Meet the Lazy Genius: She Wants to Help You Slay Dinnertime (and Shame)
Welcome to Kitchn’s series Kitchn Crush, where we highlight some of the coolest, most inspiring people in food you need to know about right now.
There are a lot of self-proclaimed family dinnertime experts out there, but only one Lazy Genius — and Kendra Adachi is “the Laziest Genius” of them all. She’s a North Carolina mom, no-nonsense meal planning expert, and baker du-jour who coined the tongue-in-cheek term back in 2015 to help moms like her solve real-life problems with an even realer sense of humor.
Here’s an example of the Lazy Genius approach to dinnertime: It’s perfectly acceptable to feed your family hot dogs for dinner. It’s perfectly acceptable to finish that last chapter in your YA novel while your husband takes the kids out for chicken nuggets. And it’s perfectly acceptable to cancel all dinner plans until further notice, turn on your favorite Spotify playlist, and make a cake worthy of a TV baking competition show.
In the past three years, Kendra has used the Lazy Genius Collective and Lazy Genius podcast to connect with moms like her, who are of the ilk that “you don’t need to set a hundred goals in order to have a good year.” In a sea of “mommy-shamers,” Kendra strives to be the absolute opposite. And if there’s one thing that Kendra knows for sure, it’s that in order to be a good mom, first you have to feel like yourself.
(Another claim to fame: Kendra invented the Tim Riggins Salad. And for that, we salute her.)
Tell us about the Lazy Genius Collective!
So I have this thing where I start a business every time I have a kid. I need to get out my creative energy somehow. With my first, I taught cooking classes out of my home and wrote about food. When I had my second kid, I did something called the Sugar Box, which was inspired by a particular pop culture theme every month. People would come to my house and buy them.
Then when I got pregnant with my third and final kid (my daughter), I realized that I loved talking to people who are afraid of the kitchen. We all kind of have similar fears about being grown-ups. Sometimes it just feels like we aren’t taught a lot of things about how to be a person. I saw a lot of women, my peers, online saying things about exhaustion and not knowing how to be themselves and cook for other people. So I said, Hmmm that seems like something I would really like to speak to. It’s been about four years now; this started in 2015. I wanted to create a place where women can be geniuses about the things that matter to them.
What are the things that matter to you?
I really care about having margin. If my outside environment is messy, then my insides are messy. Spatial quiet is important to me. Generally my house is neat and my life feels organized, not because I feel like those are the most important things, but because I need them to function as myself.
That’s why I love creating systems to make margin in the best possible way — and most times that’s figuring out the quickest way to clean and cook. Sometimes that’s spending half the day on food (it depends what kind of food). Also books and TV matter to me — they make me feel like myself. If I don’t have time in my life to read, I can’t be myself.
What was the impetus?
For a while I was a self-help junkie. A real turning point for this was when I read Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown, which is a book about figuring out what is essential for YOU. You can read it again every single year and it’s a good mental reminder. But he’s a man and was speaking from a different perspective. That message was missing in the female space for me. I like synthesizing information from lots of places and so I would read books about habits, and time, and cleaning your house, and nothing ever quite met me perfectly. I started to notice where the holes were and wanted to answer these questions that no one was answering. This was part of my own journey to give myself permission to live this way.
What do you prefer about the podcast medium? How has it helped you to reach other moms?
I LOVE podcasting. For me, I feel like my personality comes across more clearly when you can hear me saying my words. In this space, my listener is primarily moms in their 30s who are maybe working full-time or doing something on the side. These are people with lots of plates to spin and lots to balance. That space can become a shaming space really fast. So I love that people can hear my voice and hear my encouragement and the obsession that I have with not shaming people. When you get a text, you misread it. In a podcast, you cannot misread tone. As a listener, it’s such a great way of entering into a story while being able to do things at the same time. Bonus: You can listen while washing dishes.
Listen to the Lazy Genius Podcast here.
You’re incredibly honest on social media. Why is that important to you?
Sometimes it can feel like there are only mommy-shamers. If we’re wearing the glasses like “I’m a terrible mother” we’re going to see that message everywhere we look. I’ve definitely had experiences where I’ve been rejected as a mom — I was walking down the street and I waved at these neighborhood moms, and they went inside. That was really hard and I was like, What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with my kid? You start asking yourself these questions based in deficiency or shame.
I wish I could go back and tell myself, as a new mom with my first sweet precious baby, that that has nothing to do with you. I can be the kind of mom that is best for me and my family and it can look different for people. That is one of the poles of Instagram. I love spaces that offer a real look at what it means to be a woman from the South in America. What does it mean to be fully who you are and not ashamed about the way you choose to live your life? And what am I going to do when people disagree with me?
We’re huge fans of your approach to meal planning around here. What’s your strategy?
The most important thing to know are your planning parameters. It’s so key to know what kind of recipes to look for. If you just look at the internet, you’re going to die. It’s so overwhelming. You need at least two limits, and if a recipe doesn’t fit inside of them, it’s not for you. I work from a very limited ingredient list. For example, if a recipe has artichokes and leeks in it, they’re not on my list. I have three little kids who don’t love them. My second parameter is dishes. Dirty dishes make me crazy, so one-pot, one-bowl recipes are what I look for. Pretty much every dinner we eat is served in a bowl; if we were a meat-and-three family, there would be too many dishes!
Any meal planning tips for beginners?
Stick to what I call “brainless crowd-pleasers.” These are meals that you can make that generally the people in your house will go for. They don’t have to be quick, they can be complicated, but you don’t have to turn your brain on to make them. One of ours is chicken tikka masala. I know how to do it, it’s not hard to make, and everyone pretty much likes it. If you have a list of brainless crowd-pleasers, you know what’s in your arsenal. Frozen pizza counts just as much as a roast chicken.
Another tip is to use a meal matrix. This is a structure that helps make decision making easier (i.e., meatless Monday, taco Tuesday). Ours is pasta Monday, pizza Friday, and we always have something East Asian-inspired in the middle of the week. My husband is Japanese and my kids like those flavors. Then we fill in the blanks. It makes dinner so easy because I don’t have to make as many decisions.
What do mealtimes usually look like with your kids?
I usually come with low expectations. They are much more willing to try things now than they used to be, but there’s still some push and pull. I generally always have something that’s part of the meal that won’t cause an argument. Last night I made chili — no green, very red. I call everything that is meat “meatballs.” As long as there’s something on the table that they will eat, they’re less terrified to try the thing they’re nervous about. Most of the time, I don’t plan new things two nights in a row because I don’t want to fight that battle. I know there will be a day where we sit down with green foods and they won’t run away from the table. It’s just the season we’re in right now.
Are you surprised by anything that they happen to like?
My kids are weirdos who don’t like mac and cheese but they love tikka masala. They love warm spices, ginger, stir-fry sauces — anything I put on top of rice in a bowl, they will eat.
What’s your default “lazy” meal?
I do have one favorite called Change Your Life Chicken. It’s my absolute favorite: roasted chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on, cooked over a bed of vegetables. It’s a one-pan situation. Once it’s in the oven you’re done. And it tastes so stinking good, it’s magic. I’ve definitely joked that there will be a chicken on my tombstone.
What does carving out time for yourself usually look like?
For me, self-care is anything that makes me feel like myself. If you don’t care about pedicures or massages, then that’s not the right self-care for you. Reading, music, and baking are the gifts I give myself. Instead of thinking about how to find time, I think about what makes me feel like myself. I don’t need to carve out time to play music. I can’t just whip out brownies anytime that I want to, but I can feel it in my body if I haven’t baked in a while. It’s like, I need to make a cake and I feel better! I’ll say, we’re having hot dogs tonight because mama’s making a cake.
Do you have any current obsessions?
Music-wise, I’m currently obsessed with Penny and Sparrow. I turn them on and I’m like, there’s Kendra. I listen to them literally every day and I want everybody to love them as much as I do (which I guess is what an obsession is). In terms of baking, I just recently got Bravetart by Stella Parks. I just love her writing style and feel like she’s a Lazy Genius baker, and cares about the things that matter. She uses sugar as pie weights because it goes all the way to the crust, and you get roasted sugar out of it. So ingenious and also so lazy! Book-wise, I’m very much a hardcore, dystopian, Young Adult reader. I love unrequited love and dark times. I’m in the middle of this series, Red Queen. Yes, I’ll ignore my children to finish a chapter.
What accounts do you love following?
Jamie Golden used to be a cake pop baker, and she cohosts the Pop Cast which is such a great show, one of my favorites. When I first started listening to her episodes, I emailed her and said, Okay, this is weird but we need to be friends. She’s now one of my dearest friends. Emily P. Freeman has a podcast called The Next Right Thing and it’s about making decisions. She’s my soul care person. The Nester (Myquillyn Smith) is Emily’s sister and she is my home person. I like to have one expert in each area. She just released a book The Cozy Minimalist Home, about how to have the most style with less stuff. So good. I love Erin McDowell. She is the best pie baker and has the best feed. I don’t know her but I would love to. Jeni Britton Bauer is my boss lady. She is such an inspiration to me, how she’s unapologetically built her business and has been so focused on her vision.
What’s next for you?
I just signed a book contract! It’s not coming out until the summer of 2020, but I’m writing a book, so that’s pretty awesome to say.