Are you one of those people that always makes it a goal to eat out less often and cook more? Well you're not alone! Eating out is a part of the fast pace and tech forward lifestyle in the United States. With 72% of millennials reported going out to eat or for drinks at least one time per week and the food delivery industry valued at ~130 billion for 2022, eating out might even feel essential. However the benefits of cooking at home can benefit your health and your wallet. If cooking creates stress and confusion for you, we have some tips to help reduce stress around cooking. Plus the added bonus of reducing the time it takes to cook, and hopefully help you cook stress free!
Why Cook More?
Let's first get you motivated to really want to cook more meals at home. Some of the benefits of cooking and eating meals at home include:
- Decreased calorie intake compared to fast foods, take out, or dining out. The average amount of calories of a meal from a full service restaurant is 1317 calories, which for some people this could be over half the recommended calories per day. Restaurants use more fats, sugar, and salt to increase the taste for batch cooking. This means you're getting more calories, added sugar, and sodium than you would if you homemade the same dish.
- You control what goes into your meals. Just like you can control the amount of fat and added sugar, you also have control over your ingredients. If you want to consume more organic foods, then you have the ability to make that choice. If you can choose to include more variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and dairy than what is generally offered.
- Usually less expensive than eating out, which means more of your budget can go to other areas of your life. This extra budget can help with any financial stressor, so you are already making progress on reducing your stress levels!
- Customizable to your nutrient needs and health goals. If you have fitness goals, medical conditions, religious reasons, or food preference, then you have more flexibility to meet these needs with a variety of meal options. Going out to eat as a vegetarian or have celiac disease? Your options might be limited to 1-2 items on the menu. Making it at home you have more options and can better accommodate your nutritional needs because you know exactly what is going into the meal.
Now that you're convinced that cooking at home has benefits you just can’t ignore, here are some tips to making cooking less stressful!
1. Pair it with a Pleasure
Make cooking more enjoyable simply by pairing it with an activity you do enjoy. You will be more motivated to cook and might even save time with this habit stacking tip! Your pleasure can be watching a show on your laptop and placing it somewhere you can do your prep. Or maybe it's pouring a glass of wine or other beverage to help make cooking just a little more fun. Here are some activities you can pair with cooking to make it more enjoyable:
- Catch up on your favorite show
- Listen to a podcast
- Play a book on tape
- Drink a mocktail, sparkling water, or pour a glass of wine
- Call a friend or family member (tip wear wireless headphones)
- Make a playlist of songs that bring you joy
- Reframe cooking as exercise and intentional movement
Studying to get a second degree? Need to do some webinars to learn another skill? Want to learn another language? Anything you can listen too, can be paired with cooking! It can also be a good time to catch up with all the events of the day with your roommates or family members.
2. Plan Ahead
One of the most stressful things about cooking is figuring out what to make. When it’s 6pm, you're tired from work, and you still have a million things you need to do, figuring out what you're going to cook is just not the time to answer this question. However, with just a little (I’m talking 5-10 minutes) of planning the day or evening morning before dinner rolls around, you can make clear choices for dinner and have an easy to follow road plan to achieve your cooking goals for the evening. Try out one of these planning tips to test out this week!
- Designate 1 day of the week to planning all your meals, start with planning all your breakfast or all your lunches. These require less thought than dinners.
- Start small with picking just 1 recipe to try for the week
- Plan ahead with some batch cooking, having staples prepared in advance makes pulling together a meal during a busy night take only half the time. Three easy things to batch and prep ahead include
- Grains: Cook a few servings of Quinoa, Rice, Farro, Pasta
- Proteins: Grill Chicken, Rinse Beans, Sautéed Tofu, Boil Eggs (store in shell)
- Cut up Veggies: Carrot Sticks, Sliced Cucumbers, Bell Peppers
Just taking 5-10 minutes ahead of time to plan could potentially save you hours in your week. You won’t have to run to the store multiple times, you don’t have to spend money on take out, delivery tips, reducing carbon footprint, and most importantly you are creating more nourishing food for yourself and anyone you're cooking for.
3. Mind Your Environment
Your environment is filled with triggers, which result in actions and behaviors that can support or side track you from your goals. The environment where you cook, which for most is the kitchen, can make it more challenging to cook if there are stressful triggers everywhere. Before you start the process of cooking, try to limit these stressors:
- Sink filled with dirty dishes
- No room for prep on your counters
- Being hangry, grab a quick snack!
- Missing main ingredients
The same way these triggers can add stress to the cooking process, there are steps you can take a few hours before or the night before to wake up to a stress free cooking environment.
The main one is to clean the kitchen before ending the day. You will wake up the next morning, and thank your last night self for taking a few extra minutes to tidy up. This will help create a stress free morning and create a positive tone for the day. When it is time to cook your first meal of the day, there will be no clean up catch up before getting to the actual act of cooking.
If piled up dishes after cooking stresses you out, try to reduce the amount of post meal clean up, try to “clean as you go” when you're cooking. Some tips to make it easier, pull out the trash can and keep it open to help throw scraps as you go. When something has a few minutes to cook, marinate, boil, etc. this is a time to scan your counters for quick clean up items. Rinse some dishes, put spices away, etc. Habit stacking your cooking with your clean will save you time and reduce the post meal cleaning!
Back to Stress Free Cooking
Now you have some simple tips to help cook stress free. Just by cooking more of your own meals you are on the plan to improving your nutrition goals and overall health. If you are really serious about optimizing your health and reaching your goals, check out Vessel Health for your personalized wellness plan and to start checking your nutrient levels today!
Have a great cooking hack? Share your favorite way to make cooking more enjoyable and less stressful!
Sydney Mulroy See all the author’s articles