Cookbook? What cookbook? Today many of us turn to our favorite online search engines to discover how to prepare different foods and find what to make for dinner tonight. It can be a great technique. “There is unlimited info at your fingertips that can be accessed in a matter of seconds,” says virtual performance nutritionist Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, CSSD.
Still, your searches could probably be more effective. Use Sass’s tips below to stop wasting time and more easily find just what you’re looking for.
Be specific. “Chicken recipe” has more than 1.2 billion hits. This could lead you down a rabbit hole of clicks and tabs until you find a recipe that not only screams out to your taste buds but that you also have the ingredients and time to make.
Instead, check your fridge and pantry to see what ingredients you have on hand and also consider what flavors you’re in the mood for—such as Japanese or Cuban. Add a few more ingredients or flavors to your search. “I have searched for some combinations of words that I thought were obscure, like ‘bean recipes chia seeds’ and found some great on-point results,” Sass says. “You can also add words like ‘gluten-free’, ‘vegan’, ‘quick’, and ‘make-ahead’ to further narrow your results.”
Read the full recipe. Probably everyone has gone to make a delicious-sounding meal, only to realize they were supposed to prep a part of the recipe a day ago. While PB&J can always do in a pinch, you can avoid this snafu by checking all the steps and techniques and seeing how much time it says the recipe will take.
Keep in mind that these times aren’t always how long you’ll need to prep and make it. Some of us chop onions faster than others. “In some cases, you can make modifications,” Sass says. “For example, if a recipe calls for making a dressing or sauce separately, you can opt for a healthy store-bought, ready-to-eat product and skip that step. While the dish may turn out a little different, the shortcut may be worthwhile.”
Check out any comments. “I’ve seen recipes that called for an item in the instructions that wasn’t listed on the ingredient list,” Sass says. “Commenters generally point these things out, or other factors to consider, like ingredients that can be added to enhance flavor or garnish the dish, or if the baking time required was more or less than the recipe stated.” Granted, we all have different taste preferences. But if several people note that the dish turned out dry, you may want to keep searching.
Look past the first page. Top recipe results tend to be from big players such as magazines, well-known recipe sites, and food bloggers with large social media followings, Sass notes. “Don’t narrow yourself to the first page of results,” she recommends. “You may find some great recipes on the tenth page of the Google search.”
Consider images carefully. You may salivate over the photos of perfectly iced keto doughnuts. But if you need to buy five ingredients plus a special pan to make them, is it really worth it? “Humans are very visual, so a great photo can ‘sell’ one recipe over another. But always read the recipe before you decide, to be sure you’re OK with the ingredients, number of steps, complexity, and length of time required,” Sass says. On the other hand, some recipes look more intimidating than they are to make, she adds, so don’t overlook that seemingly gourmet lasagna.
Search for brands. Have a hummus you love? Chances are, they not only have recipes on their site, but bloggers have probably posted recipes using the hummus too. Sass suggests adding specific branded ingredients (think: mustard, hot sauce, plant-based milks) you love to your search box to find these dishes. And remember: You don’t need to have that brand in your fridge to make the recipe, as long as you have the ingredient.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.