Tired of cooking every day? You're not the only one. In all honesty, we operate a business that creates and sells kitchenware--that's how much we love cooking. And even we get tired of it.
But why is cooking so stressful? It's not cooking itself that is stressful; it's everything that goes along with cooking that makes it either frustrating or enjoyable, easy or difficult, time consuming or time saving.
Cooking itself is an art, a passion for some. Like a writer producing a novel or an essay, once in the flow, the process takes over and the writer is a mere instrument. The same goes for cooking. Once everything is in its place and the chef can, well, cook, the cooking itself leads the way and the chef is merely along for the ride.
Indeed, the only thing worse than hating cooking is hating that you hate cooking when you used to love it!
Now that we've relieved the philosophical underpinnings of cooking stress, let's get to practical matters, shall we? This article is going to help you in two key ways. First, it will validate all those cooking frustrations you have. Second, it will shine a light on how to prevent or assuage them so you can actually enjoy cooking again.
And did you know that Feng Shui-ing your kitchen can help relieve stress too? Find out how in our blog 7 Unbelievably Cool Plants for Kitchen Feng Shui.
How Much Do You Love Cooking?
What if you don't love the preparation required to actually cook? As we mentioned earlier, it's all cooking's associated requirements that most people find unenjoyable. The planning, the shopping, the storing, the preparation, coordinating, the clean-up--dear Lord--the clean-up. It's grunt work for many. Tasks to slog through so you may finally get to the good part--the chopping, mixing, frying, baking, arranging, etc.
So, if you don't love all of that before and after the scenes stuff, then the big question to ask yourself is this: Is that beautiful flow zone of cooking reward enough for all the tasks you're not crazy about? If so, then you've achieved a nice balance. If not, then perhaps it's time to reassess how much time and effort you're devoting to the non-rewarding tasks and if there's some way to make them more efficient.
The Problem: Cooking For Other People
This is one of the primary stressors inside any kitchen. If all you had to worry about was cooking for yourself, there wouldn't be a problem, other than too many leftovers perhaps. While you may love cooking for your family and friends, it also poses a great deal of stress as you have to consider food preferences, portions, pairing different dishes, and coordinating their timing so they serve up optimally.
The Solution: Create a Schedule of Cooking Events
The solution to this problem is to plan, plan, plan. Know your guests' and family's food preferences and allergies well in advance. Create a schedule for all your cooking tasks, accounting for oven and stove top real estate, cooling/setting time, and more. Set timers if necessary.
Assemble all the cooking tools you need before you start. That requires anticipating how many spatulas, mixing bowls, platters, etc. you'll need and if they will require washing between uses. Like the heart surgeon whose team gathers all the necessary surgical tools so they're completely accessible throughout the procedure--that can be your kitchen, but it requires forethought and preparation.
If that degree of planning sounds more stressful than simply winging it, we'd agree--if we hadn't done it. But we discovered that devoting 30 minutes to creating a schedule of cooking events goes a long way to reducing in-the-moment stress when you could be enjoying the process.
The Problem: You're Too Busy to Cook
We get it--there's always something a bit more important to do than feed ourselves. There are the kids to pick up from baseball, a client to pacify, a dog to walk, dry cleaning to pick up, a phone call to take. Indeed, there are at least 10 little fires to put out before dinner gets made. It's just easier to pop a frozen pizza in the oven and open a bag of salad (read: lettuce with dehydrated carrot slaw). Food is what sustains us, and we have to take thoughtful measures to get the right nutrition.
The Solution: Shop, Chop & Batch Cook
‘In-advance' is the word of the day here. If life is keeping you too busy to cook the way you want to eat, make cooking a once-a-week event rather than a daily, fragmented confrontation with frustration.
Devote one morning a week to planning a menu, shopping for ingredients, preparing, and cooking in batches large enough that you'll get several meals out of them. If you're taking the time to make pizza, for example, make 10 pizzas and freeze them. The same goes for stir frys, casseroles, and veggie mixes. Add anything that can be frozen to that list. Even fresh salads will last three to four days if properly stored, so make one big salad and divide it into meal-sized portions.
Batch cooking requires adequate storage space and containers, so if you have that kitchen real estate, we highly recommend giving it a try. It will save you loads of time throughout the week and give you peace of mind that you have a home-cooked meal waiting for you at the end of a busy day.
The Problem: You Lack Cooking Creativity
This is a common frustration. You ate that insanely-delicious pasta in a restaurant the other night and you tried to recreate it. Ugh. If only your chef skills were as gourmet as your tastebuds.
The Solution: Cook What You Know & Start With A Base
Variety is the spice of life, but trying to be a hero in the kitchen when it generates stress just doesn't make sense. So, rather than frequently attempting to make new dishes or replicate fine-dining ones, opt for recipes you know and love and put a different spin on them. Use a base recipe, such as pasta and tomato sauce, and change it slightly each time. Use chicken instead of beef. Linguine instead of rigatoni. Roasted eggplant instead of mushrooms.
You may also choose to start with a prepared base, such as a curry paste to make a Thai dish, or store-bought pesto for your bruschetta. That not only saves you time, it also gives you homemade taste with less hassle (and no one but you has to know!).
This doesn't mean you should stop experimenting. Try something new once a week or a couple times a month to keep those creative juices flowing, but keep your expectations low and the variations high.
The Problem: You Don't Have The Right Tools
There are few things more frustrating in the kitchen than having to use wooden spatula where a silicone one does a better job. Or not having a good knife set or sharp enough blades. Or using an old frying pan when it's clearly time for a new one.
The Solution: Invest in Quality
For basic items like cutlery, plates, mixing spoons, and so on, visit a dollar store. But know where quality matters. You can get by with cheap versions of basic kitchen items, but invest wisely in the tools that really make a difference, like knives, mixing bowls, colanders, and the like. When you buy quality, you're buying for life, so it more than makes up for its initial purchase.
One Last Tip…
Make your kitchen a calm environment. Remove unnecessary stressors like (other people), the phone, mail, or anything unrelated to cooking. Play calming music. Enjoy a favorite drink as you cook. Turn your phone off and give yourself to the process.
And if you’ve got post-holiday stress happening, check out our guide on how to manage kitchen chaos after a busy time of year.
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From our kitchen to yours, enjoy the return of fun, creative, non-stressful cooking!