5 Easy Ways to Enjoy Making Dinner
I wish I liked cooking as much as I like the idea of cooking.
On one side is the familiar hamster wheel of prepping, eating, and cleaning over and over again, and the burnout comes quickly. On the other side is a genuine love of food, of gathering around a table, of feeding our family and friends. I mean, we really do love it.
Last month, I spent a weekend at Meg's Craft House with nine other women to brainstorm business ideas, laugh at ridiculous stories, and eat All the Food. In accidental fashion, I became the de facto cook for most of the weekend, and it was surprisingly fun and life-giving. I got up early to cook, took my time, created multiple dishes for one meal, baked bread, washed dishes with a smile on my face... it was super weird. My friends often asked me if I secretly resented them for letting me cook a lot. And I didn't. I loved it.
And then the wonky set in. Why don't I carry the same joy into my own kitchen? Why does it feel so different at home?
There are a million reasons - tiny kids, busy afternoons, poor planning, little money, zero skills, picky spouses, solo dinners - but none of them should stop us from enjoying our time. No matter your situation, you can enjoy making dinner.
Let's get the spark back. Let's love spending time in our kitchens again.
5 Easy Ways to Enjoy Making Dinner
1. Set your intention.
Most nights, I make dinner with the charm of Oscar the Grouch and then wonder why the entire process is the worst. We often start from the fringes of our crazy rather than the center of our joy. It's like going for a run and chanting "I hate running" the entire time.
Start positively. Remind yourself that you really do like this... or at least want to. Remember why you love gathering around food and then start cooking. Intention makes all the difference, even on crazy days. Especially on crazy days.
2. Limit the chaos.
No matter how lovely your intention, life happens. Moods, traffic, chicken you forgot to pull out of the freezer, frustrating homework assignments, the pot you need is crusty with last night's spaghetti sauce... nothing happens perfectly. Like, ever.
However, sometimes the crazy repeats itself. Is the pot always dirty from the night before? Do you always forget to pull something out of the freezer? Are you kids INSANE PEOPLE the minute they get home from school? If there's a repetitive stumbling block to making dinner with a smile, create a solution for that one thing.
Create a new habit where you always wash the dishes before bed... or even better, snag a kid to do it. Set a daily alarm on your phone that reminds you to take something out of the freezer. Decide what's for dinner while you're eating breakfast. Reserve your kids' video game time for when you're cooking. Put a desk in the kitchen for your kids or have them do homework at the counter so you can casually talk through algebra without walking away from the stove.
Find one thing that makes you crazy, and create a solution. It's usually far easier than we think.
3. Expect imperfection.
Your intention is set, and the chaos is limited. Things will still go wrong. Don't be surprised. Don't be resentful. Don't assume the imperfect impacts your self-worth.
There's great freedom in letting your people, your circumstances, and yourself off the hook.
4. Listen to music.
I have a super fun and not annoying Cooking with Kids playlist, an eclectic with the occasional swear word Cooking Alone playlist, and a perfectly melancholy Cleaning the Kitchen playlist. Go. To. TOWN. There has never - and I mean never - been a dinner prep or cleanup time that wasn't vastly improved by music.
5. Bring special to the table.
I'm allergic to the term "tablescape" and never, ever set the table. I serve everyone from the stove, we eat out of bowls, and the settings are uncharmingly mismatched and often plastic. It's not a cute table, and I've never minded. P.S. If you feed tiny kids, you know from experience that feeding them on actual plates is a disaster waiting to happen hashtag crash.
When I cooked for my friends, I moved all the food from pans to platters and put them on a set table. When we host a birthday dinner for my mother-in-law or have our community group over for a meal, I make the table pretty on purpose. You probably do, too. Why can't we do that on a tiny scale every day? Sure, we still use plastic most days and eat out of bowls, but that doesn't mean we can't bring a little special to the table.
I believe it makes a difference. When I sit down at a table with the tiniest special touch, I'm reminded of my intention, of the importance of the gathering.
A few weeks ago, I hopped on Pinterest and searched "easy table decorations" and this was the first photo on the list.
I had all those things! I could do that! And I did. My sister bought me a tree stump platter last year, and I use it obsessively for everything and now this. I have lavender and rosemary I cut from our yard instead of the baby's breathish stuff, no string around the jar, and old candles I stuck in mason jars instead of real votives. But still. That tiny centerpiece doesn't look dumb, requires zero work, looks beautiful for days, is easily moved in one fell swoop, and brings a tiny bit of special to our everyday table.
(The same could be said for an apron you love, a beautiful cutting board, or a dishtowel that makes you smile.)
I realize none of these ideas are revolutionary or even super inspiring. That was my problem for so long. I kept looking for that magic cookbook, that perfect dinner system, that single fix to solve all my problems. Maybe you're looking, too. Friends, it doesn't exist. Recipes aren't our problem. Picky eaters aren't our problem (much). Money isn't our problem. Sure, they play a part, but doing the intangible internal work will make more difference than a chicken recipe ever will.
Set your intention.
Limit the chaos.
Listen to music.
Bring special to the table.
Small changes can make a huge difference.