10 Great Cookbooks To Give To Young Adults Who Are Leaving The Nest

Keep your kids away from relying on takeout while giving them a lesson on delicious meals they can make themselves.

College is back in session, meaning young adults are moving out of their parents’ nests and cooking for themselves — maybe for the first time. Whether they’re cooking in their dorm kitchens, leasing their first apartment with friends, buying a first home or moving into their first solo pad, they probably need some foundational cooking knowledge to keep them from resorting to leftover pizza.

These cookbooks recommended by recipe developers, food writers and kitchen gurus will get new chefs excited about breaking out some pots and pans and creating their own flavorful meals.

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“Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker
Many people had “Joy of Cooking” as their first cookbook. Elizabeth Nelson, test kitchen manager at Wilton, is among them.

“It’s a bit of a tradition in my family," she said. "I also have my grandmother’s copy from when she got married in the '40s. Practical, clever recipes have always been part of this book’s 75-year history, but it’s evolved to include 30-minute meals and make-ahead shortcuts. And you know what? Some of us want a practical beginner’s cookbook that’s also going to teach us how to make beef Wellington.”

Joy of Cooking” contains an encyclopedic-level of knowledge for novice and seasoned cooks alike. With over 4,000 recipes incorporating slow cookers, convenience foods like canned stocks and beans, frozen ingredients and leftovers, a young person starting out will find ways to save money, eat well and reduce waste.

Get “Joy of Cooking” for $17.49.
“Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook”
Food writer and trained cook Marisel Salazar could not contain her excitement for this book.

"If I wasn’t learning how to cook a dish side-by-side with a real person, I was cooking fromBetter Homes & Gardens New Cookbook’ during college. It was THE course textbook for my culinary school classes," she said. "It’s straightforward, and easy to understand with solid instructions that stand the test of time.”

With more than 1,000 recipes, pictographs detailing storage and guided preparation, as well as clear, direct language, “BHG New Cookbook” is a good choice for a starter book that will be visited again and again. Guidance on topics like proper internal cook temperatures and understanding differences between various oils provides building blocks a new cook will appreciate.

And college kids feeling a little homesick can find a killer chocolate chip cookie recipe on page 554 — always comforting with a glass of milk and a call home.

Get “Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook” for $19.96.
“Cook This Book: Techniques That Teach and Recipes to Repeat” by Molly Baz
A “book that should be on everyone’s bookshelf” is how Rachael Narins, cookbook author and Chicks with Knives founder, described “Cook This Book.”

“It teaches cooking,” Narins said. “QR codes linked to her entertaining how-to videos make it the perfect starter cookbook for today.”

Baz, who you’ll likely recognize from Bon Appetit’s test kitchen videos on YouTube, delivers an approachable culinary-school-light education on equipment, pantry staples (ingredients are organized into easy-to-understand categories like “Dairy,” “Pantry” and “Frozen”) and technique — all accompanied by whimsical illustrations.

The conversational tone, detailed explanations geared toward home cooks, and over 95 meticulously broken-down recipes will make this foundational for someone starting out. And those QR code-linked videos make it a fun text for visual learners and digital natives.

Get "Cook This Book" for $40.01.
“Minimalist Baker's Everyday Cooking: 101 Entirely Plant-based, Mostly Gluten-Free, Easy and Delicious Recipes” by Dana Shultz
Maggie Downs, author of “Braver Than You Think,” suggested “Minimalist Baker” for my newly vegan daughter who moved into her first apartment last fall. All recipes require less than 30 minutes, just one pot and 10 ingredients or fewer, making it perfect for a new cook working with basic equipment.

The cookbook includes 101 easy-to-follow recipes that are plant-based, mostly gluten-free and customizable with suggested substitutions. Each recipe is accompanied by a stunning photo of the finished product, as well as clearly delineated prep/cook time and yield.

Get "Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking" for $21.49.
“Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week” by Isa Moskowitz
When it became apparent I would not see my daughter for the holidays during the pandemic, I bought her this book and we cooked via Zoom. Moskowitz’s use of pantry staples, fast cooking times and minimal pans helped her get through that first Thanksgiving solo.

Writer Julia Tausch turned me on to this lifesaver. She said: “I love all of Isa’s books, but ‘Isa Does It’ is forever my fave for the combination of vegan basics (the ‘Tofu Butchery’ section is hilarious and useful), and the simple-yet-punchy approach to flavors and textures.” She was right.

Nearly all the 200 recipes inIsa Does It” are accomplished in 30 minutes or less, with mostly pantry ingredients and stress-free cleanup. The language is clear, the photos and illustrations are gorgeous and Moskowitz’s dry wit is evident in every word.

Get "Isa Does It" for $24.30.
“Twelve Recipes” by Cal Peternell
Lindsay Christians, food editor at The Capital Times and author of “Madison Chefs,” saw reminders of her own life in this book.

“When I moved to California and had my own kitchen, my mom in Ohio would tease that I only called her when I needed a recipe," she said. "Chef and author Cal Peternell gets it — the 20-year Chez Panisse alum wrote ‘Twelve Recipes’ as a culinary guidebook for his three sons. It’s an accessible, well-organized, not overly long cookbook, with chapters on toast and eggs (still my go-to solo cooking foods), pasta and sauce, and roast chicken.”

This IACP Cookbook Award winner and kitchen primer teaches core skills with basic ingredients and tools, and then offers variations to try out as a cook's confidence increases. Peternell’s warmth comes through with each whimsical illustration, family photo and humorous meditation on everyday foods.

It is a delicious love letter from a father to his sons that imparts some basic cooking and life lessons along the way.

Get "Twelve Recipes" for $15.89.
“Life Is What You Bake It: Recipes, Stories, and Inspiration to Bake Your Way to the Top” by Vallery Lomas
As much as “Twelve Recipes” is a roadmap for cooking and life from a father to sons, “Life is What You Bake It” is an homage to the women who raised and inspired Vallery Lomas, winner of “The Great British Baking Show.” It is steeped with family lore and lessons, as well as delicious confections like mint moon pies and red velvet sheet cake.

Baking can be daunting, even for some experienced cooks, but Lomas sets up readers for success with detailed head and endnotes, QR codes that reveal instructional video tutorials for fundamental techniques, and tips for make-ahead steps and storage. As with all baking, the chemistry of time, temperature and ingredients takes practice. But Lomas’s words of wisdom, family stories and heartfelt tone will be a welcome balm for those missing home — and wanting a fresh-baked biscuit with some homemade strawberry jam.

Get "Life Is What You Bake It" for $21.96.
“Made in India: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen” by Meera Sodha
This book landed a permanent home on food writer and recipe developer Ashley Fagan’s cookbook shelf.

“Her recipes are approachable and realistic for the home cook,” she said. "I adore the heartwarming stories Meera shares about her Indian heritage and living in London.”

Sodha opens this book by dispelling the myth that Indian food is complicated. Through 130 easy recipes, suggestions for “First-timer Meals” and “Midweek Meals,” as well as guidance on kitchen equipment, she shows how approachable it can be to prepare at home. Each recipe starts with a family story of where it came from, followed by ingredients in different color text to make them standout, and a section for what to do with leftovers.

Best, though, is her chapter simply called “Help.” In clear language, she explains what to do if you added too much salt or spilled turmeric on your shirt. This is gold for a new cook.

Get "Made in India" for $23.57.
“Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking” by Fuchsia Dunlop
Sometimes it can feel like takeout is the best option. But Ivy Lerner-Frank, a writer who lived and worked in China for over a decade, swears “Every Grain of Rice” by Fuchsia Dunlop will change your mind.

“Each recipe works, tastes just right, and is authentic in technique and ingredients,” she said.

This James Beard Award winner includes staples of a young person’s diet like “Emergency Late-Night Noodles” and “Everyday Stir Fried Chicken,” and most require few ingredients with minimal steps. Dunlop lays out the key seasonings and techniques of cooking Chinese food at home with stunning photographs and clear instructions. Each recipe emphasizes the adaptability and versatility of Chinese cooking.

Get "Every Grain of Rice" for $24.99.
“How to Cook Everything The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food” by Mark Bittman
If you're looking for an approachable cookbook for true beginners, food and culture writer Grace Hwang Lynch recommends this one.

“It has simple recipes with step-by-step pictures, and enough basic instruction for a kid who might not understand cooking terms without some detailed instructions,” she said.

The 185 recipes are accompanied by 1,000 photos illustrating every technique and procedure, making it a practical and comprehensive guide for novice home chefs.

From basics like “Cracking an Egg” to “Holding a Knife,” Bittman methodically teaches every step from prep to finished product. He opens the book with the question “Why Cook?” — and then proceeds to answer how a meal cooked at home beats the drive-throughs, walk-up windows and takeout food every time, no matter how convenient they may seem.

Get "How to Cook Everything: The Basics" for $18.19.

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