Are you in a cooking funk? Whether it's a lack of creativity in the kitchen or simply feeling burnt out by a long day or a demanding schedule, cooking fatigue strikes everyone at different times. For those who act as caregiver in the home and task themselves with five or more nights of cooking for a crowd, the slump can feel insurmountable when it hits. Between meal planning, grocery shopping, following recipes and finding new dish ideas, no one would blame you if you wanted to throw up your hands and seek out the takeout menu every now and again.
Eating is still a part of everyone's daily activities, though, and managing your food at home is one of the best tools you have if you're looking to eat healthy, balanced meals, so knowing how to dig yourself out of a cooking slump is important. Next time you feel the urge to leave your kitchen behind forever, these tips will help you get back in the swing of things while leaving your tastebuds and bellies happy.
1. Make Cooking Fun: Get your whole family or some friends involved in theme nights. For example, on Taco Tuesdays, have a Mexican-inspired theme where you not only cook your favorite tacos, enchiladas or burritos but also throw on some mariachi music, pull out your photos or from your last trip to Mexico or immerse yourself in some Latin American wanderlust via Pinterest. Other theme nights include homemade pizza Friday, Meatless Monday, Italian night, sushi night, Chinese “Take Out” at home, dinner for breakfast. You could also cook a meal inspired by a movie (Diner food and "Grease"! A Mediterranean feast and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"!) for a fun weekend date night.
2. Meal Plan: When you plan what you’re going to eat and shop for all your meals and snacks for the week in advance, weeknight cooking becomes less stressful. With everything at your fingertips, you'll be less likely to default to ordering a meal in. If you have the time, prep the vegetables and other ingredients the night before or in the morning to help shave off time when you have to toss the meal together. If meal planning feels overwhelming, commit to finding just one or two recipes that excite you and plan to cook no matter what.
3. Experiment with New Kitchen Equipment: Is that Instant Pot or air fryer you got for the holidays currently gathering dust? Has it been a while since you used your slow cooker? When you're feeling burnt out, whip out your old or new equipment and start cooking! Seek out healthy cookbooks with lots of delicious recipes for that specific item to keep things interesting, or ask friends or family members for their favorite cooking hacks. The element of experimentation might be just the kick your creative brain needs!
4. Find Easy Recipes: Unlike what your favorite cooking competition show would like you to believe, cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. Find easy—and I mean easy—recipes that you can whip up in minutes or that use very few ingredients. I designed to of my cookbooks—"The Best 3-Ingredient Cookbook: 100 fast and easy recipes for everyone" and "The Best Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook: 100 Tasty Recipes Using A Store-Bought Bird"—specifically for this purpose. To kick your culinary skills back into gear, start with one of these three simple recipes from my cookbooks.
Easy Eggplant Parmesan
- 2 cups tomato-based pasta sauce
- 1 eggplant, sliced into one-inch rounds
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 3 tbsp olive oil (pantry item)
- ⅛ tsp salt (pantry item)
- ⅛ tsp ground black pepper (pantry item)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Coat a glass baking dish with oil.
3. Sprinkle both sides of the eggplant rounds with the salt and pepper.
4. Add one-third of the pasta sauce to the baking dish and use the back of a spoon to spread it evenly. Top with one layer of eggplant, one-third of the sauce and half of the cheese. Repeat the layers, ending with the remaining half of the cheese.
5. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking an additional 10 minutes.
- 4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
- ½ bunch fresh thyme (leaves and stems)
- 12 oz halibut
- ⅛ tsp ground black pepper (pantry item)
1. In a medium saucepan or high-sided skillet over high heat, add the broth, thyme and pepper, and bring to a boil. Add the halibut, making sure it is completely covered by the liquid, adding water or more broth if needed to cover it completely. Return to a boil over high heat.
2. Cook the halibut for one minute, then remove from the heat and cover. Let the halibut poach until opaque and the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, carefully remove the fish from the pan and let it cool. Discard the thyme and the cooking liquid.
3. Slice the halibut into six-ounce pieces and allow to slightly cool. Serve warm.
Chicken, Kale and White Bean Salad
- 1⁄4 cup chopped raw walnuts
- 4 cups baby kale
- 1½ cups chopped rotisserie chicken
- 14- to 19-oz can reduced-sodium cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- Lemon-herb vinaigrette (recipe below)
For the Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette (makes ¾ cup)
- 1 tsp grated lemon zest
- Juice of 3 lemons
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp light brown sugar
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- 1⁄4 tsp salt
- 1⁄8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Heat the walnuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook until the walnuts are lightly toasted, about three minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
2. In a large bowl, add the kale, chicken, beans and walnuts. Drizzle with the lemon-herb vinaigrette and toss to evenly coat.
3. For the lemon-herb vinaigrette: In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, brown sugar, parsley, salt and pepper. While whisking continuously, slowly drizzle in the oil until combined.
All recipes from books published by Robert Rose Books. All Rights Reserved. Photo credit: Ashley Lima