Mother's Day

13 Essential Cooking Tips We Learned From Our Moms

It's true: Mother knows best.

April 12, 2023
Photo by Julia Gartland

Being an only child, my mom has always been much more than just a mom to me. She's also my best friend. Sure, there were plenty of times when—as a parent—she dropped the iron hammer, but we've always had a closeness that was more like friendship.

Growing up she obviously taught me a lot of very important things: work hard, make good choices, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. But when it comes to cooking, the most important thing she instilled in me was small: Keep an organized work station, and clean up as you go.

Naturally, I hated this as a kid—who wants to waste time wiping down the counter or washing prep bowls in between licks of cake batter off the spoon? Couldn't everything wait until after we were done? No, my mom insisted. This was the way professional chefs worked. And it turns out she couldn't be more right.

So when I finally started living on my own in college (albeit with roommates), when I cooked, I couldn't help but make sure every part of the recipe had been prepped, wash the dishes as I went, or wipe down spills and splatters as they happened. I'm a much more organized, prepared home cook as a result—not to mention, by the time I'm ready to eat, it's nice to know that most of the cleanup has already been taken care of.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I always told my children "different moms have different rules" when they would complain about friends doing things they couldn't. But this article has shown me different moms have similar cooking 'rules' - so many rang familiar to my years of cooking and entertaining! And probably most especially Erin, your own mother's - "clean up as you go" wisdom! Loved reading this article - thank you!”
— Amy L.

Of course, my mom's not the only one with advice to spare. So in honor of Mother's Day, I asked Food52 and Schoolhouse team members to share the best cooking tips they've picked up from their moms. From game-changing ingredient swaps to timeless kitchen wisdom, here are the very best tricks and techniques we've picked up:

We Got It From Our Mamas

"Always keep your sink scrubbed clean so when you have a vegetable (or the like) to wash, it's ready to go and won't feel like a chore. Similarly, she would always wash and prep all produce as soon as she got home from the grocery store so she could pack it neatly into the fridge, and it was more likely to get used. Un-prepped vegetables have a way of being neglected until it's too late!" —Amanda Hesser, Food52 co-founder and CEO

"Make dishes that are good at room temperature for a dinner party." —Merrill Stubbs, Food52 co-founder

"Always serve a big green salad. When making said big green salad, rub the inside of the serving bowl (preferably a wooden one) with garlic to get extra flavor in there."—Madison Trapkin, associate editor

"My mom also taught me to always save a few chocolate chips for the end when making chocolate chip cookies. Then, right before you put the cookies in the oven, you can fill in any 'bare spots.' Beautiful cookies, every time."—Maurine Hainsworth, senior copywriter at Food52

"My mom tells me it's important to have a few dishes that look and taste amazing, but are super easy to make."—Abby Boulton, customer success manager at Schoolhouse

"She taught me that cooking doesn’t need to be intimidating and that casual, unfussy meals at home can still be delicious and special. But more specifically, she taught me to constantly taste dishes as I'm preparing them and to make adjustments and build flavor as I go. Whenever I ask her how much of an ingredient to add to a dish, her response is invariably 'to taste!' While pretty frustrating, I credit her for teaching me to be a more intuitive home cook." — Laura Wolfgang, UX designer at Food52

"Order Thai food." —Mollie Doherty, senior producer at Food52

"Maybe more of a hosting tip but: Invest in quality cookware that prioritizes both function and form for easy kitchen-to-table presentation!"—Elizabeth Yunmi Hokyo, senior editor at Schoolhouse

"Read your recipe first and make adjustments where you see fit." —Sarah Yaffa, data analyst at Food52

"Upgrade your dinner party by adding seasonal flavors to your store-bought butter. Add maple syrup and red pepper flakes for a fall meal, add rosemary and honey for summer. Just mix, reshape, and put in the fridge before serving. A homemade touch without the effort."—Kiernan Black, studio manager at Food52

"My mom is a big proponent of keeping recipes simple and really focusing on making sure every ingredient is prepared in a way that makes it maximally delicious. (She feels most recipes are not honest about how long you actually need to spend caramelizing onions.) Another one: The only acceptable thing to eat for dinner if you've been sick all day is homemade chicken noodle soup that's almost utilitarian in its final presentation. You might get two to three noodles total in your bowl and each is the most delicious thing you've ever tasted; the only other components are an excellent, thrice-strained broth and tiny pieces of carrot and shredded chicken. Served with cola that's been sitting out in a glass so it's flat." —Ella Quittner, Absolute Best Tests columnist

"Clean as you go. Keep your pan handles turned in. Save and reuse bacon grease to pan-fry green beans, potatoes, etc."—Dani Kyllo, supply planner at Schoolhouse

"Pretty sure it may be a Rachael Ray tip originally, but my mom's favorite tip to share is always cook with a big 'garbage bowl' on the counter for scraps."—Jacquie Cosgrove, freelance producer at Food52

What's the best piece of cooking advice you learned from your mom? Tell us in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.


Andrea B. April 27, 2023
My mom taught me that fresh, simple food is the best and using the best ingredients you can find and afford is key to a delicious meal. She is a master at whipping up delicious French and Italian cuisine. I still marvel at how confident she is in the kitchen. Also, her salad dressing is only a few ingredients but it is absolute magic in her hands. I have come close but never get it quite right. I think it must be the confidence that makes all the difference.
chimera April 26, 2023
I love all of these tips and reading through the comments. My grandmother taught me to cook and enjoy food - she introduced me to goat cheese at age 9 and I fell in love with it (and all things stinky or strong cheese-related), even though I was horrified to try it. I thought it would taste like a goat! Lol She taught me to be open minded and try a bite of everything. And how to measure flour correctly, and not to over-beat dough when baking, and to always lick the beaters after making cake or cookie batter, raw eggs be damned! She taught me at the ripe age of 5 how to inject strawberries with Grand Marnier with a needle before dipping in chocolate. Everything I do in the kitchen somehow relates back to her and how she taught me, and it’s when I feel closest to her. I have her hand-written recipes framed and up on my kitchen walls so I can always have her on the kitchen with me.
Dale M. April 26, 2023
I used to have to stand beside Mom or Grandma to get a recipe because neither ever used a any kind of measuring device. I find I now cook the same way, from instinct. I try to write things down for the kids but I tell them taste as you go and you can't go wrong. I know people say cooking is a science but I can out cook anyone I know. I'm in my 70's and still cook by taste, feel and the way it looks.
Bambi.grundwerg April 26, 2023
Moms advice, which I passed on to my grown sons (who both bake!)….for baked goods-once you can smell what’s in the oven-it’s time to check on it…regardless of how many minutes are left on a timer! Give it a sniff, a poke, and rotate racks if needed!
Ruth April 26, 2023
As a kid, I would have said that Mom's advice was, "always give the kids a carrot before you start cooking, and shoo them out of the kitchen!" And I would have been right!

Now I think that what I inherited from her was her excitement about new flavors and techniques. Thanks, Mom. Miss you!
Steven W. May 2, 2020
In the 1960's rural CT. (there was and still are a few places here!)my mother had to make for a crowd and on the cheap. And a very "clipped it from Good Housekeeping magazine" cook---lots of casseroles of noodles or rice or potatoes. Hamburger, or kielbasa, or tuna. LOTS of cream of whatever soups. (I still want that kind of food regularly, I mean it was so good!) So I learned to cook from others around me and as I made my way in the food service industry. I taught son and daughter to cook, and I know LOT of dad's who can do more than grill steaks. How about an article featuring what we learned from our dads?
JG April 26, 2023
Great idea for them to do as a Father’s Day post!
judy June 5, 2019
Best tip I got from my Mom was same as Frugal Cat. If you don't like my cooking, then cook it yourself. that began a short journey to becoming the family dinner cook. Mom truly could not cook, dad bar-b-q'd steak and did big dinner parties. The rest fo the week was mine. By the time I ws 8 I was expected to cook dinner 5 of 7 nights a week, as I was pretty good. Now I am 64, love to cook and my pantry and fridge are full of spices from all over the world!
FrugalCat June 4, 2019
The best cooking advice my mom ever gave me was "If you don't like the way I cook, feel free to make your own dinner." This turned me into a competent home cook as a teenager.
Valerie May 12, 2019
I think some people (especially Southerners) don't remember life before the Instant Pot. Many people kept food out all the time and did not die. They did not have refrigeration so they managed the best they could. Soups and beans were kept on the back burner (or the back of a wood stove at a constant low heat usually). Biscuits were kept in the bread warmer on top of the wood stove or under a cloth (so the flies would not get them). Picnics were full of things like potato salad (mayo) and eggs....mayo again. Remember, the mayo was made with....RAW egg!!!! Meat was often overcooked which sort of made it similar to jerky. Of course, meat did not usually last too long because there was not as much of it served. I sometimes think ladies today forget how their mothers survived and for that matter, how their grandmothers survived BEFORE!
Sandy S. May 12, 2019
No, I don't agree with Eric's mom. Bacteria may be killed but if there are toxins (chemicals) from the food left out, they will not be destroyed by heat. This practice is not consistent with current food science. Cool down foods and refrigerate within 2 hours for food safety. As a Master Food Preserver we say, "when in doubt, throw it out".
Beth D. May 12, 2019
My mother and I live on opposite sides of the country at the moment, which is hard at times. Whenever we get a chance to visit, the first thing we always do is go to the grocery store or farmers market and start dreaming up the meals that we want t ok make together, inspired by ingredients that look good and fresh. With this, I will never forget the advice that we always manage to ignore when we are together - "never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach!"
patricia G. May 12, 2019
Simplicity was among the valuable lessons my mother taught me. A meal doesn't have to be complicated to be shared with pleasure. A soft boiled egg with toast soldiers. An artichoke with a side of mayo, green with chopped herbs. A panful of garlicky sauteed mushrooms. Lovely meals, Mum.
Dawn C. May 11, 2019
My Mom was a GREAT cook! Not fancy, but her meals were always delicious.
She always said "If you can read, you can cook." She wasn't wrong.

A bit of advice. Get all of your favorite recipes from your Mommy committed to whatever medium you choose, so you can recreate them after she is gone.
Dana E. May 13, 2019
My mom is the same way Dawn! She loves to take recipes from cookbooks, the internet, etc. and change them up. She has a box full of her mother's recipe cards (handwritten) that she still uses all the time. I'm slowly re-writing them on my own cards.
Michele K. May 8, 2019
No! Do not leave the soup out. You cannot boil it long enough to kill bacteria
Amy May 8, 2019
Is Amanda Hesser by any chance related to Judy Hesser (of the Judy Hesser's Oven Fried Chicken fame???) If so, please pass along that I LOVE that recipe - it's become my new standard and I've been adapting it freely (I've added different spices to the flour/shake, and I cut little potatoes in half and put them cut side down in the roasting pan while the chicken baked - that was the only way I can imagine this wonderful recipe being any better, with an easy baked-in side dish!). Yum!!!!
Char D. May 8, 2019
My Mom would tell me "it's not a failure, it's a learning opportunity" when I'd goof up. Thanks to her, I was putting full meals on the table once a week by the age of 11 - except that I'd forget about the coffee since I didn't drink it back then. ~ I clean as I go if the flow of the recipe allows it. I had to do it when I was growing up since our kitchen had little counter space in for working. ~ Love the "order Thai" remark!
Cindy May 8, 2019
Nothing makes me happier than my grown kids calling me to ask a food question:) I was a very basic cook, made 100's of mistakes and learned as they grew up. But with the advent of the internet I learned a great deal and still am! And although they have that resource to lean on, they call mom:) And that is the greatest gift to me!
April May 8, 2019
My mom hated cooking and wasn’t great at it. I grew up with jar spaghetti, shake ‘n’ bake chicken, and over or undercooked meat. Mom told me to marry someone who could cook 😆, which did not happen. I learned to cook because I love to eat. Now, I get to cook for my mom and she is amazed at the skills I’ve acquired. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve picked up is buy the best ingredients you can afford. I love my mom dearly. Cheers to all the moms who did and are doing their best!
jpriddy April 26, 2023
My mom was a good cook and could bake bread or angel food cake or enchiladas, but still hated to cook, so her favorites meals were white (instant mashed potatoes), green (frozen peas), and brown (hamburger patties). She encouraged me to "read the recipe." I love cooking.
Jackie D. May 8, 2019
My Mom, God bless her soul, taught me never to throw food away, only, of courese had it gone bad. But that should never happen to a good cook..always make way with what you've got in the fridge or pantry, let your creativity run wild and CREATE, COOK, EAT and ENJOY!!!
lisa D. May 8, 2019
Hi Erin,
Every childs first teacher is mom, kids most of all spend with our mama, We all love our moms food and recipes, And Erin your recipes quit similar to my moms recipe and this is my favrite dish.