More Than Half of Americans Struggle to Cook Basic Recipes

By Alexandra Caspero on April 28, 2023

While seven out of ten people claim to be naturally gifted in the kitchen, 56% of people surveyed in a recent poll say they struggle with even the most basic recipes. These self-proclaimed ‘failed chefs’ are embarrassed and frustrated by their futile efforts to cook even things like eggs and pancakes.

If your inability to cook a simple pasta recipe makes you want to throw out your pans, you’re not alone. Half of the respondents have flubbed an “easy” recipe so many times they’ve given up hope of ever getting it right. Messing up a dish can be extremely discouraging, as half of those polled have messed up an “easy” recipe so often they feel like they’ll never be able to master it. On average, people will attempt to make a dish 4 times before giving up completely. 

Don’t throw in your kitchen towel yet; that same survey of 2,000 Americans found that 63% of respondents would appreciate some help in the kitchen, especially from their spouse (27%). Divvying up meal-prep (and cleaning) duties among the family can help make the cooking feel like less of a chore. 

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How to be a better cook

Cooking, like any other skill, requires both practice and experience. Enjoying food is not the same as knowing how to cook, though having an appreciation of what food should taste like can help. Having the confidence to know when to add more salt, when your soup would benefit from a splash of acid, or the best way to cook asparagus can only come from getting into the kitchen. 

If standing over a hot stove feels intimidating, you might be putting too much pressure on yourself to create an iron-chef-worthy meal. Cheats and hacks are welcome; 74% of respondents are constantly looking for time-saving hacks and shortcuts in the kitchen. Additionally, 75% said they would consider purchasing pre-made items to help them cook more efficiently.

For newbie chefs, semi-homemade meals can offer the best of both worlds. Combining ready-made foods with prepared items can streamline efficiency in the kitchen and reduce the chance of failure. Consider baked frozen tacos with homemade mango salsa, boxed mac and cheese with added white beans and broccoli, or frozen vegetables and canned beans to beef up your favorite stew. 

Health Benefits of Home-Cooked Meals

Healthy meals don’t have to be synonymous with complicated. The health benefits of a home-cooked meal outweigh almost any other method of eating, no matter the recipe. Karen Kelly, health coach at Seasonal Cravings, advises clients to cook more at home to help control the ingredients used. “Restaurants often use more salt, sugar, and fat than you would get if you prepare simple meals from scratch.  It is also easier to control portion size when cooking at home.” 

This is especially true for those looking to eat healthier or with a goal of weight loss. A 2014 study from Johns Hopkins found that frequent home cooks consumed fewer calories, sugar, and refined carbohydrates than those who cooked only once a week. Even healthy-sounding dishes, like the 1000+ calorie Honey Glazed Salmon Salad from Ruby Tuesday, pack in more fat and sodium than if you’d make the meal yourself.

Cooking adds pleasure

There is another reason to continue to cook. Cooking can reduce stress and boost creativity. Getting into the kitchen more builds confidence, and learning to cook can bring a sense of accomplishment. Kelly says, “there is something magical about preparing your own food from nutritious ingredients. It can even be a stress-relieving experience for the whole family.”

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Chef, and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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