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How to Enjoy Cooking When You Hate to Cook: 20 Life Hacks

Do you want to learn how to enjoy cooking when you hate to cook? First off, you’re not alone in your aversion to cooking. A poll published in the Harvard Business Review back in 2017 revealed that only 10% of people love to cook.

Maybe the numbers have changed since the pandemic and with the rising costs of all things?

I’ll be honest, I am not in the 10% group of people who love to cook. Outing with family–love. Walks and me time–love. Scoring deals online–love. But cooking? Nah.

I wouldn’t say I hate it either though. I’ve just learned to enjoy it (sometimes) and I want to share with you 20 life hacks that have helped me to do so over the years.

It starts with mindset.

1. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS

Despite the growing number of cooking shows and our fascination with watching others cook, most people don’t like to cook. It’s a chore. But like other chores in life, somehow, you find a way to get it done.

We have to eat after all. I can’t imagine all 90% of the Americans who dislike cooking are eating out for every single meal every day or have a home chef cooking all their meals for them.

At the end of the day, getting the work done is what counts.

Cooking for the vast majority of us is not a competition. We don’t have the training and the time that the chefs we see on TV do.

Learn from others and your own experience but don’t expect to dish out a stellar meal every time you cook. Nobody is perfect. We’re all human and can learn from experience and failures.

I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.

-Michael Jordan

2. LET GO OF MISCONCEPTIONS

There was a time long ago when people made all their meals from scratch. “Slaving over a stove”, they called it. Maybe you were brought up this way. Or where there was only one way to execute a dish in your household and it had to be that way all the time.

Perhaps it was impressed upon you that because you are a woman/wife/mom, you must know how to cook a certain way.

First off, a few people today have the time and prowess to cook all their meals from scratch. Many of us simply don’t. Second, your style of cooking or your more hands-off approach to it is not a reflection of your character and parenting.

Sometimes these misconceptions are simply voices in our heads. Ask yourself how that is working out for you.

If it’s not working out for you, it’s time to let it go and define cooking in a way that works for you and your household.

A golden piggy bank.
Photo by Quince Creative on Pixabay

3. GET MOTIVATED BY THE MONEY YOU’LL SAVE

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 44% of all food spending in 2018 was for meals away from home. That same year, Americans spent $3,459 on dining out (about $67 per week).

If you’re starting to wonder if you can afford to keep this up or if you could use that money for something else, use that as motivation to cook more often at home.

Sometimes eating out is not the most pleasant experience either. It could be due to the meal quality, the service, or the wait time.

With soaring prices for all things, it is wise to be discerning about when and where to dine out.

4. GET MOTIVATED BY OTHERS

Find inspiration from other cooks. Start an online search for your favorite food or meal. Perhaps it’s your favorite childhood dish or one that you enjoy when others cook it for you.

Also, research variations to your favorite dishes. Maybe you’re tired of the same way you cook chicken and need creative ways to either doctor it up or incorporate it into different meals.

I find that cooking competition shows are not great motivators for me. They’re great for the feels. But when it comes to inspiration, I look elsewhere. After all, I am not in a competition.

Below are some painless, free and cheap ways to get motivated to cook.

Bookmark or save recipes you’re interested in. Follow cooks on social media whose cooking style resonates with you.

  • Check out recipe sites such as Allrecipes, Yummly, Food Network, and Delish.
  • Search recipes on Pinterest.
  • Watch home cooking videos on YouTube, TikTok, or Instagram.
  • Peruse the cookbook section at your local bookstore. If you’re on a budget, check out the cookbook section at your local library and borrow a book before you consider buying it.
  • Ask a friend or relative whose cooking you admire if they wouldn’t mind sharing some cooking tips or a recipe. Maybe set a date for a fun evening cooking together.
Woman on phone and laptop.
Photo by Firmbee on Pixabay

5. SIMPLIFY THE RECIPE SEARCH

I love a good easy recipe. The kind that takes little time with only a few ingredients. Bonus if the recipe can be customized and used in different meals.

Simplify recipe searching by adding any of the following words to your keyword in the search field:

  • Easy
  • Simple
  • Quick
  • Lazy
  • 3, 4, or 5 ingredient
  • Few ingredients
  • Minimal ingredients
  • 5, 10, 15, or 30 minutes
  • Sheet pan
  • One pot

6. KNOW NUTRITION BASICS: PFH

“PFH” stands for protein, fiber, and healthy fat. It’s foundational nutrition knowledge for optimal health. Many Americans under-consume in one if not all three areas.

A balanced meal with protein, fiber, and healthy fat is not only beneficial for your health but will keep you feeling satisfied for longer.

With a balanced meal, you’re less likely to keep spending your hard-earned money and time on foods that aren’t as filling and nourishing.

Sometimes incorporating PFH is not possible with a meal you’re making. Give yourself some grace. We are aiming for progress, not perfection.

For example, if a healthy fat is missing from your meal, consider ways you can easily add it to a snack or the next meal.

I am a big fan of the smoothie because it is a low-skill way to add healthy omega-3 fat such as chia or flax seeds into your diet. Convenient for a quick, nutritious snack or breakfast.

Kitchen counter with skin, Nutribullet blender, and bread and olive oil on a cutting board.
Photo by Gareth Hubbard on Unsplash

7. ORGANIZE YOUR KITCHEN

If your kitchen is not organized in a way that makes sense, then cooking is going to feel like more of a chore than it needs to be. It’s not going to feel welcoming.

We are not talking about having an immaculate, updated kitchen with a floor you can eat off of. This is about having a clear and proper workspace in the kitchen.

Here are some helpful tips to get organized:

  • Store essentials front and center. House cooking utensils in a jar or drawer next to the stove. Use drawer dividers or shallow plastic bins from the dollar store.
  • Fine China? Who still eats off fine China? Store it somewhere else if it has sentimental value. Otherwise, donate or sell it on a site like eBay.
  • Whittle down the dining ware, silverware, and drinking ware. If your dinnerware set of 12 is taking up valuable space and you’re a family of 3 not entertaining every day, consider storing the rest somewhere else.
  • Nestle food storage containers or buy stackable ones
  • Toss out old, dried herbs and spices. Typically, these ingredients have a shelf life of 2-4 years. Also, buying new ingredients may boost your motivation to cook more. Your cooking may even taste better.

8. UPGRADE KITCHEN EQUIPMENT ESSENTIALS AS NEEDED

Regardless of your cooking background or disdain for cooking, you need some basic kitchen tools to get by.

These tools include a set of heat-resistant utensils, sharp cutting knives, an everyday pan or skillet, a pot, measuring cups and spoons, and a baking sheet.

Upgrade to higher quality, more efficient tools if what you have isn’t doing the job.

Sharpen your knives.

Perhaps you need smaller or larger-sized cooking ware depending on how many people you cook for.

Holiday, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Amazon Prime Day sales are great events to score savings on kitchen tools and appliances.

Read product reviews on Amazon, Consumer Reports, and the store’s online site, especially for investment items.

A bow of salad greens with lentils, red onion, and other ingredients against a plain white backdrop.
Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

9. SIMPLIFY MEAL PLANNING

Meal planning is key to cooking at home. No plan, no cooking. It doesn’t have to involve spreadsheets and a laundry list of ingredients.

Make meal planning simple with the following tips. You don’t have to do all of these but try to start with one to get in the habit of planning.

  • Pick 1 meal you’d like to try for the week and make a list of the ingredients you need to shop for. If you are cooking for a family, get their input on meals they’d like to try. This week may be the meal your partner chooses, then next week one of the kid’s choices, and so on.
  • Do theme nights like Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, and Whatever Wednesdays for repurposing leftovers.
  • Look around in your pantry and fridge and use up what you already have. Start with ingredients that are about to expire. Do you have eggs and vegetables that need to go? There are your main ingredients for a quiche, frittata, or egg stir fry.
  • Stock up on proteins like meats, chicken, fish, and beans when they go on sale or when your budget allows. These foods are easier to incorporate into new dishes than combined dishes like a casserole. Stock up for the week on the other ingredients that would go well with these.
  • Use a meal planning app to help you choose a meal plan and recipes and create a shopping list.

Keep it simple for now with planning for one meal per week until you get comfortable with a routine. Even if you do one of these methods only once a week, it’s still money saved from dining out.

10. COOK WHEN IT IS MOST CONVENIENT

Pick a day and time of the week when it’s most convenient for you to cook. You’ll likely be less moody and tired so make it happen when you’re in your best state of mind.

Trying to cook when you already hate cooking and you’re not in the mood is a recipe for disaster. Pun intended.

It does not have to be dinnertime. Consider an easy breakfast meal if you’re a morning person and have the time.

If you work from home and have the house to yourself, maybe the lunch hour is a good time.

Perhaps it’s the weekend when you’re off work.

It might be after school when the kids are occupied with homework or extracurricular activities.

11. COOK WHEN YOUR FAMILY IS AWAY OR ASLEEP

This is not meant to insult other family members. But sometimes, there’s a certain family member that likes to comment, hover, and control when you cook. It might be the reason you hate cooking.

If you don’t want to discuss how this makes you feel, consider cooking when said family member is out of the house. Or if you’re a morning person, when they’re asleep. If they sleep earlier, cook at night.

A person adding ingredients to a pan on the stove.
Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

12. TAKE COOKING CLASSES

Another fantastic way to cook away from the watchful eyes of family and to fall in love with cooking is to take cooking classes. Benefits of taking cooking classes include:

  • Improve cooking skills
  • Get more familiar with the kitchen
  • Increase cultural awareness. Other students may come from different cultural backgrounds and the class may include lessons on handling international cuisines.
  • Improve self-confidence
  • Launch a culinary career

Search online for local cooking classes. See if your local community college offers them.

13. STOCK UP ON STAPLE INGREDIENTS

Do you find yourself reaching for the same ingredients over and over? Stock your fridge and pantry as much as possible with those staple ingredients.

A cooking experience can quickly be ruined when you find out you don’t have one of those staples on hand.

Staple foods tend to be those with a long shelf-life such as dried and canned beans, rice, noodles, pasta, and canned food like tuna, soup, and broth.

These foods are also quite versatile. With a little online research, you’ll find other ways to cook these foods so that you’re not eating the same old meal.

14. CUT DOWN ON MEAL PREP TIME

Cut down on meal prep time and buy ingredients that are pre-chopped and require little or no cook time.

Some cooks and foodie purists turn their noses up at some of these items. But if it’s a matter of eating more fruits and veggies because they’re conveniently pre-chopped versus not eating them at all, then pay no mind to the haters. See tips #1 and #2.

A list of some commonly used and convenient ingredients:

  • Bagged salad and salad kids
  • Pre-chopped fruit and veggies
  • Frozen fruits and veggies – last longer and are a great backup when you’re out of the fresh stuff. Also great in smoothies.
  • Peeled garlic cloves and minced garlic
  • Dried herbs and spices (no chopping required)
  • Peeled and chopped onions in the freezer section
  • Cooked, peeled, and ready to eat eggs
  • Cooked and ready to eat meat, chicken, and fish
  • Canned fish like tuna and salmon
  • Canned beans and chickpeas
  • Instant rice
  • Pasta takes minutes to cook but you can also find ready-to-eat pasta that only needs 60 seconds to cook
  • Bread and tortillas
  • Condiments
Scrabble tiles spelling out "keep things simple"
Photo by Brett Jordan

15. GO TO RECIPES THAT DON’T NEED TO BE MEMORIZED

Assembling a sandwich takes minimal time and effort. Memorization is not really required unless it’s one of those fancy sandwiches with a bunch of ingredients. With a basic sandwich, you’ve got starch from the bread, a protein, and some condiments or filling.

You can easily switch up the kind of bread, meat, condiments, and cheese in a sandwich. Apply the same concept to these other customizable and foolproof meals:

  • Wraps – Put sandwich ingredients in a wrap. A bigger wrap could also hold salad fixings like greens, coleslaw, avocado, and other cut-up veggies. You can also switch up the protein source with leftover chicken or meat, canned tuna or salmon, shrimp, beans, or cooked and pre-peeled eggs. Add some cheese if you’d like.
  • Salad bowl – Throw all the ingredients you would normally put in your sandwich or wrap into a bowl. Add greens or a combo of cut-up vegetables like bell peppers, red onion, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and carrots, and you have a salad bowl. Swap out the meat for beans, edamame, or chickpeas for a vegetarian take. Have a side of dinner roll or toast for carbs or add some cooked leftover pasta to your salad bowl.
  • Quesadillas – All sandwich fixings and anything like leftover meat, veggies, and cheese can go in a quesadilla. Just cook on a skillet and serve with condiments. Make plain quesadillas for non-meat and non-veggie eaters.
  • Baked potato night – Potatoes are incredibly filling and go with anything–leftover proteins, a side of salad, or stuff them with cooked ground meat or beans. Do a baked potato night with the family where everyone can customize their potato with other ingredients and condiments. Potatoes take an hour to bake in the oven, but you can also do the quick method in the microwave.

16. DOCTOR UP CONVENIENCE FOODS

A quick meal from a box may be your preference. Find ways to doctor it up and boost the nutrients.

For example, take your boxed mac and cheese up a notch and add some roasted tomatoes or broccoli, sauteed mushrooms, tuna or cooked ground meat, peas, or a handful of spinach to the mix.

Balance out pre-cooked, frozen meals with a salad kit or sautéed and seasoned vegetables.

Add vegetables to canned soup or to jarred pasta sauce.

Serve pre-cut veggie sticks and a dip alongside ready-to-eat finger foods. This is a great way to introduce younger children to variety.

Three people having fun cooking in the kitchen together.
Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

17. CREATE A FUN & RELAXING ATMOSPHERE

Try some fun and relaxing ways to make cooking more pleasant.

  • Listen to music while you cook. Listen on your earbuds if there’s another sound in the background.
  • Do dinner at home and game nights with friends
  • Cook a themed dinner like the baked potato night mentioned above. Other themes to consider: build your own pizza or taco night.
  • Enjoy a little glass of wine or flavorful cocktail while you cook.
  • Make the kitchen a happy place. Add things that bring you joy and comfort. It could be things like nice seasonal kitchen towels, wall art, a comfortable kitchen mat for your feet, or fresh flowers on the counter or table.

18. COOK ONCE AND EAT TWICE

Double or triple a recipe so you can have leftovers to eat the next day or two.

If leftovers aren’t your thing, then freeze them. Some foods can store well in the freezer like leftover meat and chicken.

Foods that don’t do well in the freezer include eggs, leafy greens (unless you plan to use them in smoothies), dairy or milk-based dishes, and mayo-based salads.

19. OUTSOURCE GROCERY SHOPPING & MEAL PREP

You may enjoy cooking more if you didn’t have to do the grocery shopping and meal prepping. If that’s the case, outsource these tasks. These activities are time-consuming, too, and you could use the energy for cooking instead.

If you have able-bodied adult family members living with you, assign these tasks to them. Get out of the martyr mindset that you have to do it all.

Or shop for your groceries through the store’s website or through Instacart or Shipt. You can get the groceries delivered to your door or pick them up at curbside.

If you want a more hands-off approach to meal prep, subscribe to meal delivery plans. Go online to research these services and find one that fits your lifestyle, budget, and dietary needs.

These services are either DIY with the ingredients for a meal and cooking directions delivered to you or no prep—heat and eat a pre-cooked meal.

Someone washing a pot in the sink.
Photo by Marek Studzinski on Unsplash

20. REDUCE THE CLEANING

The cooking aftermath may be a reason you hate cooking. The time it takes to clean up is yet another chore. Here are a few solutions:

  • Clean as you go. Put the phone down and use the idle time to clean while you’re waiting for the meal to cook.
  • Assign this task to other family members.
  • Don’t let dirty dishes pile up in the sink. Either clean it as you go or place it immediately in the dishwasher. Train your family to do this, too.
  • Cook meals that you can do in one pot or in one sheet pan to reduce the cleaning
  • Buy ingredients that are pre-cut, so you don’t have to clean knives and a cutting board.
  • Use disposable ware on those really busy nights or when you’re sick
  • Declutter. Countertops with less clutter are easier to wipe down.

FINAL WORDS

Cooking is like any other job in life. It takes some level of skill. But you don’t have to treat it like a chore, and it does not need to be complicated.

Consider that you are feeding yourself and your family. You cannot go on with life unnourished. So why not try to find a little joy in the work?

Cooking at home also gives you complete control over ingredients and flavors and saves money. You may find it’s healthier than some of the places you eat out at.

The first part of the work involves removing negative associations you have with cooking. Once you have a clean slate and a positive mindset, the rest of the work will come naturally.

Finally remember it’s about progress, not perfection.

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