An education just isn't complete without learning your way around the kitchen. Life is healthier and more delicious if you step away from the canned, boxed and frozen foods that probably sustained you through college, and learn how to make a few key recipes for staples like stews, casseroles and yes, even cookies. We've gathered together recipes for dishes that are simple to make, easily customized, and that you'll likely use again and again. Once you learn these, playing around to make your own recipes or tackling new more complicated recipes will feel like a breeze. And most importantly, you'll never be without comforting, healthy homemade food.

Breakfast

Carrot cardamom muffins with dates and walnutsCarrot cardamom muffins are easy to make. (Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch)

The best way to start the day is with a healthy breakfast. It kick-starts your metabolism and gives you the nutrients you need for all-day energy and concentration. Whether it is hot, cold or on the go, we have recipes that will ensure you fill your stomach with delicious, healthy food before beginning the workday.

1. Muffins

Muffins are a great breakfast choice because you can make them fresh in about 30 minutes, or make them the night before to last all week for speedy breakfasts. Muffins are easy to customize once you have a handle on the basic recipe, and you can fill them up with healthy fruits, vegetables and nuts for added nutrients. Try out these trail mix breakfast muffins to see just how hearty these sweet treats can be.

2. Smoothies

Fast food doesn't have to be unhealthy. A great breakfast can be simply throwing a few healthy ingredients in a blender and pushing the "on" button. But there is a trick to learning how to make smoothies, since you need to get a grasp on the ratio of liquid and solid ingredients so that the smoothie is just the right thickness and has just the right balance of flavors. These 7 healthy vegan protein smoothie recipes will help get you started.

3. Omelette

The omelette is incredibly versatile. You can whip one up as a simple breakfast during the week, or create a fancy and beautiful omelette breakfast on the weekends. Knowing your way around an omelette is important so you can have a hot morning meal using eggs and pretty much whatever you have in the fridge from a few slices of cheese and some onion, to the leftover roasted veggies from last night's dinner.

Try your hand at this super simple version of an omelette, the Spanish tortilla. It's easy to make and gives you some practice before moving on to more complicated omelette recipes.

4. Fritatta

Fritattas are basically just omelets that you cook in a cast-iron pan and don't bother flipping over. They're fluffy, delicious, and of course every bit as customizable as an omelette. Like omelettes (and smoothies and muffins) you have a basic recipe that you can add other ingredients to and make adjustments depending on your mood. They're flexible and did we mention delicious? Test out this recipe for a roasted potato frittata with onions and peppers in a cast-iron skillet. Or make mini frittatas using muffin tins for bite-sized goodness.

Classic favorites

chili friesMaking your own French fries is easy and the results are incredibly tasty. (Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch)

As a full-fledged adult, it's time to ditch the boxed meals — well, most of them anyway. Yes, you're still young but you want to stay looking young even as you approach your 30s and beyond. So, it's time to start taking care of your body, and that includes doing away with boxed meals that feature obscene amounts of sodium, preservatives and ingredients no one but chemists can pronounce. You can make all your favorites and then some from scratch, using real ingredients with actual nutritional value, and they'll be all the more flavorful and comforting.

5. Real mac and cheese

You just can't beat homemade mac and cheese. The concept is really simple. Take a favorite pasta like elbow macaroni or shells, add cheese, milk and flour, and stir. You can make it stove-top or bake it for that irresistible browned top. You can go dairy-free and try this great recipe for vegan mac and cheese.

6. French fries

French fries are amazing, and definitely a classic comfort food. With a little bit of extra time, you can leave the bagged fries from the freezer aisle behind and make your own healthier baked fries from scratch with just three ingredients. Slice some potatoes, toss them in oil, sprinkle them with salt, and pop them in the oven. Tah dah! You can try out the fries in this recipe for easy chili fries because let's face it, chili is a better topping than ketchup!

7. Pizza

Learning how to make pizza is like learning how to ride a bike. You never really forget how to do it, you can learn all kinds of new tricks to make it more interesting, and you'll move up a level of cool among your friends. Fresh ingredients and a little time is all you need for a delicious, fully customized homemade pizza. You can make the dough from scratch (which obviously we recommend), pick up a bag of raw dough from the store, or even use fresh focaccia bread from the bakery. We have 9 recipes for pizza that will get your creativity flowing, and if you want to be extra ambitious, learn how to make your own pizza sauce too!

8. Salsa

Salsa is basically a kitchen staple. There should always be a batch in the fridge waiting to be noshed upon. Once you make your own salsa, you'll wonder why you ever bought that unsatisfying stuff in a jar. Fresh salsa, made with just a handful of fresh ingredients, is one of life's great pleasures and is great for everything from snacking to adding to salads, burgers and even scrambled eggs at breakfast. Try making restaurant-style tomato salsa or get creative with sweet and spicy salsas like mango-avocado salsa or peach-tomato salsa.

9. Guacamole

The secret to great guacamole is keeping it simple. Sure, there are a couple ways to make guac depending on your preference, but the best guac has just five ingredients: onion, jalepeño, lime, cilantro and avocado. That's all you really need. It's up to you on whether you want to use red or yellow onion, fresh or pickeled jalepeños, a pinch or a pile of cilantro and so on. Try out this recipe for the world's best vegan guacamole as a starting point.

Hearty meals that make leftovers

baked polentaYou can do so much with leftovers after making one big pan of lasagna, enchiladas or a casserole. (Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch)

One of the best parts about making a homemade meal is getting to reheat leftovers the next day. Leftovers make for fast, low-mess meals that taste even better after a day or two in the fridge. Memorize a handful of recipes that will keep you fed all week long and you'll be one happy, time-efficient person.

10. Casserole

Casseroles are the ultimate in meals-that-make-leftovers. They're one-dish wonders that will hold up for a week in the fridge. And there's about a gazillion recipes out there to try and customize. Try out this vegetarian Mexican casserole, or a simple Swiss chard and goat cheese casserole, or get fancy with baked polenta and roasted veggie casserole. Whatever route you go, it's hard to go wrong.

11. Lasagna

A lasagna is basically a casserole with pasta. They're also surprisingly easy to make. Just layer flat pasta with cheese, sauce and a veggie (or meat) filling until the dish is full. Bake and enjoy. Not only can you bake a lasagna and reheat servings all week long, but you can even craft up some lasagnas and put them in the freezer for later baking. It's one of best recipes to know for homemade frozen food, really. Start out with this roasted-vegetable lasagna recipe and find out just how simple it is.

12. Enchiladas

Enchiladas are excellent as leftovers, and again, surprisingly simple to make. Roll up tortillas with your favorite filling, place them side by side in a dish, cover them with enchilada sauce and cheese, and pop them in the oven to bake. Like lasagnas, you can fill a glass baking dish with enchiladas and put it in the fridge to bake a day or two later. Leftover enchiladas are easy to reheat in the oven or microwave. You can create something as simple as bean and cheese enchiladas, or spice it up with your own custom filling and homemade sauce. If you want to go vegetarian, check out this recipe for tofu enchiladas.

13. Stew

You just can't go wrong with a good stew. And you also can't get more simple. All you need is a pot, a pile of vegetables and some broth. Of course, it helps to get just slightly more complicated by adding in some herbs, spices and other ingredients. But once you get the basic recipe for a stew down, you'll be able to throw together something delicious at a moment's notice, and store leftovers in Mason jars that will keep you fed for a week. Start out with this recipe for a green chili vegetable stew.

14. Chili

Like a stew, a hearty chili is a one-pot warm and comforting dish that will keep you fed for a week. Pull together a simple three-bean chili in a matter of minutes and let it simmer on the stove for an hour or two to concentrate the flavor. You can also make chili in a slow cooker, putting the ingredients in before you leave for work and coming home to an incredible meal. Then you can just whip up a batch of cornbread to complete the dish.

15. Shepherd's pie

If you enjoy making stews but want to add in even more comfort, try your hand at making a shepherd's pie. It's basically just stew with mashed potatoes on top. Easier than a pot pie (though pot pies are simple and delicious to make), shepherd's pie is a hearty, filling meal that you can whip up in as little as an hour one night and reheat servings all week long.

16. Ratatouille

If you haven't yet noticed, we fully embrace the one-pot wonder dishes. Ratatouille sounds kind of fancy, but really it's just a simple dish of eggplant, onions, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes. Basically you take the best of summer and put it in a dish to simmer for awhile. The dish freezes really well so you can make a huge batch and put it in the freezer for meals that last a month or two.

17. Minestrone soup

If you love soup and stews then you definitely want to memorize the recipe for a great minestrone soup. Minestrone is great for any occasion, from a simple dinner at home on the couch to a course at a nice dinner for friends. The rich flavors of this hearty soup hit the spot every time. Plus, making a big batch and storing more for later means easy reheated meals for busy evenings or even healthy lunches to microwave while you're at work. This recipe will get you started in crafting your very own minestrone recipe.

Desserts

Pumpkin quickbreadQuick breads are a one-bowl dessert that are perfect for brunch or a holiday gift. (Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch)

You can't venture into adulthood without knowing how to comfort your inner child. That's why in order to become a grown-up, you have to master making cookies. And cupcakes, of course. And it doesn't hurt to know how to make a few other desserts that are great for serving guests or giving away as gifts during holidays. We think these four dessert recipes are staples to memorize. Plus, once you have the basics down, you'll be off and running with variations of your own and creating signature desserts that you can whip up any time you or someone you love gets a sweet tooth.

18. Cupcakes

Cupcakes are a must-know because they're a solution for everything from bringing in treats for a co-worker's birthday to contributing to school bake sales once you enter parenthood. They're easy, fairly quick to make, and are way better when made from scratch than from a box. Seriously, making them from scratch takes hardly any extra time and you can skip all the refined sugars and weird preservatives that come with boxed mixes. Having a go-to cupcake recipe can be a life-saver. Start out with something fairly simple like pumpkin spice cupcakes, and then tackle fancier recipes like chocolate cupcakes with strawberry filling.

19. Cookies

You just can't go through life without knowing a great cookie recipe. It doesn't matter if it's memorized from the back of a bag of chocolate chips, or if its one passed down through generations in your family. There just isn't anything like a batch of cookies made from scratch. Plus there's the whole eating-the-dough part that is one of life's great joys. We have many cookie recipes we think are stellar, so prepare to do some sampling. For starters, try out chocolate-filled peanut butter cookies or coffee walnut cookies.

20. Tarts

Tarts are a wonderful speedy yet comforting dessert to make when fruits are in season. Basically throw fruit into a pie crust, sprinkle with raw sugar, and bake. Try your hand at making a pear tart, apricot tart, or really any summer fruit tart. Once you have the fruit tart down, you can move on to pies. Or don't bother, since tarts are just as good as pies and less fuss!

21. Quick bread

Quick breads are a one-bowl dessert that can add a little something sweet to a weekend brunch, or can be the perfect thing to make and give away to friends during the holidays. Banana nut bread, blueberry bread, zucchini bread... there are a ton of variations and they're all equally easy to make. Learning a basic quick bread recipe will come in handy time and again. Try a healthy pumpkin and spice quickbread, or everyone's favorite banana blueberry bread.

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.