How to Deal with Cooking Burnout
You're not alone
These days are tough. It’s so hard to cook, work, connect with loved ones, post on social media, read the news, get some fresh air, exercise, etc. Coup notwithstanding (and the coup is obviously making everything a lot harder), we’ve been dealing with cooking burnout for quite some time. Maybe you’ve had months where cooking felt easy and fun—summer produce always helps me—and now your burnout is back. I wrote about it back in May on Instagram and did an early pandemic thread on ingredients to add to your grocery list to get back in the swing of things. It’s so hard to cook these days
Lately, it’s been harder than ever. I’ve gotten DMs from people who live alone and have lost the energy to cook and from food experts who are considering meal kits to get dinner on the table each night.
I want to acknowledge the comparison trap that makes this worse. Each week, my Something to Cook section includes nowhere close to all the meals I eat in a week (it would be very long if it did). You don’t see the nights of frozen tortellini and steamed broccoli or the last minute taco orders. My situation is likely different than yours (no kids, I live in an area with many takeout options, I don’t have to do the dishes) and it’s not a competition.
To feel burnout after nearly a year of a pandemic is completely normal (for way more on burnout, read Anne Helen Peterson’s book and newsletter). Even if you love food, especially if you love food. It really bums me out when the thing I love starts to feel like a chore. You can start to resent your corporeal form, maybe even wonder about soylent (I rarely get this far but it can get existential).
There is no moral superiority in doing everything the hard way. That includes cooking. If you like to spend hours in the kitchen baking bread and making quiche, that’s great (and I’d love to come over post pandemic). If you’re relying on a series of shortcuts and standbys to keep your household fed, that’s great too. The first step of this burnout is accepting it and recognizing it. I’ve sometimes felt off and tried to wait it out. That rarely works. Noticing something isn’t right—planning a meal incites dread, you’re eating your meals at off times, you just feel uninspired—is important to get things back on track and take better care of yourself.
I spoke with Alicia from She Spends about food last spring and one tip I stand by is adjusting your meal schedule if necessary. That might mean weekday brunch instead of a separate breakfast and lunch. Or it might mean larger snacks throughout the day if you’re always in meetings. Take a look at your schedule and see if changes would be helpful.
Now, some suggestions.
Take a break: If you can avoid cooking dinner for a night or two, skip it. This could mean defrosting something from the freezer, ordering takeout (order something that will leave you with leftovers and order directly from the restaurant), or asking your roommate or partner to take the lead. Deb from Smitten Kitchen always takes the weekends off from cooking (besides breakfasts/snacks for her kids). It’s a necessary break and eating out during that time gives her ideas for weeknight cooking. Takeout might be slightly less inspiring but it’s still a break and a chance to try dishes you don’t normally cook.
Then, get re inspired. I often cook without a recipe but if I’m seriously burnt out, I prefer to use one. It helps me focus on the task and the result is something different than what I usually make. Genevieve Ko had a great piece about how following a recipe is extra important if it’s a cuisine you’re unfamiliar with.
At the grocery store: Wandering the grocery store used to be a favorite activity. It’s more stressful these days but still fun. Go into the grocery store with some blank spaces on your list. Try a new cheese or a new vegetable, grab a bag of frozen dumplings or a fancy pasta shape. If you want to look up recipes in advance, feel free, but it’s also great to be driven by curiosity. If you’re ordering groceries online, browse for a few extra minutes before you order or check out a local restaurant offering provisions, like Hart’s or Edy’s Grocer in Brooklyn.
On and off the internet: Instagram can be a hellscape these days (Nisha wrote about the struggles of Instagram stories right now) but it can be a great place to find food ideas. I take so many screenshots and look through them for ideas or cooking tricks. Tiktok also has great ideas and many of the creators post full recipes elsewhere (here are some of my favorite accounts, part 2 coming soon). I also like YouTube (June from Delish and Rick’s show on Food52 are recent favorites), and cooking shows (I watch a lot of Food Network on YouTube TV and some great shows are on Netflix). If you have any old food magazines on your shelf, flip through for ideas. Cookbooks are another great source of inspiration, here are some of my favorites. If you’re on any of these platforms and you see something you actually feel like cooking (huzzah), listen to that feeling. Look at the ingredient list, check your pantry and get going. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dessert or a soup. It’s a start.
Lean into nostalgia: Fun is in short supply these days so if there are foods that seem fun, try making them. I loved this recent guide to S’mores from Daniela Galarza and had lots of fun making nachos earlier in quarantine. If there’s a family recipe you’re craving, call up a relative and see if you can get the recipe, or some approximation. This won’t be 100% of your diet of course, but it’s worth shaking things up to get yourself over the hump.
Shortcuts: There is no need to make every meal, every day. Cook with leftovers in mind, get ingredients for sandwiches or easy salads for lunch, add a box of cereal to your cart. I recently started buying prewashed and pre cut Tuscan kale at Wegmans and it has made my life so much easier. If you live alone, buying frozen stuff might reduce food waste or you can split bulk products with a friend or neighbor. I keep frozen fruits and veggies on hand and I use exclusively canned beans: the ease is part of their appeal. Meal kits also help here, I don’t have much experience with them but I have friends who love Hello Fresh and there are always some discount codes going around. Omsom isn’t a meal kit, but a meal starter that’s lots of fun. I made the mushroom larb last night and it was the most focused and excited I’ve felt in the kitchen in a while.
How do you cope with burnout? Where do you find recipe inspiration? Share your suggestions in the comments. We’re all doing our best and things will get better.
P.S. I’ll be talking more about cooking burnout in Nisha’s wonderful newsletter this Sunday. Subscribe here.
June's youtube videos for Delish are the best!