils etc. Bread products and carbohydrates include pasta and rice and potatoes (though potatoes are a vegetable they are high starch), also cereal. Dairy can include milk, yogurt and cheese. Proteins are usually about palm sized. Most cooked foods can be frozen provided they are allowed to cool and put in a new container like tupperware.

I have cooked for a lifetime but am used to also using what's available., and saving. I like the idea of a simple cookbook, or foods that need simpler preparation as you get used to them. is a good place to start. Depending what you like- pasta and sauce (does not have to be homemade) or with cheese; rice and veggies (with a good soy sauce); salads (can include anything you want, from lettuce/ tomatoes/ cucumbers/ celery/ green/onion etc, or even cheese and meat. Hamburger (lean will have less water than regular but not a whole lot less than extra lean) can be made in to a quick meatloaf or burgers adding egg, bread crumbs +/ or a dry onion soup packet. Chicken, such as skinless boneless can be breaded, or baked plain. If you cook meats at 325 degree Celsius for about 2o min per pound they will remain moist. Anything like pork loins can be seared (cooked at high heat and browned) in a frying pan before baking; a slow cooker plus those with a can of low salt mushroom soup and chopped onion (fried first or not) is easy and very good. (A casserole dish would also work). Flour, sugar, eggs, milk, baking powder, margarine or butter are good staples to have on hand. You don't have to cook everything from scratch. Also spices or condiments you enjoy- black pepper, ketchup/ mustard/ mayo, salad dressings (tons of flavors). Potatoes can even be baked in the microwave- white ones skin can be left on.

A good cooking pot with a tight lid, a vegetable steamer (metal, cheap), a colander to strain, a loaf pan, a cake pan, a baking sheet, a frying pan are normally all used. A spatula, soup ladel, good sized serving and tossing spoons, a sharp larger knife, paring knife and often serated knife (if it's for bread) and regular cutlery help, as does some tupprerware and a meat thermometer. Also tinfoil,. Some people use a non-stick spray.

Not everyone craves the same thing- I'd much rather have meat to start the day and cereal as a midnight snack. Food can be purchased without being overly processed, like pre-breaded cod fillets. A block of cheese, even real-cheese slices. Or purchased yogurt. Or frozen veggies/ fries, and similarly canned beans/ veggies or fruit, as well as fresh.

And watch your arms near the stove door! Many people use oven mitts but I just use a T-towel. Ask questions here or google and question when you cook.

And most of all make it fun! Don't try to coordinate everything at once, just do one part at a time if it is overwhelming. And be proud, as I know you can do it. And choose things that you like the flavor of. With a recipe, ask yourself if it sounds like a good combo suggested, like apple and cinnamon, or fries and gravy or fish and chips, etc. And start simple as many recipes call for a ton load of ingredients you won't have on hand, and often even aren't that great a recipe if you did! Make a list in advance at least loosely so that you will buy the critical things you need. Most professional chefs say the biggest mistake people make when starting is using too many different spices at once, and too mush of them.

Also include treats or fun food- a bit of junk or ideally comfort foods too, things that you have a good connotation to.

Good luck! 😊 Lots of people to ask here if you have a question! Even making a sandwich is more complicated than it looks, we take a lot for granted. Also, you can as easily have a 'bunwich' than a sandwich- don't be afraid to try something new. My sister and other pilots used to eat peanut butter/ cheese /and bacon sandwiches thanks to her saying to try, and they loved them! 😊
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PS, oops, sorry I missed the edit- was just going to say, as you get more used to it, you can look at for example hamburger in the freezer and automatically think: burgers? Meatloaf? Chili? Tacos (hard or soft shell)?, etc. etc.