4 Tips for Fighting Pandemic Cooking Fatigue

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, there was a burst of enthusiasm for home cooking. With restaurants shuttered and lockdowns in place, this was our chance to have more time in the kitchen to create new culinary masterpieces.

More than a year later, the novelty of whipping up homemade meals has faded—especially because many of us are juggling mealtime obligations while working from home, sometimes with children underfoot.

“The overall exhaustion that we feel from COVID in general is bleeding into so many other parts of our lives, and the cooking part is a big one,” says UNC Health registered dietitian Elizabeth Watt.

Watt suggests these four tips to help with cooking fatigue.

1. Stock up your freezer.

Keep your freezer full of frozen fruits, vegetables and prepared meals. They’re good for a long period of time and ready if you need them.

“Everything you eat doesn’t have to be fresh, and actually vegetables are just as healthy for you frozen as they are fresh,” Watt says.

If you stock your freezer with frozen vegetables, all you have to do is steam them and then add them to a main entrée. “This way you can cut down one extra thing to do,” Watt says.

You can also go frozen for the main entrée itself.

“Frozen meals have come a long way from the old-school TV dinners way back in the day. A lot of these meals are very well balanced,” Watt says. “They have whole grains, vegetables, a main protein, and they’re typically higher in fiber.”

Frozen entrees can be high in sodium, but otherwise they are a good option, Watt adds.

2. Grow your food.

As the temperatures warm, now is the time to get started growing your own herbs or planting vegetables in your garden. Watt says this is a great way to stay excited about cooking.

“There’s a sense of pride when you’re eating green beans that you grew in your own backyard,” Watt says.

It’s convenient, too. “You just walk out of your back door and grab whatever it is that you need to add to the dish, and it makes you feel better because you’re eating the thing that you provided,” Watt says.

3. Double your recipes.

Try to find recipes you can cook once but eat twice.

“I always say cook things in mass quantity so you don’t have to feel like, ‘I have to get the grill out again,’ or, ‘I have to get all these pans out again and dirty the bowl again to cook another dish,’” Watt says.

For example, cook multiple chicken breasts; eat one for dinner with a vegetable tonight and slice another one to top your lunch salad tomorrow. With the remaining chicken breasts, you can make stir-fry for another dinner.

A slow cooker can help.

“We always think of the slow cooker in the winter, but it’s great to have year-round to make soups, stews or pulled pork barbeque. It can really cut down your time that you have to be active in the kitchen,” Watt says.

4. Try semi-homemade.

You don’t have to make everything from scratch—especially if you’re pressed for time.

“I’m really a big fan of the semi-homemade—utilize things in the grocery store that are already cooked,” Watt says.

For example, grab a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and then add that to your dishes.

“You can peel the chicken off and use it for burritos, or put it into a sauce, a lasagna, or really whatever you want to do with it, or you can have it as it is,” Watt says. “Then, all you have to worry about is your veggies. Again, if you have some frozen veggies, you just pop those in the microwave, and it gets your meal on the table faster and easier.”

If you still want to try new recipes, limit yourself to one per week.

“It’s extremely overwhelming, especially if you’re working and you have kids at home,” Watt says. “You don’t need to bombard yourself or try something new every day.”

Want to schedule an appointment with a dietitian? Contact Rex Wellness Centers or UNC Wellness Centers.