How To Enjoy Cooking – Don’t Make It A Chore
I know that cooking isn’t everyone’s favorite thing. And I think that is just fine. You do not have to love cooking, although I think that’s available for you if you want it. For most of us, unfortunately, or fortunately as I like to look at it, it is just not financially realistic to never cook AND eat delicious, nutritious food. So if you’re one of these people who want to figure out how to enjoy cooking more, this post is for you.
As a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor, I literally talk to people every day about their reluctance to cook. So this is a topic I have lots of insight on.
I Trust You To Cook As Much, Or As Little, As You Desire
Through my years of talking to folks about food (friends, family, clients, grocery store employees), something I find often in the way of a person cooking regularly is the very certain way they believe they should be cooking. If they aren’t cooking that particular way, don’t want to, don’t know how, or can’t for any number of reasons; they are at risk of poisoning themselves or committing a heinous, immoral criminal act.
You must eat FRESH, ORGANIC, WHOLE vegetables. What?! You bought them already chopped!? You are ridiculous. Buying that pre-chopped, bagged stuff is for lazy people who don’t care about the environment and aren’t willing to put in the 2 short minutes to chop the damn ends off. Plus, they put toxins in those bags and that will probably kill you slowly. You are a failure.
You should be cooking fish or chicken and non-starchy vegetables. Most green vegetables. No butter. End of story. If you aren’t going to do that, don’t bother cooking. Just make mac n cheese.
TMBI (too much bad information) —> indecision —> overwhelm —> no groceries —> order takeout. Maybe I’m hyperbolizing a little here, but hopefully, you see my point.
You do not have to shop or cook in any particular way to be healthy, happy, and fill your belly with yummy, nutritious foods. You will probably enjoy cooking more if you don’t put rigid rules or expectations on yourself about how it gets done.
One Woman Who Had An Unusual Love For Cooking
I saw some wolves in Yellowstone last week. But I’m just showing off.
M.F.K. Fisher, whose body of work I’m currently devouring, wrote How to Cook a Wolf, which is luckily not about how to cook a wolf, but about how to eat delicious food that utterly pleases you, even when food is rationed and money is tight.
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, known as M.F.K. Fisher (likely to not be easily identified as a woman), wrote eloquently, colorfully, and enthusiastically about eating and cooking in the last half of the 20th century. Her food writing is sensuous and hilarious, and I can totally relate to her devotion to flavor.
She was a white lady from a “good family” in California with access to plentiful food, but she was also known to encourage women to think for themselves, and was a rule-breaker herself. She wrote to the country during World War II and encouraged people to eat really well (and by that, she meant attention to quality and the sensory aspects of a good meal) with what they had, even when times were tough.
She insisted that food didn’t have to be complicated to be delicious, that one could find dignity by caring about what they ate, and that cooking an egg perfectly was worth the attention and time it took. I tend to agree.
In Gastronomical Me, which I’m currently reading, she tells the story of how cooking came to feel essential to her. The first thing she cooked was “pure poison” and gave her mother “great, red itching welts”. Her next adventure included way too much curry and burned her and her sister’s mouths to blisters. But she carried on.
“From then I ruled; temporarily I controlled. I felt powerful, I loved that feeling… I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them against the hungers of the world.”M.F.K. Fisher
How I Think About Cooking
Over my years of helping people eat better, I end up talking less and less about how to cook. This is fine, this is what the people who I love to help need from me. But the truth is, I really love cooking. It connects me to myself. I let it slow me down.
I learned to cook in my 20s (still learning, really) when I was working at a restaurant in NYC. I realized that the food they were making was delicious and simple in a way I had never experienced. Only lemon juice, salt, and olive oil to dress unusual salads. And I was drooling over them. Fennel, celery root, parmesan, and parsley with toasted pepitas was my favorite.
Marinara sauce with just 4 ingredients: tomatoes, salt, garlic, and olive oil. It was the most perfect thing I’d ever tasted. And I had never given two shits about tomato sauce.
I was spending all of my money on rent, so even with the employee discount, I couldn’t really afford to eat there much. I started learning their recipes. Really, it was just assembly and some simmering, no skillets involved. (I believe that skillets scare people off – timing! oh my!)
I talked to the kitchen staff – a bunch of adorably silly, shy young men, mostly from Puebla, Mexico. These were not their recipes, these were the Italian. But they learned to cook them perfectly and could explain them to me in Spanglish. It made my heart sing.
I learned that simple ingredients make the best food, not to skimp on the things I love, it’s worth buying real parmesan, chopping my own garlic, and allowing myself enough time to make dinner an ordeal whenever I wanted to. Key word wanted.
Cheese, salad, entree, maybe even dessert.
I find that if I have enough time to not rush the cooking process and if, and only if, I’m truly excited about the meal at the end, it’s totally worth it a million times over.
Cooking Is A Privilege
We get way too much bad information these days due to anti-fat bias, diet culture, and our government and medical system being in bed with big food and big pharma.
People being told they need to lose weight by every doctor and health guru around can grow confused about whether it’s okay to make pasta for dinner without feeling guilty about it. People not having the time to cook, or the resources to buy the ingredients they need, make cooking a privilege. Fast food is cheaper than fresh food.
I think there is a fine line between using nutrition information to gently guide your food decisions and letting diet/biohacking culture and food-poison-fear-mongering prevent you from cooking things you love and making decisions that gently honor your health.
I’m all for eating more whole foods and less processed food and for more cooking and less take-out. But I also think that we all have our own limitations, skills, and inherent interests when it comes to cooking. And what’s best for you might not mean cooking every night. This is ok.
If buying the whole, uncut version of the vegetable makes you roll your eyes, judge yourself for not wanting to chop, or avoid the grocery store altogether, drop it. Buy the bagged stuff.
Frozen and canned are 100% fine in terms of nutrition. I have to say, though, that if you’re focusing on making something delicious, you’re not likely to experience it with these. Waterlogged broccoli is never going to brown. They’re great in a pinch, great for a quick meal, but not great for that mmmmmmmm feeling we’re going for here.
Yes, canned vegetables are more salty. But honestly, it is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. Canned veg are better than no veg. We get most of our “too much salt” when we eat fast food, pizza, and muffulettas daily (sorry, nola), not from the salt we add in the cooking process. And, so you know, canned tomatoes and beans are essentials in my kitchen.
How To Enjoy Cooking More – Don’t Make It A Chore
Here are a few basic tips to help you loosen up your frustrating feels about cooking and enjoy cooking more. I think of cooking like I think of exercise – make it pleasurable or don’t do it.
- Make something simple with ingredients you love. Allow yourself to do it slowly and deliberately, even if it’s only once in awhile. Don’t let your inner demon and perfectionism that tells you you should be cooking more often keep you from doing it occasionally.
- Decide on something that makes your mouth water to think about. Do you love pasta and red sauce? Make your own sauce and buy fresh pasta from the grocery store. Buy some nice lettuce and dress it with real lemon juice that you squeezed from a real lemon, olive oil, and salt. Have it with a glass of wine if you wanna. Or if that doesn’t appeal, ask yourself…. what do I love to eat? Make that. Cook it for your family, or for just yourself.
- Consider what you love to eat out at restaurants. Try the simple salad that is always perfect. Or a simple curry. Always follow your taste buds and what gives you that totally perfect sense of satisfaction. Then simplify.
- Utilize partially prepared foods. Try getting creative with how you can use foods that are partially prepared. Right now, I’m in a pretty intense bagged salad phase. Grab one of the Asian blend salads with cabbage, make some rice noodles, grab a rotisserie chicken, and call it a day.
Try this recipe for Frankies’ red sauce on a night when you don’t have other plans and you don’t have to hurry. It takes a little more than 2 hours, but you can be doing other things around the house; it’s not a lot of “hands on” time.
- 2, 28-oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes (without basil)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 whole cloves of garlic
- A pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon of salt
Get out all the ingredients and tools you need. Put on some music. Take a deep breath, slow down.
Pour the tomatoes and their juices into a large bowl and tear and squeeze them through your fingers.
Get out a big, heavy pot and heat it to LOW. Add olive oil and the whole cloves of garlic, and simmer until the garlic is slightly golden brown (8ish minutes). Add red pepper flakes for about 10 seconds, then add the crushed tomatoes and salt.
Cook on low, simmering gently, for a couple of hours, stirring every little bit. It will thicken up a tad, and smell utterly amazing. Dip some bread it in to taste.
This sauce can be used in hundreds of ways, but simply on top of fresh pasta with parmesan and black pepper is a delight. My favorite is to make their meatballs too. I make a big batch of each, eat them for a couple of days, and freeze the rest for a few weeks later. I’ll usually keep some sauce in the fridge to spoon on top of eggs or add to some white bean soup. I make this once every few months or so.
(I found that recipe on the web for you, but if you’re into this, I recommend getting your hands on their cookbook)
Don’t let cooking be a chore. Don’t make things if you don’t enjoy them. Don’t let what you “should” be doing keep you from doing one small thing.
Obviously, one meal a week won’t get all your food needs met. But riffing off simple pleasures, I believe, is a great way to think about filling your house, your fridge, and your body with great food.
Now get out there and make something great. I know you can do it.
Ready for some hand-holding on your journey to make peace with food and your body? Join my 6-month group coaching program, The Love Food Again Program. I open up enrollment a couple times a year. Check it out.
Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN specializes in intuitive eating, mindfulness-based eating practices, embodiment with food and movement, and healing from years of weight-bias and disordered eating. She helps womxn find balance, consistency, and peace with their eating habits so they can feel confident to get outta their heads and into their bodies. Emily is a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor with a master’s degree in nutrition science. Read more about her here.