There's a little homework involved here. It's boot camp, remember? Time to get up and take some action if you want to change your life. First, go to your kitchen and grab your biggest knife that isn't a cleaver (you have a cleaver? Scary). You should have either a chef's knife or a santoku. If you don't have either one of these, you will need to get one. You will use this knife more than any other knife in your kitchen. I personally recommend going with a chef's knife that is at least 8" long, preferably 10". If you really don't have a ton of money to run out and pick up a Wusthof or Henckels or whatever, go grab one from the dollar store. Yes, the dollar store. It will last you about a month and that's enough time to learn. Of course, it would be best if you could get an actual decent knife that will last you 20-30 years. If you spend $20 at Target you'll get a pretty OK knife for the money. And for the love of dog, don't buy anything from an infomercial or door-to-door salesperson.
OK. So you have your chef's knife. You might want to pick up a paring knife too if the size of the knife intimidates you. You can get a nice one or you can get a three-pack at the grocery store. Whatever.
Eventually you'll want a serrated bread knife too. Since you can't sharpen a serrated blade it's OK to go lower end on these because you just have to replace them when they get dull. These three knives are all you really need.
Do you already have a chef's knife? Let me guess -- it's so dull you just end up smashing or tearing whatever you're trying to cut. Yup, you and almost everyone in America. So your homework is to find a place to get it sharpened. You don't have to spend a bunch of money on this; in fact it'll probably be free. Here in the Twin Cities there is a chain of grocery stores called Lunds and Byerlys who sharpen knives for free overnight at the meat counter. It wouldn't hurt to ask your local butcher or meat counter if they'd sharpen yours for you. If you're coming up dry there, go to Google Maps and type "knife sharpening near Minneapolis" or wherever you live. Without the quotes, of course.
Do not skip this step. You absolutely have to start with a sharp knife if you want to learn how to use it.
Next we'll learn the basics of cutting. In the meantime, here's the meal plan.
Roasted vegetable and fish tacos
BBQ Tofu (or whatever protein) Chopped Salad
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pstuifzand/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0