The "I'm Sick of Cooking" Guide to Cooking
Kitchen fatigue got you down? These tips can reignite the enthusiasm of even the most burnt-out, health-minded home chef.
You've got a fridge full of fruit, vegetables and lean protein; a pantry packed with grains, beans and spices; and the best of intentions to make an IG-worthy dinner. And yet when it comes to the actual cooking part, the only thing you can motivate to assemble is a sandwich. Sound familiar?
We all have limits on our resources of energy, attention and self-control, says Meghan Butryn, PhD, a psychology professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. "Especially by the end of the day, when it comes to dinner prep, we can feel depleted, like we've maxed out these things". Top that fatigue with the fact that you've probably been cooking more over the past year than throughout all of your years combined and it's only natural that your culinary energy will start to wane.
"Especially by the end of the day, when it comes to dinner prep, we can feel depleted, like we've maxed out these things".
PhD, Psychology Professor at Drexel University
But you don't want it to: Making your own meals gives you the control that you don't have when you're eating someone else's creation. Let's take salmon and broccoli as an example. If you ordered them from a restaurant, chances are they'd have more salt, sugar and/or fat — and be served in overly large portions — than if you had prepared them yourself, research suggests. Even a simple sandwich from a café can be unhealthier than your homemade version.
Not surprisingly, research shows that people who eat mostly home-cooked meals are healthier. In a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, people who ate home-prepared food more than five times a week consumed more fruits and vegetables than those who ate at home fewer than three times a week. They were also more likely to have a normal BMI and body fat percentage.
There's a mental benefit to the physical effort too: Cooking can make you feel strong and confident, says Atlanta-based nutritionist Marisa Moore, RDN. "It empowers us to nourish our bodies no matter where we are". And while the delivery apps on your phone might seem like the most convenient option, "your kitchen is right there", she adds.
If you streamline your culinary habits, cooking can actually become the easier, faster and—for real—more enjoyable option. We asked wellness pros to share their best ideas for getting homemade food with a side of fun on the table day after day.
01. Reframe the experience.
Instead of thinking of cooking as work, view it as a form of self-care. "Being able to cook for myself is a luxury", says Nike Master Trainer Kirsty Godso, who has cooked dinner nearly every night since the pandemic started. Godso uses the time as an opportunity to flex a new skill set and simultaneously relax, putting her phone and laptop away and turning on music instead. "Focusing on what I'm creating helps me unwind from the day", she says.
02. Find a challenge.
Sometimes making things more challenging can reignite your enthusiasm. Why? The novelty of learning a new recipe can make cooking exciting again and help you shake kitchen boredom, explains Butryn. Godso suggests thinking about what dish you really miss from a favourite restaurant and trying to recreate it at home.
03. Try a themed night.
Even with a Pinterest board of new recipes to tackle, most of us tend to fall back on the same dishes, cuisines and techniques over and over. Instituting a themed night can help force you out of this rut, says Moore. You could start a recurring event (you know, like taco Tuesdays, pizza Fridays or something all your own), where you try a new take on one dish each week. Or you could do an occasional themed night, where you choose a recipe for a dish (and maybe even a drink too) you've never cooked before from a certain country or region and queue up a playlist with music from there. Either way, go all out.
04. Get your hands on a new cookbook.
There's nothing wrong with browsing the web for recipes. But cookbooks can offer a more curated experience and the opportunity to explore without going down an online rabbit hole, says Moore. Plus, they often provide instruction and guides for newer cooks—and that hand-holding might give you the courage to try something totally out of your comfort zone. Buy a cookbook that features dishes you'd love to learn to cook but haven't yet tried, trade with a friend if you already have lots or borrow one from the library.
05. Train yourself to look forward to it.
"If you pair cooking with another rewarding stimulus or enjoyable behaviour, you'll increase your enthusiasm for cooking in the future because your brain will start to associate cooking with being in a positive state", says Butryn. Obviously, you can't stir-fry as you chaturanga, but you can engage in passive activities, like listening to a podcast, singing along to music, calling your best friend—anything that puts a smile on your face and won't cause you to burn yourself or slice off a finger.
06. Make a plan.
The hardest part of cooking can be deciding what to make. So instead of staring into your fridge each night at 5pm (been there, done that), lighten the mental burden by deciding ahead of time what you'll prepare, advises Butryn. For some people, this means planning a week of dinners at once. For others, it'll be a couple of meals at a time, or even just taking a moment to think about dinner earlier in the day.
"Just making that decision in advance can really increase your chances of success", says Butryn. It's harder to make a logical, goal-aligned choice when you're hungry and tired, so choose what to eat before you're tapped out on decision-making (what experts call "decision fatigue").
07. Disperse the work.
Butryn suggests washing your produce in the morning, taking 10 minutes to chop vegetables at midday or throwing some ingredients in the slow cooker after breakfast. It makes cooking dinner in the evening—when you might be feeling tired and stressed—easier and faster, which can help you enjoy the process more. (PS Since chopping vegetables can be a time drain, cut some extra and store them in the fridge for next time, says Moore).
08. Cook once, eat twice (or more!).
Giving yourself a couple of nights off a week can help restore your energy. Batch cooking, whether that's doubling up a soup recipe or throwing a few extra sweet potatoes in the oven when you're roasting them, gives you a break while still allowing you to enjoy homemade meals all week, says Moore. Freezable dishes like pasta sauces and chilli are perfect for doubling up; put them away and it's like having a frozen dinner on hand.
09. Take shortcuts.
When facing a cooking rut, Moore reminds herself that she doesn't have to do everything from scratch. Buy the pre-cut or frozen vegetables, the high-quality sauce or dressing—whatever it might be that shaves a few steps off your prep work. It's not cheating, it's simplifying. And sometimes that's enough to get you back into happy chef mode.
Like with training, the enthusiasm and energy to cook will ebb and flow. Light your own fire, internally and on the hob, and you'll be better off for it.
Words: Marnie Schwartz
Illustrations: Gracia Lam