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Reading Recipes

Whether you're used to whipping up dinners for your family or you haven't even passed Water Boiling 101, being able to use recipes is essential to having a wide variety of healthy meals at your fingertips. Check out our recipe guide to find out the real deal on reading recipes.

Recipe Name
The recipe name tells you what you'll be making! Some recipes contain a short description under the name that quickly tells you about the dish, for example, "This sauce jazzes up any kind of pasta," or "An easy chicken dish with a rich flavor." Some recipes include a picture to show you what the food will look like when it's done.

The serving number tells you the number of people that this recipe will serve. Be sure to check this number before cooking. You may need to decrease the amount of each ingredient if you're cooking for fewer people, or increase the amount if you're cooking for more people. If you're cooking for fewer people, you may be able to leave the amounts in the recipe as is and freeze the extra servings. This can be a major bonus - you'll only need to cook and clean up once for two (or more) meals!

Also, remember that serving sizes in recipes are usually for teens and adults. If you're cooking for younger people you'll probably have leftovers because kids usually eat much smaller servings.

Time gives you a rough idea of how long it will take to prepare the recipe. Some recipes will have the time divided into two parts: prep time and cooking time. Prep time is when you're preparing everything; you'll be slicing and sauteing, mixing and mincing, or whatever else the recipe calls for.

Cooking time is when the food is actually in the oven or on the stovetop. With some recipes, you don't need to do anything during the cooking time, so you can hang out nearby and do homework or set the table. With other recipes, though, you might need to stir or check on something every so often, which means you're not able to do much else while the food cooks.

Some recipes don't list the time at the beginning - you may need to read the recipe to find this information. Be sure to check out the total time before you start cooking so you know how long you'll be in the kitchen.

This lists all the items you will need to make the recipe. Most ingredient lists are pretty straightforward, but be sure to pay attention to things like:

  • amounts that mention a bag, jar, or can size - this is important when you create your shopping list. If the recipe calls for "one can (16 ounces) kidney beans," or "one jar (6 ounces) roasted red peppers," you need to make a note to buy that size.
  • ingredients that are listed as optional - this means that you don't necessarily need them, but you can use them to add extra flavor or make the recipe a little bit different.
  • ingredients that don't have a measurement but include the words "to taste" - you'll usually see this for things like spices, salt, and pepper. This means you can add as much or little as you like to the recipe.

Some ingredient lists may specify how things should be prepared before you even reach the directions. For example, "two cloves garlic, sliced thinly" or "three large onions, cut into chunks."

If you are making a different number of servings than what the recipe calls for, you will need to change the amount of each ingredient. For example, if your recipe makes four servings and calls for two celery stalks, and you want to make just two servings, you'll only need one celery stalk.

Finally, some recipes may contain other suggestions, substitutions, or variations to the existing recipe. This means the recipe can be altered a bit if, for example, you're out of a particular ingredient.

The directions tell you the steps you need to take to make the recipe. Always read through the directions first, from start to finish. There's nothing worse than standing over a hot frying pan and realizing that you don't have the right utensils to finish the job!

In many recipes, the directions are numbered or written in separate steps, which makes things easy. Very important: always check whether the first step in a recipe is to preheat the oven. You don't want to miss this step!

In the beginning, follow the directions closely to get the tastiest dish possible. As you become familiar with a recipe, you can try some variations.

This part of the recipe may also be called substitutions or other suggestions. They are often at the end of the recipe, and may include things like:

  • ingredient substitutions - these can be good if you're out of an ingredient because you may be able to substitute another. Ingredient substitutions can be useful for a person who is trying to eat healthily; a recipe may suggest using egg whites instead of whole eggs, for example. Substituting an ingredient may also add more flavor or create a slightly different flavor.
  • variations in directions - these can be fun to experiment with after you've gotten the hang of the basic recipe. They can also explain different ways to prepare the same thing (in a microwave oven or convection oven, for example).
  • serving suggestions - these suggest other foods to serve along with the dish you've made. They may also include other suggestions about how to serve the food.