How To Enjoy Cooking More – Don’t Make It A Chore

by | Sep 24, 2023

For many, the kitchen represents a battleground of frustration, overwhelm, or irritation. Diet culture clashes with the desire to enjoy food joyfully and without fuss. If the thought of cooking feels more like a chore laden with guilt and unrealistic standards rather than an opportunity for creativity and pleasure, you’re not alone.

Whether you’re entangled in the web of diet culture, perfectionism, or simply lack the time or desire to cook, read on. There is hope!

That said, cooking isn’t everyone’s favorite thing. And ya know what – that’s fine. You don’t have to love cooking. (Side note, I do think you can grow to love it if you actually WANT that. More on that below). But because we live in reality, it’s just not financially realistic for most of us (without unlimited budgets and personal chefs) to never cook AND eat delicious, nutritious food. So if you’re one of these people who wants to cook healthy food, or at least sorta healthy food, and you want to figure out what all your resistance to cooking is about, this post is for you.

a hobby or a necessity?

As a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor, I talk to people every day about their reluctance to cook. I’m not gonna lie, I love to get people excited about cooking, but I also understand why our culture makes it really difficult to find the time, skill, patience, and desire to do this. I think that for some people, cooking is a hobby. And for others, it’s a practical tool like cleaning that we just gotta do.

If you fall into that last category, but you’re trying to make it more enjoyable for yourself, I have some thoughts. And especially if you’ve been prone to diets, perfectionism, and an all-or-nothing mindset with your health.

Ever wondered why you hate cooking?

When you cook, do you actually like what you make for yourself? Are you cooking for a family and only cooking what they want to eat? When you order food out, do you choose what will be the most satisfying for you in that moment or choose based on some externally imposed food rule?

So often, we are overly focused on things being “healthy” or “easy” – or the opposite, we’re “being bad” – that we forget to make things delicious. And one thing that’s for certain – eating food that is deeply satisfying and doing so with full permission helps folks recover from chronic dieting, eating disorders, and an unhealthy relationship with the kitchen.

diet culture harms our relationship with cooking

If you’ve been a victim to diet culture’s unrealistic expectations, rigid rules, and moralistic thinking about food and cooking, it’s very likely the way you think about cooking is all wrapped up in that head trash, Diet culture harms our relationships with cooking in a few ways.

Food rules about what to cook

You will probably enjoy cooking more if you don’t put rigid rules or expectations on yourself about how it gets done.

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 things or 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. 

OR

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.

I know it can feel difficult to have food in the house if you’re dealing with disordered eating. If binge eating is a common experience for you, I understand. One thing you need to know, however, is that restricting your food by now allowing yourself to eat it, will not help you recover. Read this to learn more and reach out for help if you want to talk to someone about this.

Too much bad nutrition information

TMBI (too much bad information) —> indecision —> overwhelm —> no groceries —> order takeout. Maybe I’m hyperbolizing a little here, but hopefully, you see my point. 

Our media is inundated with alarmist headlines about every tiny piece of nutrition research. But the thing is, nutrition research is notoriously hard to conduct. We’re humans, after all, with social environments and lives too busy to drop everything and eat in a uniform manner with thousands of other people. But that doesn’t stop news outlets from wanting to cover incomplete nutrition findings.

People click on these headlines and so the media outlets keep publishing them. Read more about my take about America’s collective food anxiety problem here.

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 Don’t Have Enough Time

If you are working a very demanding job with long hours, you have kids with after school activities, you have a social life, and other responsibilities, it’s likely that fitting in a regular cooking routine is going to be challenging.

There’s no sense in sugar coating it – cooking does take time. But it does not NEED to take forever. You want to make sure you’re not being unrealistic with your time or overly ambitious with the types of foods you plan to cook if you are really busy.

Diet culture has placed morality on using processed and prepared foods as part of a regular, healthy diet. This is a problem. If you can’t find time to chop fresh broccoli, and so you never cook at all, your beliefs about what types of foods are okay to eat are standing in the way. Consider – if you allowed yourself to use frozen broccoli, or pre-chopped, or have some kind of partially prepared broccoli dish in the freezer, it would be a lot easier for you to eat that broccoli.

If you simply lack the motivation or inspiration to cook, I want to explore how you feel about pleasure and flavor.

Do you have to like cooking to be healthy?

There is certainly a good amount of moral diatribe about how cooking at home is GOOD and eating out is BAD.

This is untrue.

It’s absolutely okay to not love cooking, honestly. Really, not everyone needs to find their inner M.F.K. or Julia Child to have a meaningful relationship with food and cooking. You can find a balance that works for you, your time, and your lifestyle. It’s about finding that sweet spot where cooking meets necessity, convenience, and, yes, hopefully a bit of enjoyment without the pressure to love every minute of it.

This is why I suggest really digging into making the foods that you love the most (see below).

Think of it like this: you might not love doing laundry, but you find a routine that makes it manageable and maybe even a little satisfying when you’re folding those warm, freshly dried towels. It’s about weaving cooking into your life in a way that feels doable, not daunting. This approach allows you to nourish yourself with meals that fit your taste and health goals without the need to transform into a culinary enthusiast. Let’s aim for a relationship with cooking that’s more like a comfortable acquaintance—familiar and reliable.

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Cooking inspiration can be found in Great women

MFK FIsher sitting back in her chair, grainning, with an empty plate in front of her.
M.F.K. Fisher

 

let pleasure guide your cooking

M.F.K. Fisher, who’s 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 (attention to quality and the sensory aspects of a good meal, not about low fat, btw) 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. Hilarious. 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 as a non-diet dietitian

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, often shy young men, mostly from Puebla, Mexico. These were not their recipes, these were Italian. But they learned to cook them perfectly and could explain them to me in Spanglish. It made my heart sing. 

Here’s what I learned:

  • Simple ingredients make the best food
  • Don’t skimp on the things I love
  • iIt’s worth buying real parmesan, chopping my own garlic
  • I enjoy cooking more if I allow myself enough time to make dinner an ordeal whenever I wanted to.

The key is not forcing it.

Cheese, salad, entree, maybe even dessert. 

I find that if I have enough time to slow down and 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.

bag of green beans that says "bagged veg are good veg" showing that cooking can be easy if you use prepared ingredients

Cooking Is A Privilege

Let’s face it – fast food is cheap and when you’re too busy to cook, it is the easiest option. First of all, the people who need to use fast food to survive do not deserve judgement. 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.

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.

If you want to check out a couple previous recipes of mine, that are simple and nutritious, but not boring, here are a few faves.

Lebanese ground turkey and spinach with lemon and pine nuts is so delish and unusual, although not difficult. Or you can check out this super simple sweet potato coconut curry.

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

Consider making things at home that you already love. This is actually my favorite tip on here because it’s how I started cooking back in my 20’s. You can read that whole story here.

Try the simple side salad that is always indescribably perfect. Or a simple curry. Do you love the meatballs at your fave Italian spot, make those! Always follow your taste buds and the foods that give you that totally perfect sense of satisfaction. Then simplify.

Build your skillset

Just like anything in life, things are more fun if you’re reasonably good at them and if they don’t cause a ton of stress or overwhelm. If you don’t like cooking because everything you make turns out soggy or all wrong, then take a look at the kinds of foods you’re making. Is there a way you can simplify?

It is also very helpful to make sure you have the right tools. A couple good knifes are a must, as cutting into anything with a dull knife will make you lose your mind. I think a big ol cutting board is also a smart move. You want to have a few big prep bowls (like these) for putting ingredients in once you’ve already chopped them.

Since I believe it’s the little things, the simple, quality ingredients that can make cooking more enjoyable, I am a firm believer in finding ways to make this easier. First up: a garlic press and a citrus zester. After my knife and cutting board, these are the two tools I use more than anything. The zest of a lemon can make almost anything 10% better. And there’s really nothing quite so savory as fresh garlic.

I love using cast iron pans when cooking meat on the stovetop. A nice, big saute pan for stir fries.

Utilize partially prepared foods and freezer staples

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.

Go to Trader Joe’s and explore their extensive selection of prepared and partially prepared foods. These foods can sometimes make up a whole meal, and can sometimes just be the base for a meal, or the main entree that you can throw a salad with. Judging prepared foods as unhealthy or bad can really limit the amount of cooking you’ll end up doing.

Don’t let nutrition information overwhelm you

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.

Don’t judge yourself in the process

And be open to making it work for you – whatever that means. Remember that you’re trying to learn something new! It took me years to find a routine with cooking that felt natural and enjoyable. Let your curiosity guide you and try really hard not to judge yourself for “not being there yet”. Finding joy in cooking might take some time, practice, and experimentation.

Get curious about what you haven’t tried to find a routine that feels sustainable. Our culture does a great job of imposing rules to judge ourselves by, but don’t forget that you can choose to ignore them. They are very rarely based in nutrition science.

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. 

If you want some hand-held help in developing a relationship with cooking that you love, I’d love to work with you. Heal & Nourish, my highly individualized nutrition therapy program has ongoing openings. And if connecting with a group of anti-dieters making peace with food and their body calls to you, join my 6-month group coaching program, The Love Food Again Program. Check it out.

About Emily

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.

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emily on couch intuitive eating counselor near me

Hey there, I´m Emily

A non-diet and weight-inclusive dietitian, nutrition therapist, and body image healer. Here on the blog, I share recipes, tips on living a healthy life without the oppressive, fear-mongering diet culture rhetoric, and get fired up about the subtle ways the patriarchy has harmed womens’ health. I want us all to be free to own our appetites, our desires, and eat really, really well. 

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