The Art of Basic Food Prep

By Morgan Hartline, MS, RD, LMNT Extension Program Coordinator

Basic food preparation is a skill that everyone should have, yet many of us do not. You don’t have to be a chef or have fancy equipment to cook at home. By learning the basics of cutting, cooking, and baking you can produce wonderful and simple meals.

To demonstrate some basic cooking skills for you all, I chose a food item that is low cost and readily available in most stores: broccoli. According to the Food and Drug Administration, one serving of broccoli provides 45 calories, 13% of your daily potassium needs, 12% of your daily fiber needs, and 220% of your daily vitamin C needs (which, by the way, is more vitamin C than an orange provides).


Before you cut, make sure you wash your broccoli. Rinse the vegetable under cool, running water. Do your best to make sure the water runs throughout the entire head and there is no visible dirt remaining.

Use a clean, dry cutting board. To stabilize your cutting board, you may rest it on a damp cloth on top of the counter. Make sure the knife you are using is sharp. It might surprise you, but a sharp knife is a safe knife. Dull knives force you to apply more pressure which increases the chance of slipping and cutting a finger.

Types of Cuts

The way a food is cut effects how long it takes to cook and how much flavor it brings to the dish. I’ll use the stem of the broccoli to demonstrate the different types of cuts. Before you begin cutting the broccoli, it is suggested that you cut away the hard, dark outer layer on the stem.

Did you know that the stem and leaves of broccoli are edible? You can add them to your cooking to reduce food waste.


Julienne (matchstick)

Julienne or matchstick cuts are ideal for salads and wraps. If you’ve ever purchased a bag of mixed lettuce salad, the carrots are cut in this way.

  1. Begin by slicing your food item (first picture below)
  2. Stack the slices.
  3. Slice the stacks lengthwise into a “matchstick”



Dicing your foods creates similar sized pieces for even cooking. There are a few ways to dice your foods:

  1. Begin with the Julienne method, as above.
  2. After you create matchsticks, cut across them to create small cubes.

Alternatively, for a larger cube:

  1. Cut 4 flat, even sides to your food item.
  2. Cut across your food item to create cubes.IMG_0067


Chopping food is a quick way to cut when the food is oddly shaped, like an olive, or it won’t affect taste or cooking time. You can use this method for mixed foods like pico de gallo and casseroles.

  1. To begin, cut your food into bit sized pieces.
  2. While gripping your knife, rest your other hand on top of the other end of the knife.
  3. Using your cutting hand, begin cutting the food using a rocking motion. Scoop food back into a pile using the knife and continue until you are happy with the size.


For classic food preparation, look to the books available at your local library. This is a great resource for new cooks.


The quickest way to prepare broccoli and many other vegetables is to steam them.

  1. Cut your vegetable into uniform pieces.
  2. Place 1/2 cup of water in the bottom of a sauce pan. Put steamer basket into pan.
  3. Place vegetable into steamer basket.
  4. Cover, and cook on medium-high heat for 6-10 minutes, or until fork tender.IMG_0077


  1. Follow step one above.
  2. Place vegetables into microwave safe dish with 1/4 cup of water.
  3. Microwave on High for 2-3 minutes or until fork tender.


Above all, roasting is my favorite method for cooking vegetables. Roasting brings out a charred, sweet flavor and crispy texture.

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Cut your vegetable into uniform pieces.
  3. In a medium bowl, toss with 1-2 tablespoons of oil.
  4. Place vegetable onto a baking sheet lined with tin foil.
  5. Season as desired.
    1. I used crushed garlic cloves and salt and pepper to taste – check out for ideas
  6. Bake for 20-60 minutes, until browned and crispy. Turn halfway for even cooking.
    1. Broccoli is roasted in about 30 minutes



Sauteing is an easy way to add veggies to your meal. Stir fries are a great example of this; when veggies are added to the stir fry, they take on the flavors and spices in the dish.

  1. Cut your vegetable into uniform pieces.
  2. Heat a medium sized skillet to medium-high heat.
  3. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil – just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add your vegetable, and stir or lightly toss while it cooks. Vegetables are done when fork tender.


I hope this post inspires you to try something new!


FDA Raw Vegetables Poster


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