How is it possible to find joy in cooking? So many people hate preparing meals! If you find yourself in charge of cooking, you may dread it as a chore or even resent it because you feel taken for granted as the default cook. Maybe you think that you have more important things to do.
Yet, is there anything more important than carefully and lovingly prepare our food, since every cell of our bodies is made from it? For that reason, I recommend that the person who cares the most about it should be in charge of cooking for the household. Might that person be you?
If you’re going to cook, you might as well do it with all your heart.
I address “why we hate cooking” in a different blog post, and I recommend that you read it… but for now, you’ve got a meal to cook. How can you find joy in cooking today, tomorrow, and every day? Here are more than 20 practices you can embrace to make this critical task more pleasurable.
To find joy in cooking, nourish yourself first
When I talk with parents (especially moms) about their cooking woes, I so often hear them say how challenging it is to deal with their household’s varied preferences and dietary restrictions. They are focused on catering to everyone’s needs, and often discouraged by their children’s (or spouses’…) reactions to the meals they painstakingly cook. Indeed, many children and even adults are reluctant to embrace new foods or have a very narrow definition of what they consider “good” food.
When I ask them: “What’s YOUR favorite food? What do YOU want to eat?” they stare at me blankly. They haven’t thought seriously about that in years! Time for a change.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t lovingly plan meals with picky eaters in mind, but cooking is like airplane safety: just like we have to put our own oxygen mask on before assisting others, we need to nourish ourselves so we have the energy to nourish others.
You will find joy in cooking by thinking hard about the food that YOU want to eat and that will nourish YOU, and then making sure to reflect that on your weekly meal plans.
Cook only plants
When I decided to quit cooking animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs, I felt a lightness about cooking I had not experienced before. I went down the road of plant-based cooking for environmental reasons, but found a moral and ethical relief that I did not anticipate. I felt liberated to find joy in cooking in a way I didn’t before.
Whether we recognize it or not, many of us have some awareness of the suffering that is embedded in animal products. Traces of the fear that seized pigs as they approached the kill floor remain in the bacon. As a mother, we may subconsciously perceive in our chest the suffering of the mother cow who lost her calf to the veal industry, but still lactates. The hens’ trauma of being born in a factory and seeing their brothers drop off the conveyor belt to their death is etched into the eggs they lays. When we cook the flesh and secretions of animals for our loved ones to eat, we are part of the chain of pain… and it hurts.
Cooking only plants liberates us from this violent industry and creates a space where it is easier to find joy in cooking.
Create a ritual that brings you happiness, then practice that ritual every time you start cooking. As you do it every day, the association between “cooking” and “joy” will strengthen, allowing you to shed the “chore” vibes. Here are just a few examples of rituals you can adopt.
Play your power song
Choose one song that instantly picks you up and make sure to play it as you make your entrance into the kitchen. I have a sweet spot for Happy by Pharrell Williams, and sometimes I need Welcome to the Jungle (!)… but if a big jolt of energy is warranted before batch cooking I love playing this quite loudly:
Pro tip: create a playlist of favorite high-energy songs that will get you groovin’ while cookin’. Think Nicki French’s club version of Total Eclipse of the Heart, ABBA’s Dancing Queen, or even Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire.
If anyone complains, tell them: “if you can’t stand the beat, get out of the kitchen!”
Or get yourself some wireless earphones as a present. It’s cheaper than hiring a personal chef.
Not into rock’n’roll? I’ve got something more chill for you. My favorite guru’s “Energy reboot” practice is perfect to get centered, focusing on love and gratitude. It’s only a 30-second investment, which I suggest repeating every new recipe or dish to continuously find joy in cooking .
As George Kao says, “I get to do this thing that I’m about to do: what a privilege I have to get to become a better person through what I am doing now!”
Put on an apron
Dress up for cooking! Putting on an apron is a tiny ritual that helps us slip into our role as Loving Provider of Delicious Nutritious Meals. Bonus points if you have an apron that was worn by your grandmother or something fun that inspires you to cook healthfully. One of my favorites is Dr. Greger’s “Cruciferocious” broccoli apron. Roar!
Say the cook’s prayer
God bless my little kitchen, I love its’ every nook,
and bless me as I do my work, wash pots and pans, and cook.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, suggests using red lights as mindfulness triggers when driving. Every time we see a red light, we can remember to be fully present in the moment. This works well for cooking, too. Take a breath, and take in the sights, smells, sounds, and sensations of cooking. We can take a bite and fully taste the food.
We can appreciate being alive and cooking really good food. There is a lot of joy to be found in that.
Red lights tend to abound in kitchens, but you can choose a different mindfulness trigger, such as beeps, or every time you pick up a knife, or every time you touch water, for example.
Create joyful associations
I would not dare be caught promoting multitasking, but if that’s what required to get you cooking, why not? Reserve some activities you enjoy for cooking time only. Call your mom (wireless headset recommended), put on a favorite radio station or podcast, or enjoy a glass of kombucha while you cook.
Create a neural pathway within your brain, associating cooking with joy, making it a treat rather than a chore.
Do the littlest thing first
If you have a hard time getting started, consider taking even just a tiny step first. Think of it as a would-be runner who only commits to putting on their running shoes, giving themselves permission to abort the run if they still don’t feel like it once they have their shoes on. Here are some equivalent tactics for the kitchen:
- Start warming a cast-iron skillet on medium-low heat.
- Fill a pot halfway with water and put it on the stove.
- Pick one spice or seasoning as “hero” for a dish you will now improvise.
- Chop an onion: every recipe needs an onion so it won’t be lost.
Still don’t feel like cooking after doing one of those? Give yourself grace: you tried.
Or say “Hey Siri, play Rocky Theme Song” and try again! (See “joyful rituals” above.)
Repeat it like a mantra: “I don’t have to cook this meal, I get to cook this meal.” There are so many reasons to be grateful for this!
Changing that single word can help you find joy in cooking.
Playful like a kid, curious like a scientist
When you start cooking a dish, consider it not as a test, but as an experiment.
You will NOT be rated on how closely your finished dish resembles the pictures from Pinterest!
You are setting out to use some ingredients and follow some steps and examine the results. Next time, tweak the ingredients and steps, and see what different results you get!
Do it with others: start a cooking club
Cooking used to be a far more social activity, but now that we are all isolated in our single-family homes and apartments, we are left to feel quite lonely as we chop and stir.
Break down the kitchen walls (metaphorically!) by organizing or joining a batch cooking club with a few friends – or even with strangers from a local plant-based Facebook or Meetup group! Stuck in a pandemic lockdown? Just do it using Zoom or another virtual meeting platform.
High intensity interval cooking (HIIC)
You can do anything for 10 minutes, right? Set a timer and promise yourself that if you still don’t find joy in cooking when it beeps, you’re off the hook.
If it works for fitness training, it works for cooking. Search for “HIIT timer app” in your device’s app store. Get the simplest you can, then set a repeating interval: 10 minutes of intensity work, 2 minutes of break. (You can do shorter intervals to get started.) During the 10 minutes “ON” do nothing but cook with intensity and focus. In the 2 minutes “OFF,” step out of the kitchen, shake your every limb, have a drink of water, and rest. Remember to turn off the burners before stepping out!!
I bet you’ll be eager to come back in and do the next 10-minute interval!
It’s cooking, not brain surgery.
It’s OK to make mistakes.
It’s OK if the dish doesn’t look like those pictures the blogger posted with their recipe.
It’s OK if not everyone likes it.
Unless you dropped the salt in the pot or totally burned the dish, it’s quite fine to eat, even if it’s not perfect.
Think back on the process, take stock of the results, wash the dishes, and live to cook another day.