It’s true. Cooking can feel like a burden sometimes. It’s yet another thing that has to get done in the day, another obligation, another chore. And yet, we also all know that eating home-cooked meals is better for our health, our wallet, and our emotional well-being. So how do we reconcile these two competing realities? How do we find a way to make cooking feel like less of a chore and more enjoyable?
There are things we can do to change the environment while we are cooking such as cooking with someone else, playing fun music, or having a glass of wine. But there are also some simple steps you can take to make the actual cooking easier. Things that will save you time, which will, in turn, make the whole process feel less burdensome.
1) Start with a clean kitchen
Have you ever been making a meal and suddenly you run out of counter space? Do you find yourself piling things on top of each other or precariously balancing a bowl while you quickly do something at the stove? I know I have and it’s stressful! Or maybe you have been in the middle of a recipe and suddenly realized that the measuring cup you need is dirty. I’ve been there and it’s the worst! Well, starting with a clean kitchen helps you to avoid those stressful moments. I know, starting a meal by cleaning your kitchen sounds a bit counterintuitive, but trust me on this. Putting those dishes in the dishwasher, quickly washing that pot you used to heat up breakfast, and making sure the counters are clear will help your cooking dramatically and here’s why: starting with a clean slate means that you’ll be better organized, you’ll have counter space to work on, and you’ll spend less time searching for things.
2) Clean as you go
I know, I know, another cleaning tip?! We’re supposed to be talking about cooking!! One of the biggest complaints I hear about cooking, though, is actually resenting the cleaning up after — I totally get it. There is nothing more disheartening than finishing a meal that I cooked only to find the kitchen overflowing with dishes (even if I don’t usually have to do them, thanks to my wonderful husband). That’s why I try very hard not to let that happen anymore. If I have downtime while I wait for the next step in the cooking process, I clean up a bit. Maybe it’s just throwing some dishes into the dishwasher, washing a couple of prep bowls, or wiping the counter where I spilled the flour for the 1,000th time (I’ve got a serious spilling problem), but doing little bits here and there makes a huge difference in my ability to enjoy the meal I prepared both while eating it and afterwards, which then makes me more likely to want to cook the next night.
Almost all recipes are written in such a way that you prepare all the ingredients before you even start cooking. This is called mise-en-place and it is great for restaurant kitchens, but a useless time suck for home cooking. Instead, read the recipe through, think about the order in which things happen, and then prep-as-you-go. For instance, if you are starting a recipe with onions and garlic getting sautéed in a skillet, chop those first and start them sautéing while you then chop the other vegetables. This may be a little bit challenging if you are not a fast chopper, but as you cook more, this will gradually become easier. So, plan things out based on your own ability—it will still save you lots of time! (Also important to note, at The Scramble we try to write our recipes in such a way that you can prep-as-you-go).
4) Let the food be
Unless the recipe calls for you to stir constantly, hovering over the food doesn’t make it cook any faster or come out any better and, in fact, will probably just increase your stress. So instead, use that time to prep-as-you-go or clean up a bit, and then just check on the food occasionally.
5) Timers are your friend!
Cooking is often a multi-tasking event so use the tools that are right in your kitchen (and on your phone) so you don’t have to keep track of everything at once. Set timers to remind yourself of when to check the rice, stir the roasting vegetables, flip the pancakes, etc. That way, you can do a number things at the same time without forgetting something.
Do you have tricks to ease the burden of cooking? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. And if you’re not yet a member, The Scramble can take a lot of the burden of dinner prep off our your shoulders with our family-friendly meal plans and easy to follow recipes.