“We find ways to criticize ourselves when we’re already going through a rough patch,” Brown said. Home cooking isn’t “something like a restaurant chef or someone on Instagram trying to create content for the algorithm to notice.” Unless your family is paying you to cook for them, the pressure doesn’t have to be that high.
Instead of fighting over what we think a “good cook” should be, Brown encourages us to think about what’s “good enough” instead and reframe our approach to process (and yes, work). from the kitchen with some mental thoughts. changes and tactics.
Recognize that cooking is much more than cooking
“We think of cooking as being in the kitchen, chopping things up, doing the thing,” Brown said. “But you can’t be there unless you’ve done all those other things” – like deciding what to eat, buying ingredients and making sure the kitchen has the right tools.
“Feeding is an undervalued skill,” she said. “We underestimate it in the capitalist world and in our homes and our expectations of it.”
While there’s no simple solution to streamlining the multi-pronged act of cooking, Brown insists on acknowledging the hard work and mental strain that comes with every meal. “If you feel overwhelmed by the general feeling that there’s too much to deal with when you walk into the kitchen, know this: you’re not alone,” she said.
There will always be a trade-off between time and labor versus money in solving the problems of the act of cooking, and budgets don’t always allow for grocery delivery, meal purchases or pre-chopped or partially prepared meal kits.
The work begins by identifying the points “where you can get stuck”, as Brown notes – “washing up, groceries and managing the fridge”. Make small changes in these areas.
“Ask for help, be fair, establish good routines, and do what’s best for you,” she said.
If Meal Planning Doesn’t Work, Try a Meal Routine
“It’s about finding the meal plan strategy that’s right for you,” Brown said. “Routine the parts that are the most cumbersome to you.”
Brown is admittedly not a morning person, so she sticks to simple breakfast foods and leaves the brainpower to prepare more complex meals later in the day.
Make routine “something you can expect, like pizza night or omelet night cleaning out the fridge.” Bonus: when the meal routine is established, there’s no bargaining with kids about what to eat.
Fight Unrealistic Expectations with ‘Assemble Only’ Meals
Another way decision fatigue can kick in is the perception that each meal has to accomplish several things. Food should be delicious, healthy, easy, quick and ready on time to accommodate multiple family members’ schedules, but also give us time to connect during the meal – sound familiar?
When those unrealistic expectations become overwhelming, “it’s okay to simplify,” Brown said. “Choose one or two things you want to accomplish with your meal.” If your goal is to get dinner on the table in a way that allows you to make as few dishes as possible while still connecting with your kids, just focus on those two things.
Keep a supply of “assemble-only” foods on hand so you can prepare a meal with little effort and less stress. Snack boards are an ideal vehicle for serving up a complete meal from simple components, and no, they don’t have to look like they do on Instagram.
In addition to standards such as cheese and crackers, dips and spreads, Brown recommends:
- dates – plain or stuffed with cheese, nut butter or salami
- marinated vegetables and olives
- mixes of sweet and savory snacks
Instead of being ashamed of serving an unconventional meal, according to Brown, celebrate the ability to make a decision appropriate to the situation. “We should be proud of ourselves for the kindness we give each other when we do this,” she said, rather than “thinking you have to be a superhero.”
Do a “leftover analysis” to get rid of the cycle of guilt
Leftovers could be the biggest source of shame in the home kitchen. We’ve all been there, avoiding that container in the fridge for the fifth day in a row, but feeling like we should do something about it.
The key to overcoming leftover shame, Brown says, is to “accept our own natural tendency to have a disgusting response to certain types of food in certain situations.” She recommends doing a “leftover analysis” on which meals and types of food tend to languish in the fridge, while others are eaten with more enthusiasm.
Does the consistency of leftover rice or chicken scare you? Do you like to eat Thai food or one day pizza? Tired of eating soup in the middle of the week? Take note of your tendencies, then begin to adjust your cooking practice little by little.
For foods that aren’t appealing in taste or texture, try to make fewer of those particular dishes so you don’t have to eat them as leftovers. “Be gentle, this will take time to become a habit,” Brown warned.
Make an appointment
When all else fails, it helps to fall back on comfort foods. When Brown needs a pick-me-up, she makes herself a cheese platter and says of the habit, “I feel like I went on a date, and it’s going really well.”
Find your own personal cheese board and make it a guilt-free ritual that can work as an emotional reset button for the week. That’s it – no further instructions are required.
Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer. the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made From Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the Good site. Food. Stories.