Updated: Nov 25
Lately, I've been struggling with cooking fatigue so intense that it makes everything cooking-related feel like a chore. Like an impossible mountain of dishes and labor waiting for me in the kitchen, just steps away from the office where I'm also working from home. Especially after traveling for weeks and adjusting to being back at work again, I have zero desire to get in the kitchen.
But despite this cooking burnout, I need to cook for myself. I've been avoiding cooking and eating as much takeout, fast food, and also sit-down, dine-in restaurant food as I can these past few months, budget be damned. I'm tired. Tired of dishes. Tired of what is now a new normal, where I spend most of my days working at home. Food has been an outlet, a means to get out of the house and feel new again.
I know it's an immense privilege to be able to safely work from home. I have a beautiful, comfortable home with ample workspace. I'm still tired.
I don't know who I imagined I was for a minute, but one look at my recent spending has convinced me that I need to get my shit together. I cannot afford the food lifestyle I've recently adopted out of a desire for escapism. Time to start cooking again, even when it sounds like the worst thing imaginable. Truly some nights just going to bed rather than cooking dinner seems like a better plan. At least until I wake up ravenous at 2 am and grumpy...
Based on the absolute flood of commentary I got when I recently brought this up on Instagram, I'm not the only one feeling this cooking fatigue. So for everyone out there who feel like cooking sounds like the absolute worst right now, I'm sharing my top tips that have helped me get back in the kitchen!
My Top 5 Tips For Handling Cooking Fatigue
1. There is no shame in prepared or packaged foods. In our current food culture, there's an emphasis on cooking everything fresh, from scratch, as if that's the only way to cook. If you're struggling to cook more or just trying to dine out less, prepared, frozen, and packaged foods are your friend. There is NO SHAME in using canned or frozen ingredients. There is no shame in getting frozen versions of your fave comfort food that you always end up ordering for delivery when you're tired. Get that frozen pizza to save on delivery fees and have something stocked for those exhausted days. Get the prepared sauces so you can just dump them on a protein and go. Get the frozen mac and cheese so that when you're stressed you can pop it into the microwave. A sustainable version of #WeGotFoodAtHome definitely includes prepared foods.
I also am a big fan of pantry recipes for those days when cooking seems impossible. A good pantry-centric cookbook is Staples +5, which can help you navigate cooking from your pantry with very simple recipes. I was #gifted this cookbook.
2. If cleanup is your biggest pain point, lean into one pan or one-pot meals that make minimal mess. A quick google search will give you a plethora of options. Also, try to think outside of the box for simple foods with minimal cleanup. I love a good sheet pan recipe roundup but in my opinion they leave a lot out that's easy to navigate at home with very little mess.
Think oatmeal, loaded toasts, salads where you just put greens in a bowl and then dump whatever other stuff you have on top (or maybe that's just me?), cereal, granola and yogurt, smoothies, or anything else you can think of. This is a different variation on the point above about prepared foods, but who says toast + whatever else you have on hand is not a meal?
3. Make it easy for yourself to figure out what to cook. Sometimes the difficulty and fatigue comes from the decision-making and planning process. I find that a targeted recipe newsletter where I get 1-2 recipes in my inbox every week is great because it takes away any decision-making pressure. It arrives and I cook what it says. Just be sure to sign up for a newsletter that aligns with how you like to eat or cook.
I love Good Mood Food by Carina Wolff of Kale Me Maybe. Her recipes are straightforward and she doesn't use much meat as the focus of her recipes which aligns with how we cook and eat at home. Some easy recipes from Carina: Rainbow Lentil Salad, Spicy Lemon Oil Beans
Another one I like that's more meat-centric (though she always provides substitutes), is Caroline Chambers' What To Cook When You Don't Feel Like Cooking. The name says it all here. What To Cook costs $35 per year, so as much as a cookbook.
4. If you need to cook at home to save money on dining out, an effective and somewhat painful strategy can be to set a firm budget for your dining outside the house and stick to it. I usually do this in cash as with a card I find it easier to just ignore the limit I set for myself in the past. I withdraw cash at the beginning ot eh month and then I can nacho, margarita, coffee shop it up until that cash runs out. After that I have to be fully #WeGotFoodAtHome until the budget resets. Somehow when that happens, I always find a way to eat at home. Pro tip: if you cash budget this way, try to space out your dining out so that you don't have one super fun week and then three weeks at home. Trust me, spacing out your spending makes the entire month more enjoyable.
5. Try out some of my fave foods below for when I don't feel like cooking, am tired, burned out, or just have no idea what to eat. Use the below as a starting point, find what works for you, and then make sure you always have your building blocks for simple meals on hand!
Brothy Beans. All you need is a big pot. Beans are cost-effective and if I don't have stock I just use water and adjust my seasonings accordingly.
Burritos or tacos with prepared beans (I use A Dozen Cousins brand a lot as they don't need any extra seasoning so I microwave and go. I've also done influencer work with them FYI) and a combination of the following toppings if I have them: salsa or hot sauce, eggs, some sort of greens, cilantro, green onion, and/or cheese. If I really want to amp these up I will blister a bell pepper and onion in a pan and add those.
Quesadillas! Adding some canned beans makes them more filling and then if I'm still hungry I'll eat whatever fruit I have on hand, add a smoothie with it, etc...
Hummus plates. Store-bought or homemade hummus is fine. Top with whatever you have like: sauteed peppers and onions, a fried egg, some crumbly salty cheese, rotisserie chicken (which you can buy and then use throughout a week for an incredible array of meals), sauteed mushrooms... Hummus as a base + whatever you have on hand + bread = you have a meal.
Rice bowls. Yes, I will often use microwavable rice (gasp). Rice + any of the combinations listed above for hummus plates, things you'd put on quesadillas or in burritos, etc, will make an easy meal.
Toasts! Like rice, toast can make a great base to build into something filling using whatever you have on hand. Think eggs, hummus, avocado, beans, cheese, and so much more!
Remember, no one can do it all. Find strategies and systems that work for you, especially when you're extra tired, busy, or stressed. You got this!