Allow us to introduce you to a slightly delayed and unexpected new year’s resolution: the promise not to cook every night.
Although a lofty goal, planning to concoct a fresh meal every night of the week seems to be a slightly unattainable endeavor. There are too many variables to consider: Do I have all the ingredients I need? Do I have time to cut endless vegetables, cook them, clean the kitchen and do it all over again tomorrow? What should I even make? To put it simply, cooking is exhausting because it isn’t just about cooking. It involves preparation and then post-cooking cleanup, not to mention grocery runs and recipe research.
What would happen if we were to, perhaps, opt to cook every other dinner at home? Would our self-worth disintegrate, our body image self-destruct and our dedication to a healthy lifestyle falter if we chose to consume takeout, dine-out or leftovers a few times a week? Turns out, the answer is a resounding no.
Lest you think we’d provide you with an idea not backed up by some sort of science, think again! The argument to avoid cooking every night actually has both nutritional and psychological substantiation — especially in the midst of a life-changing global pandemic.
Let’s start with some data. Subscription service Freshly recently led a survey of 2,000 Americans investigating the ways in ways the pandemic has impacted their 2021 health goals and resolutions. The study’s general findings support the idea that “realistic” goals (“cook more, but not every night” vs. “cook every night”) actually resonate with the average citizen more than absolutes.
Specifically, 67% of respondents revealed that they’re opting for “smaller, more achievable ‘micro-goals’ this year.” These include eating less takeout (38%), maintaining one’s weight over losing some (38%) and eating more nutritious lunches (which don’t necessarily need to be homemade) while working from home (35%).
The results of the study likely have much to do with the psychological implications of self-promises to prepare dinner every night. “A study of families with kids did confirm that families who have 7+ meals/week at home have higher levels of stress and less prep time,” explains nutrition and weight loss expert Dr. Nona Djavid. “Eating out might take some stress out of the chaos and work that goes into preparing frequent meals for the family.”
While, generally speaking, home-cooked meals tend to be healthier, a dish’s nutritional value actually depends on the dish itself. “You can eat unhealthy food at home and dine out on a healthy meal at a restaurant,” Djavid said. “This depends on the ingredients you use to cook and/or the meal you order at the [eatery].”
The way the average American approaches cooking also affects the psyche. “It is important to acknowledge that cooking can be deemed stressful if it is looked at as a task rather than something enjoyable,” said Dr. Markesha Miller, a licensed psychotherapist. “Cooking every other day as opposed to every day allows for some element of joy to remain in the activity and prevents it from being a daunting routine.”
April Brown, a psychotherapist, proposes even more direct options. “If you think you will make five meals at home each week, set your expectation to three,” she advises. “If you set realistic expectations in the kitchen, it’ll allow you to feel more in control of your life — which is something we need now more than ever.”
However convincing scientific-adjacent arguments are, you may be more convinced by the personal anecdotes of people who’ve given up cooking every day. An on-the-surface Google search of the terms “in defense of not cooking every night” yields the sort of evidence that will likely convince most that getting healthy isn’t strictly related to our ability and disposition toward cooking (“I Stopped Cooking Dinner and it Made Me a Better Mom!” and “Is Cooking Dinner Every Night a Chore For You?” are some of the top results).
Of course, the alternate reality we’ve been existing in for close to a year has had a major influence on the topic at hand. In the pre-COVID-19 years, we justified walking away from our new year’s resolution to cook every night by telling ourselves that heading out for dinner with friends was a well-deserved treat following a hectic day at the office. In 2021, that excuse doesn’t hold up anymore: What office? What restaurant? What friends?
As a result, not following through with our beginning-of-the-year promises might actually result in greater self-disappointment in 2021. Given the heartbreak and hardships we’ve collectively been experiencing since March, slaloming around avoidable regrets should really be our modus operandi.
And so, here we are, encouraging you to order Indian on a Monday, eat the leftovers on a Tuesday and — perhaps — even order a takeout salad on a Thursday. You might end up actually enjoying cooking throughout the other weekdays. After all, it’s OK not to cook — a few times a week, that is.