How to Cook Without A Recipe

If you think about weeknight dinners and feel an impending sense of anxiety, you’re probably not alone. Life is busy and overwhelming, and between work, friends, family, and trying to get a workout in, having to decide what to eat day in and day out can become a major chore.

no recipe meals

It’s no secret that cooking at home is generally the healthiest and most economical choice, but scouring food blogs for hours can leave us overwhelmed and wondering if we really need to run out to get that special spice blend that our recipe calls for.

However, you don’t have to follow a recipe to a tee to prepare yourself a delicious and easy dinner. In fact, you don’t need a recipe at all. If that sounds intimidating, follow these tips to make no recipe meals and take the stress away from dinner.

Remove the pressure

Don’t make the first time you try cooking without a recipe when you’re having guests over for a dinner party. Instead, get started with a weeknight dinner and remind yourself that the stakes aren’t all that high. We can feel a lot of pressure to have an Instagram-worthy meal each night, but all that really matters is that you’re nourishing your body and hopefully enjoying your meal too. Forget about plating or fancy ingredients, and cook a meal that feels approachable. Remember that if it doesn’t turn out exactly how you had hoped, you’ve still managed to feed yourself dinner and can (and should!) try again tomorrow.

Find a favorite cooking method

Meal kits and magazine worthy recipes can be great, but they can also feel aspirational in the way that they combine different preparation methods for ingredients that produce a more elevated finished product but can also intimidate home cooks.

Whether it’s sautéing, roasting, or steaming, choose one cooking method that you like eating and start by mastering that method. You’ll find that after roasting a few pans of veggies, you won’t need to measure your spices or fat or set the timer. Instead, you’ll develop an intuitive sense for how you like your food prepared and know when it’s ready. Once you’re comfortable, feel free to get fancy with additional techniques for your no recipe meals.

Create a balanced plate

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, a great beginner dish for cooking without a recipe is a grain bowl because you really don’t need any recipe. Simply choose your favorite grain, a vegetable or two, a protein, cook them all using your favorite cooking method. Top with a fun sauce if you’re feeling fancy. Next time, mix up the grains, veg, and protein, and swap out one seasoning for another. This technique can make you dozens of no recipe meals that taste nothing alike but use the same cooking approach. 

Learn to substitute ingredients

It’s easy to get hung up when following a recipe and think that you need the specific brand of artisan whole cloves a recipe calls for, not to mention a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind them down. While the recipe is no doubt amazing as written, not only do you not need to get hung up on specific brands or formats of an ingredient. In fact, you might be able to do away with the ingredient all together.

If an ingredient makes a recipe feel intimidating to you, leave it out or find a replacement that feels more approachable. Can’t find whole cloves or don’t have a spice grinder? Substitute ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg, or cinnamon. A quick Google search should lead you to a substitute for almost anything, or check out our list of how to sub almost any ingredient in a recipe.

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About Kira Schreiber

Kira grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is passionate about mental health, healthy eating, and sustainability. After spending the first part of her career working for a non profit mental health agency in Southern California, she transitioned to pursue a career in her passion for cooking. Now back in Chicago, Kira spends her days developing healthy recipes for a food tech start up. When not in the kitchen or on her laptop she loves spending time outdoors, hitting up a spin class, or watching home decor DIYs on YouTube.