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. At the same time, though, we also 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 ease the burden of cooking and make it more enjoyable?
How to Ease the Burden of Cooking
When I think about the different ways to make cooking easier, I put the options into three different categories:
- Get help
- Change the environment
- Cook more efficiently
As you read through these recommendations, I suggest thinking about which will work best for you and your family and then pick and choose to create your own perfect recipe for easy cooking.
If I am being honest, asking for and getting help is something I struggle with. I tend to just push through and do it all myself. I rationalize that it will just be easier since I can just get it done, but the reality is that taking it all on and not asking for help is the quickest path to burnout, resentment, and frustration – none of which are productive in the long run. So I am learning how to ask my family to help more. Here are some different ways that you can (and should!) ask for help.
Someone else does the dishes
If you are making dinner AND doing the cleaning afterwards and there is another competent human (partner, older child, roommate, etc.) in the house, this needs to stop now. Make a new rule that whoever cooks does not need to clean. At first you may need to show the cleaners what needs to get done (packing up extra food, loading the dishwasher, washing pots and pans, etc.), but within a week you should have this burden lifted.
Someone else sets and clears the table
This is another simple change that will almost immediately ease the burden of cooking. Speaking from experience, when I was feeling overwhelmed by cooking, one of the first things I did was teach my kids to set and clear the table. I was immediately blown away by what a difference it made to how I felt about meal time. I went from feeling like a servant to feeling like a member of a team, which really took the edge off of my cooking burnout. As for when to start, kids as young as 5 or 6 can help to set and clear the table, so get them started early!
Someone else cooks
When I was a freshman in high school, my mom sat the family down and announced that she was sick of cooking and needed help. We were then each assigned a night to cook each week. While I may have grumbled at the time (sorry, mom), there were so many benefits to her doing this: 1) it took the daily burden off of her, 2) it forced my brother and me to really learn how to cook before we went off to college, 3) it taught us about meal planning as we had to tell her ahead of time what we were going to make so that the groceries could be bought, and 4) we got a much better understanding of what we had been expecting of her.
So get your family cooking. If there’s another adult or older child in the house, assign them a night. If necessary, they can start simple with sandwich nights or breakfast for dinner. Or if they have one specialty, get ready to eat a lot of it until they learn some other dishes (trust me, it’s worth it). But the key is to make them in charge so that you don’t have to be.
If you’ve got younger kids and/or don’t have another adult who can help out right now, then start the groundwork for having this in your future, by encouraging them to help with meal prep. It may start small, from washing salad greens to chopping, but invite them in and let them help (for ideas on how to get started, check out our post on on ways to involve your kids in the cooking).
If none of the above feel like good options, or if you want even more support from your family, then talk to them about it! Ask for a family meeting where you share how overwhelmed and burdened you are feeling and then invite everyone to brainstorm with you on ways that everyone can help. The truth is, no one is going to know you need help until you tell them.
Change the Environment
One of the challenging pieces of cooking for our families day in and day out is that it can feel like the same thing over and over again. One simple solution to this is to change the environment so that things feel a bit different. Here are some simple and even fun ways to do that:
Play fun music
Put on your favorite upbeat album or find a fun list on Spotify (or create your own just for cooking!), and then crank up the volume. Dance along as you chop, stir, or assemble. Sing at the top of your lungs. Be silly. It will make the experience so much lighter and more pleasurable. (Note: this is a trick I use myself multiple times a week!)
Listen to a podcast
This is my husband’s favorite trick. He’ll do pretty much anything as long as he can listen to one of his favorite podcasts, and I get why! A good podcast can really pull you in and let the time pass so much more pleasantly (plus you’ll be learning something!).
Have a glass of wine
Yes, really. Treating yourself to a glass of wine (or a beer or cocktail) while you cook can turn a chore into “you time,” even while you are preparing a meal for the whole family.
Call a loved one
Call your best friend or anyone else who lifts your spirits whenever you connect and use the time you are cooking as a time to reconnect. You could even set up weekly calls when you cook “together.”
Make cooking time, screen time
If one of the struggles of dinner prep time is having kiddos underfoot, clamoring for your attention, consider establishing a routine where their screen time is while you are cooking dinner. This will allow for a less stressful cooking experience, thereby lessening the burden.
How to Cook More Efficiently
If cooking feel like a chore to you in part because it feels overwhelming and labor intensive, then learning tricks that can help you to cook more efficiently can make all the difference. Here are some of my favorite tricks for cooking more efficiently:
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 the cooking process by cleaning your kitchen sounds a bit counter intuitive, 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.
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 by sautéing onions and garlic 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!
While cooking from scratch is a wonderful thing, it won’t feel wonderful if you are overwhelmed. That is why there is no shame in using shortcuts. Whether that’s buying pre-chopped or frozen vegetables, using jarred sauces, opting for already shredded cheese, or buying frozen pizzas to top with your favorite toppings, we all need those little breaks.
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.
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.
Cook less often
This final tip is my favorite and is less about how to make each instance of cooking less of a burden and instead about the efficiency that is built into bulk cooking. Whenever possible, I encourage you to make extra to use later. Whether it’s making a double batch of a recipe to enjoy for two meals during the week (or freeze half for a few weeks from now) or cooking extra grains, proteins, and vegetables to use in different dishes throughout the week, making extra will save you effort later on. (If you want help with this, check out our One and Done ecookbook which shows how to use bulk cooking to make the weeknights easier.)
Do you have tricks to ease the burden of cooking? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. And if you are looking for more resources on how to make cooking easier, check out our resource library of cooking how-tos!