12 Tips for Finding Joy in the Kitchen Instead of Just Another Chore.
I have a confession to make. I don’t always love cooking. Sometimes, it just simply feels like a chore. You probably know the times I’m talking about. It’s when we’re rushed, exhausted from the day or just plain uninspired. And that’s for those of us who actually enjoy cooking. I know that for many of you, cooking is just not your thing. The fact of the matter though is that in order to be healthy, we have to spend time in the kitchen. And who wants to spend that much time doing something that we don’t enjoy? That’s why I’m sharing my tips for finding joy in the kitchen instead of just another chore. Following one or more of these helps me to find my spark even when I’m least inspired, and I hope they’ll do the same for you.
Make the Kitchen a Gathering Place
This is one of my favorite tips for learning how to enjoy cooking. When we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago, the most important addition for me was a small island with seating. I wanted our kitchen to be a gathering place for friends and family.
Even when we didn’t have the island, I’ve always had some type of seating in the kitchen. I got this from visiting my grandmother. She was a fabulous cook and whichever kid that woke up first (usually me) got the grandkid-anointed special seat at her counter. There were seats for the others as they trickled in, but this particular one was closest to Mee-Maw as she cooked. It’s where I always wanted to be. This is where we would chat and catch up as she whisked, chopped and baked. While I am not nearly the cook that my grandmother was, if my kitchen is a fraction of how welcoming hers was, I will consider my home a success. Yes, having people talking while you’re cooking may be a bit chaotic, but in my book, that’s what makes cooking fun and memorable.
Get the Entire Family Involved
Making cooking a family affair makes it feel less like a burden and more like quality time together. The key is figuring out what everyone enjoys or is good at and dividing up the jobs accordingly. Yes, if you have kids, depending on their ages, you may have some complaints (hello fellow teenager parents!!). But, if you just set it as an expectation, the grumbling should stop fairly quickly. Who knows, they may even start to take pride in helping to prepare healthy meals for themselves, even if they don’t admit it.
If you don’t enjoy cooking because your food, spices and dishes are too cluttered or opening a drawer or door makes you feel nauseous instead of inspired, it’s time to get organized. Trust me, this can make a huge difference! While having a large kitchen with a specifically designed place for everything would be nice, it isn’t a necessity. Just figure out how to make the most efficient use of the room that you do have with the supplies that you already have on hand or that you can buy at low cost. If you need help in figuring out how to do that, I strongly recommend getting in touch with Jenna at The Arranged Abode, Azure at Composed or Megan at A Pop of Yellow.
Turn Up the Music!
If you’re not trying to talk with someone and especially if you’re cooking alone, turn up the music! You can definitely tell what kind of mood I’m in just by listening to my “cooking music.” Some days it’s jazz, others it’s country, still others it’s folk or R&B. If I really need to get inspired, it’s classic 80s rock. Trust me, Def Leppard, Journey, Bon Jovi and U2 pair well with chopping or grating.
Drink a Glass of Wine
While alcohol certainly doesn’t have to be involved for you to enjoy cooking, sipping on a glass of wine as you go along can definitely help to make it a more relaxing experience. In fact, I’d much rather have my Pinot Grigio while I cook than with my meal. This is especially true if I’m trying a new or more complex recipe, and I just need to loosen up about it.
Have All of the Ingredients That You’ll Need on Hand
There is nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through a recipe and realizing that you’re missing a crucial ingredient. Because we’re trying to avoid combining the words frustrating and cooking, making sure that you have all of the ingredients that you’ll need before you start or better yet, as you do your weekly shopping trip, will help to make your time in the kitchen much more enjoyable. This is where meal planning comes in handy. In most cases, I strongly believe that planning a meal, shopping for ingredients and cooking a meal should be completely different things. Unless you’re making an event out of the entire process, you’re going to be exhausted and run out of steam if you try to do it all for every meal.
Set Out All Ingredients Before You Start Cooking
This is a good idea for a couple of reasons. If you set out all of the ingredients that you’ll need for a dish or meal ahead of time, you’ll know from the start that you have everything that you’ll need. It also lets you get into the flow of cooking without having to stop and start to run to the pantry to get something. There’s a reason why watching those cooking shows can be so relaxing. They make cooking look so easy and seamless because everything is sitting out and ready for them.
Meal Prep on the Weekends or Days Off
Along the lines of trying not to do everything at the same time, I strongly recommend prepping for your meals on the weekends or days off. This gets the more tedious part out of the way at a point when you’re hopefully not as rushed or tired. If you’re not familiar with the concept, meal prepping means to cut up any vegetables that you might need, get any seasoning mixes or sauces made or even batch cook one or two meals to have ready for the week.
Look at Cooking as a Creative Process
Think of cooking as a creative process with your kitchen as your studio. This is especially true for those of us more left brain thinkers. I remember the first time I made homemade bread. I went into it not expecting much, but I was truly astounded when I was able to take a few simple ingredients and create with my own hands something that looked and tasted so “artistic.”
Assign Each Person in the Family a Night to Cook
Assigning each person in the family a night to cook helps to take the pressure off you. By doing that, it makes the time that you do spend in the kitchen much more enjoyable. It also ensures that each member of the family gets the same valuable opportunity to learn to cook for themselves and for others.
Clean Up as You Go
I know many people who say that they don’t like to cook because they can’t stand the cleanup. I get that completely. As someone who used to sit through entire meals dreading the cleanup, I learned that if I clean up as I cook instead of saving everything until the meal is over, it doesn’t seem like such an overwhelming chore. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a chore at all.
There’s usually some down time while you’re waiting on things to cook, bake or boil, especially if you’ve cut up veggies and other ingredients ahead of time. Use that time to put ingredients away, rinse off the dishes and put them in the dishwasher or go ahead and clean that pot that you just used. It quickly becomes second nature, and I can promise that sitting down to eat knowing there’s not much of a mess to clean up at the end is well worth it.
Eat Dinner Together
If you’re a regular here, you know that I am an advocate for making eating dinner together a priority. Besides giving us time to reconnect, it also helps to make the entire process of preparing a meal much more enjoyable. Part of the fun of cooking is getting to see the people that you love and care about enjoy what you’ve made.
Lean on Your Community to Learn to Enjoy Cooking
I fully believe that cooking and taking control of what we put in our bodies is essential for good health, as is the mental benefit of enjoying it as we go along. If you have other things that you do to help you enjoy cooking, I’d love for you to share them in the comments below. The more that we can learn from each other, the better off we’ll all be.