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Many people eat out because they’re too busy to cook. But some people simply don’t know how. These are situations that start the downward spiral of buying prepared foods at the grocery store and restaurants.

Frugal Living

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can get back to basics and cook meals at home with fresh ingredients or at least partially homemade. Remember: Every cook had to learn the basics.

Here are a few ways to start.

ASK FAMILY AND FRIENDS: They’re going to be the easiest sources for tried-and-true recipes. Ask them to teach you and walk you step by step on how to prepare a few dishes. You can take a cooking class together, too. Call your local cooperative extension and see whether they have any classes that interest you. Find community classes that are being offered, too.

TOOLS: You don’t need a gourmet kitchen stocked with the latest in kitchen tools. But do invest in basic bakeware, cookware, cutlery and utensils. Go for quality. You can get by without gizmos, but cooking can be more enjoyable with practical tools such as kitchen shears, a meat thermometer or a microplane grater.

BASIC COOKBOOKS: Borrow easy-to-follow cookbooks such as Betty Crocker from the library or buy them secondhand. Check TV cooking shows and food channels. Many cooking websites have video cooking tutorials that cover basic techniques such as chopping and preparing vegetables. You want to start with simple recipes that are easy to follow.

LEARN CUTS OF MEAT/POULTRY: Visit www.foodsubs.com, which will tell you all the various cuts of meat and poultry and how they’re best prepared.

LEARN FOOD SAFETY: Be sure to learn safe ways to clean, prepare, cook and store your food. Visit www.foodsafety.gov for more information.

KNOW YOUR HERBS AND SPICES: Learn how to flavor your food. Fresh herbs can be grown in your kitchen or in an outside garden. For a handy herb-and-spice guide, visit www.goodcooking.com/herspice.htm.

STOCK YOUR PANTRY: Keep pantry staples such as canned tomatoes, pasta, flour, sugar, olive oil, etc., on hand.

SHORTCUTS: Some shortcuts will make your work easier. You haven’t failed at cooking if you use the occasional convenience food. Even frugal cooks use frozen vegetables and jarred spaghetti sauce sometimes.

KEEP A JOURNAL: You don’t have to have a fancy notebook, but notes on index cards or post-it notes on any recipes you’ve tried will help you the next time you make it.