Burned Out on Cooking — Thoughts and Strategies

Most of my posts are recipe oriented, but I’ve wanted to include topical posts as well as food-focused ones on the blog. Today’s topic: getting tired of cooking all the time. Even when you love something — reading, writing, kids, TV, social media, pets, exercise, chocolate (well, maybe not chocolate) — you need a break from it sometimes, right?

I really enjoy cooking and baking, but as I plan, shop and cook most of our meals, I sometimes just get tired of it. My creativity wanes and I lose interest in even thinking about food.  I would rather buy a pack of Almond Joys than bake.

I’ve been burned out on cooking on and off over the past month… maybe it’s just the heat of summer or the need for a vacation. While we’ve made some very nice meals, I’ll definitely be glad not to have to cook anything for several days that we will be away in the coming week! This is also a time to go to another location and enjoy foods local to that place, which can fuel inspiration. And after a week or so of restaurants, it’s always nice to be back to your own kitchen.

In part, it’s just the sheer work that can get to you — there’s a lot that goes into cooking three meals a day, even if they are smallish ones. I think it’s also that cooking is a giving thing — it’s a lot of energy and thought going into something that you largely do for others. I tend to enjoy cooking more when there are at least two of us. When I bake, I normally give a lot away to friends, neighbors, etc.  So, for instance, when Mike’s on a business trip, I might barely cook for myself at all. You can count on me to live for days off a pack of hotdogs or eggs, Lean Cuisines or some take-out.

Take-out is also very tempting when you just have no interest in cooking, and there is some take-out that is fairly reliable around here, but none of it is as good as homemade and it’s always several times more expensive. That puts a damper on it, for sure.

I do have some go-to strategies for dealing with cooking burnout. The most obvious is making simple meals — a serving of meat with a potato or vegetable side or salad. Pasta is another easy meal; I make fresh sauce and freeze it, so throw some pasta in a pot and we’re done. In winter, I might make a casserole that will last a few days. If we can use the grill or make it one-pot to reduce the dishes, even better. On summer nights, anything on the grill with a salad does the trick (and salads can be quite fun — I like to throw a lot of new things in, or try new salads when I’m burned out, because it’s a lot of reward for little effort).

But, if that starts to feel a little too lazy, I’ll haul out my recipe binders or cookbooks and look through them to find something that might spark the smallest flicker of interest in trying a new recipe, or go back to ones we love but had forgotten.

One that always draws us back in is Cook’s Illustrated 2002 recipe Orecchiette with Broccoli, Sausage and Roasted Peppers.  Another is Lower Fat Mac & Cheese from the Lowfat Moosewood Cookbook that has been our favorite for 20 years (though I use the whole 8oz brick of cheese and dot butter on the top with breadcrumbs…not so lower-fat in our case). It’s so easy as there’s no stovetop cooking necessary, not even for the pasta (and I make it mostly lactose-free, using Lactaid Cottage Cheese and lactose-free whole milk). These dishes also last for at least two days of lunches or another dinner.

What are your go-to strategies for when you just lose interest in cooking? Do you have favorite things you turn to in the lull?




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