personal essay

I’m So Sick and Tired of Cooking. This Is the One Thing That’s Actually Helping.

updated Apr 29, 2020
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There was a time when I got so much joy from cooking. I looked forward to getting in the kitchen — even after a long day it was therapeutic and something of a stress reliever — and I looked forward to meticulously planning my family’s dinners (along with my own WFH breakfasts and lunches) for the week ahead, making a grocery list, and not worrying about securing a last-minute PrimeNow or FreshDirect delivery slot. And then coronavirus changed everything.

At first I went into big-batch meal prep mode, using up perishables and stocking our freezer with plenty of meals. I inventoried the pantry and made meal plans that appealed to everyone around the table. I leaned on flexible recipes that would work with what we had on hand in order to minimize any trips to the store. Even when it felt like a lot, I forged on, because there was no other option. I was sprinting in a marathon, and even non-runners know that’s not sustainable.

Now here I am in a place that feels extremely foreign and confusing to me: I’m sick and tired of cooking. Even assembling a meal feels tiresome at this point. I’m not talking about a night or two where I feel a little lazy — at first I thought that’s all it was, that this feeling would pass in a few days — but it’s been a couple of weeks, and when mealtimes roll around, I’m still feeling uninspired and unenthusiastic. Honestly, I would rather do anything but cook. What was once my stress reliever is now my stressor.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Olwen Phillips

How Coronavirus Changed the Way I Think About Meal Prep

These feeling are disorienting in what’s already an extremely disorienting time, but there is one thing that’s helping: mini meal prep. It’s nothing like the meal prep I’ve known for the past few years. But when I let go of my familiar (and somewhat rigid) view of meal prep, feeding myself — at least some of the time — got easier, and it really helped my overall mood.

Pre-pandemic, meal prep was the weekend ritual I’d been following for years. I carved out an hour or two for a solid meal-prep session that set me up for the week ahead. I’d make a big batch of oats or granola for breakfast, make a big-batch WFH lunch for myself, and fully cook or at least prep a couple of dinners for my husband and myself. Back then, meal prep made getting dinner on the table so much easier (especially after having a baby!), but it also made me feel organized, prepared, less anxious, and helped me eat better. Even if I only had 15 minutes (you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish with just that little bit of time) to chop some veggies and make a pot of hard-boiled eggs, I was committed.

When we were all ordered to stay home, while my husband and I were trying to simultaneously work from home full-time and care for an active 10-month-old baby, I knew meal prep would help, but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually get in the kitchen and do it. “I’ll do it tomorrow,” I’d tell myself. But enough tomorrows came and went without any action that I eventually gave up. I just didn’t have the energy to spend one or two hours on meal prep, while barely managing work and a baby and trying to take care of myself. 

As the weeks wore on, I started wondering if perhaps the way I was thinking about meal prep was all wrong. I ping-ponged from the pantry to the fridge and back again, trying to figure out what to eat as quickly as possible since my son had just gone down for a nap and I was now encroaching on valuable work time. It got me thinking that if I just had a bowl of overnight oats waiting for me, that would solve everything. I envisioned topping it with the fancy jam we just opened, mixed nut butter, and toasted coconut. I vowed to make overnight oats that night before going to bed.

It took four more days for me to finally do it and I have never been so thankful to open the fridge and find breakfast waiting for me. And it was the kick in the pants I needed to adjust my approach to meal prep: Instead of trying to tackle it all, the best approach for right now was to prep just one thing a week. It sounds small, and maybe insignificant, I know, but prepping just one thing feels really, really manageable and sustainable. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks. 

It’s made a huge difference in the way I feel every day. When I open the fridge to find a big bowl of overnight oats or frittata waiting for me in the morning, or a container of soup or chili that I can reheat for lunch, there’s the relief that comes with having a ready-made meal on hand. But it’s so much more than that — it makes the day feel less overwhelming, and, even if it’s fleeting, I feel like I temporarily have a handle on things. One prepped meal hardly solves for feeding my family for the rest of the week, and I can’t say that my enthusiasm for cooking has completely returned, but I don’t dread it the same way I did a few weeks ago so I’m counting it as a tiny win and a step in the right direction.

The Easy Recipes I’m Meal Prepping Now

How has your relationship to cooking changed over the course of this pandemic? Please share with us in the comments!