By Debra Caffrey

Mom and daughter cutting vegetables.

 

Even before stay-at-home orders and closed restaurants made it feel like we were preparing meals 4,895 times in one day for our families, the prospect of cooking dinner every night was not something everyone looked forward to.

Even for people who enjoy meal planning and cooking like I do, it can still feel tedious to think of meal ideas, shopping, preparing, cooking, serving and cleaning up every night. Once the pandemic forced us all into the kitchen without a break, it reinforced this monotony, and suddenly, cooking dinner felt like an endless burden rather than an act of love.

Now that we’re all more comfortable enjoying take out, fast food and going to restaurants we trust and want to give business to, making dinner may not feel so repetitious, but it’s still easy to get a bit of cooking burnout from time and time. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are some of my strategies for making cooking less monotonous and more enjoyable for the long run.

Start with Skills

If part cooking dread for you is about feeling inadequate in the kitchen, now is the time to learn some techniques and get more comfortable. You can watch YouTube videos to hone some basic knife skills and cooking techniques, take a few local classes or enlist a knowledgeable friend to teach you a thing or two. Also, the more you practice, the better you’ll become!

Keep It Simple

Don’t plan fancy or complicated dinners, especially on weeknights or busy days. Even if you are a good cook, keeping things simple most of the week helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed by the process. Save a few more in-depth meals for weekends or when it fits best in your schedule. Otherwise, commit to streamlined, yet enjoyable meals, that everyone will gobble up.

A Little Planning Saves a Lot of Time

It’s worth repeating that meal planning is an absolute must. I say this for many reasons, but especially so you don’t feel confused or taken aback about what’s for dinner. Sitting down to inventory what’s already in the house, planning meals, and making a clear list for the store takes time, but you consolidate the time so the rest of the week is a no-brainer and you can function on autopilot. Planning meals also allows you to be flexible and move dinners around based on needs and time.

Ditch Traditional Concepts of What Makes a Meal

I am completely obsessed with creating dinners that don’t involve the traditional entrée with two sides kind plating, opting for a more casual approach. This means a giant sandwich we split, a large “grazing” plate or giant salad to pick from or make your-own burrito/taco/rice bowl spreads. These types of meals are fun and remove the pressure of feeling like you have to cook formally every night. Plus, there is minimal technique involved!

Don’t Go at it Alone

Children of all ages can and should assist with various kitchen duties, including food prep, table setting and even easy cooking. Equip older children with the skills to prepare simple meals for the family, then include their night to cook into your meal planning rotation. You’ll be excited to have the “evening off” and kids will feel empowered to be meaningfully contributing!

Remember not to stress too much. While though meal planning is important, so is having cereal for dinner or using up the last few pieces of bread for grilled cheese when you’re not feeling up to cooking “for real.” The most crucial thing about providing family meals regularly is to relish togetherness, provide a comfortable and stable part of home life and have laughs and great conversation around the dinner table. That can happen with boxed macaroni and cheese as much as it can over the fancy stuff