For any of us with young children at home, going out to eat at a restaurant isn’t the easiest endeavor. So cooking meals at home is the norm. But preparing meal after meal (and snack after snack) takes over so much of our time. And, for me, it’s often gotten boring and monotonous—at this point, I’m totally tired of cooking. Without proper brainstorming and planning, my family ends up eating the same thing week after week. Not only is this not so fun for myself and my husband (we share the cooking duties), it’s also not a great way to introduce a variety of foods and flavors to our toddlers. If you’re also feeling bored with meal prep and tired of cooking, read on below for four hacks to make time in the kitchen enjoyable again.
1. Set up a sustainable meal-planning system
I’ve gotten into meal planning several times, only to ditch the practice a few weeks in. While meal planning takes time and effort up-front, it does pay off with time saved as well as less waste over time. Create a meal planning practice that works for your family and that you can easily keep up over time.
That might mean only planning 3-5 days worth of meals for the week instead of seven days worth. It also could mean taking turns with your partner, each of you planning every other week. Or it might mean coming up with general themes (like pasta night, pizza night, Mexican night) instead of getting really specific, only planning 30-minute meals or whatever else works best for your lifestyle. To help with your efforts, purchase a printable meal planner or buy a special notepad devoted to meal planning.
2. Step out of your cooking comfort zone with new recipes
Making the same go-to recipes does make for an easier time in the kitchen, but it’s a lot less fun than experimenting with new recipes and ingredients. Use Pinterest to keep track of new recipes that catch your eye and organize them into specific boards for easy access. When you’re meal planning and feeling low on inspiration, browse your boards and grocery shop accordingly. Instagram works, too. Start following inspiring food bloggers and save recipes to collections within your Instagram account.
“Make a smaller goal of trying one new recipe a week or even one new recipe each month.”
You don’t need to go overboard with a new recipe every night, that’s way too overwhelming. Instead, make a smaller goal of trying one new recipe a week or even one new recipe each month. In addition to trying new recipes, consider adding unique ingredients to your “to-try” list. You might discover a new favorite flavor, and it’s a great opportunity to introduce new flavors to your little ones.
3. Be mindful of waste
One of my biggest takeaways from recent years is how proper planning can lead to being less wasteful. I was used to having a refrigerator full of food, and if I wasn’t in the mood for something (say, that ambitious giant bag of kale I bought on a whim), it would often go bad and eventually into the trash. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and I couldn’t grocery shop with the same freedom I was used to, I became incredibly mindful of what I was buying and made sure to eat everything before it went bad. If I wasn’t in the mood for that giant bag of kale, I found creative ways to use it so I’d enjoy it (like baking kale chips or using it in a smoothie). Ever since that time, I’ve kept this mentality with my weekly grocery shopping trips or grocery deliveries. With proper planning and taking inventory of your refrigerator and pantry before buying new things, you can cut down on unnecessary waste (which is better for the planet and your wallet).
4. Make cooking a family event
Sure, it’s much easier (and cleaner) to cook everything on your own as opposed to instructing your 5-year-old on how to mix ingredients. But cooking shouldn’t all fall on the shoulders of one family member. Make sure everyone in the family is doing their part and contributing. Having your kids help out in the kitchen will teach them new responsibilities; shows them how their food is made (which in turn can make them more open to tasting new things); and can also help with math, reading, and reasoning skills.