Fortunately, we can dine out again! Unfortunately, dining in is still the most cost effective way to consume the majority of our meals. As such, the bulk of us can't afford to eliminate it from our lives altogether.
Nor should we, says culinary art therapist Julie Ohana, LMSW, because many of us benefitted from the past year's culinary demands. "Throughout the pandemic, I've watched people discover cooking and find a passion for it—they have realized the value of cooking, not just for feeding themselves or others, but for the act of cooking itself," she says. "So many people have found a love for themselves in their kitchens."
And even though we might not be feeling that love at present—both Ohana and Ariane Resnick, chef, nutritionist, and author of The Bone Broth Miracle, The Thinking Girl's Guide to Drinking, Wake/Sleep, and How to be Well When You're Not, believe it's recoverable. Below, the two experts' top ten tips for banishing burnout in the kitchen to find joy in cooking once more.
How to reignite your passion for cooking to beat burnout
1. Don't pressure yourself to reinvent the wheel
For Ohana, the best thing you can do if you're experiencing cooking burnout is to make things as easy as possible for yourself. "People feel like the more they do something and the better they get at it, they have to keep upping the ante—and I don't think that's the case," she says. "We all have to remind ourselves that when you've found a groove with something, there's no need to fix what's not broken. I have several dishes in my repertoire that I use all the time, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that as long as they're good for you and bring you joy in some way."
2. Set reasonable goals
"You don't have to cook every single night of the week," Ohana says. "Sometimes you've got to get carryout or eat leftovers, and that's okay." She recommends committing to cook only the amount that's doable for you given your other commitments. "Be kind to yourself and don't set goals that aren't realistic," she says.
Resnick also recommends being realistic when it comes to your shopping list. "Watching greens grow mushy and moldy in your produce bin is a bummer, so don't buy more than you confidently know you will cook in the worst case, laziest scenario," she says. "Having to go back to the store or reorder groceries is less inconvenient than throwing away ingredients, and skipping that guilt will help you have more positive feelings about cooking."
3. Focus on foods that spark joy
Both Resnick and Ohana recommend focusing on foods you want to eat if you're experiencing burnout. This will, ideally, help to rekindle some excitement. "If it doesn't bring you happiness, then ditch the recipe," says Ohana. "Look for things that make you feel good." Resnick suggests that once you've identified a food that excites you, think about what would be easy to add to it that brings extra nutritional value (like fiber and protein) to the table. "For example, if you're feeling like chicken, get a chicken to roast—as well as some root veggies to add to the pan under and around it while it cooks," she says. "If you feel like burgers, buy the fixings for them—but also ingredients for a side salad, roasted veggies, or other healthful side."
4. Copycat your favorite pro meal
For most of us, eating out is still far more fun than eating in, especially in a post-pandemic world when the option is fairly new. To remedy any FOMO around eating in instead and combat burnout at the same time, Resnick suggest taking inspiration from your favorite restaurant dish. "Have you had something recently from a restaurant that you loved? Google a copycat recipe, and get your fill (less expensively!) by making a batch of it at home," Resnick suggests.
5. Gift yourself a new gadget
If your kitchen is feeling a bit stale after a year spent stuck inside it, Resnick recommends adding some newness in order to make it feel fresh and inviting. "Buy something new for the kitchen," she recommends. "It doesn't need to be expensive or large. Swap out your old spatulas for new, buy a decorative dish towel, or get a fancy salt and pepper shaker—anything that makes you want to interact with it and gives you that 'shiny new purchase' feeling will help improve your motivation to cook."
You can also gift yourself a little something to outsource the decision parallax that comes with constantly needing to decide what to cook. Enter: the Dr. Praeger's Magic Ate Ball ($10). This genius tool-turned-toy will tell you exactly what healthy meal should be on your table tonight—it serves all the nostalgic 90s vibes, too. Just give it a few shakes and your dinner decision is settled (talk about money well-spent).
6. Pair up with your pod
Now that you can safely socialize indoors if vaccinated, why not take advantage of it as a means for making cooking feel less like a chore? "Invite a friend or family member over," Resnick suggests. "Grocery shop together or separately first with a concrete plan, then cook a meal together to share that will yield leftovers for both of you."
7. Meal prep
While Ohana notes that not everyone is the meal-prep type, setting aside some time once a week to do some of the legwork in advance can go a distance towards making daily cooking less daunting. You can save yourself a lot of time day-of by pre-cutting produce or, Resnick suggests, buying it already chopped. If you really want to set yourself up for success, check out this detailed meal prep guide.
8. Get inventive with a clean-out-the-fridge meal
In some cases, cooking may have become a bore because you've ceased to challenge yourself. In this case, Ohana suggests trying to put together a few go-to "fridge clean out meals" because they'll get your creative juices flowing. You'll also be rewarded with a sense of satisfaction because you're using ingredients that would have otherwise gone to waste.
If the idea of scraping together the random odds and ends leftover in your fridge into a meal is intimidating, Ohana insists you don't have to make anything complicated out of them. You can simply throw veggies onto pasta or into a salad, for example. "I don't think it always needs to be about how you can cook the elements together," she says. "It's more so just about how you can combine them."
9. Try a meal kit delivery service
While it may feel like cheating, subscribing to a meal kit box (e.g. Purple Carrot, Sunbasket, Blue Apron, or Hello Fresh) every so often is not a bad idea if you're feeling like you'd rather do anything but plan another meal. "A lot of the work and brain power is taken care of," says Resnick. "And because they often have inventive dishes you haven't tried, this can excite you back into the kitchen."
10. Take a break
If you've tried all of the above to no avail—or the thought of trying any of the above makes you want to run to a drive-through—your best bet may be just to lean into your aversion and quit cooking for a bit. "If nothing is working and you're just plain burned out on cooking, that's honestly okay," says Resnick. "Take a week off and buy healthy snacks, eat healthy-ish takeout, and/or let someone else cook for you if that's an option."
She recommends setting up a schedule for yourself—for example, one week on, one week off, or whatever feels doable—and says that setting yourself up with breaks in this way will help you make better food decisions in the long run.
It's important not to berate yourself for taking this much-needed rest, too. As Resnick points out, it's "normal" to get tired of doing something that requires a lot of physical labor. "It would also be so strange to have just been overly domesticated for a year plus like we all were, then be dying to stay in our kitchens," she says. "Our society is so into shaming people for not making perfect choices, but perfect choices often make us stressed and unhappy. Bodies work best when not stressed, so be forgiving with yourself like you would be with others. You aren't a bad or lesser person for not meal prepping or cooking yourself fresh food every night."
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