You’ve been there: The end of a 10-hour workday. Your boss is on your tail right up until you walk out the door for your hour-long commute home… in traffic. Then comes the mad dash for to make a home cooked meal while you’re starving, stressed, and want nothing more than to flop onto the couch with the remote and a glass of wine. That prefab pizza in the freezer is looking pretty good right about now, isn’t it?
Hold up. Let’s regroup and see where we’re at, because your after-work time should be a reprieve from the stress of your day, not a mad dash for the finish line. Dinner should be fun to eat, not a self-imposed death sentence at the end of the day.
Dinnertime should be the main thing that relaxes you from the zoom-zoom-zooooooom of the rest of the day. It might seem like a tall order, but I’m here to tell you it’s entirely possible. And, you can even have all of your dinner dishes done at the same time. Hallelujah!
Learning to cook a stress-free dinner is a subtle art. Here are 5 tried-and-true tactics that can change dinner from another obligation tacked onto the end of your day to a relaxing event worth looking forward to.
- Sometimes, an empty kitchen is a calm kitchen. If dinner prep is a full contact sport with family members milling around asking questions, digging through cupboards, and making demands, give them the boot. The silence of an empty kitchen will allow you to focus and savor the task at hand.
- It’s no secret that music can relax even the most wound-up Bisy Backson, so consider setting the mood by playing your favorite album while cooking. Smartphones make great impromptu stereos, or grab a little bluetooth speaker for your kitchen and sail away on memory bliss. (badum-tssss)
- I have a thing for flowers, especially big, bright stargazer lilies. If there’s a vase of gorgeous flowers on the counter, I have a harder time holding on to the stress of the day. Try setting out fresh flowers in the kitchen to lighten the overall mood – just make sure they’re a variety that won’t mess with your sense of smell while cooking and eating!
- If you’re lucky enough to have a few minions at your disposal (even if said minions are the well-meaning troublemakers milling about in #1 above) enlist their help in making dinner tonight. Spouses make great veggie cutters and kids can be awesome salad washers. Better yet, knight a family member and make them Ser or Dame of Vinaigrette. Teach them the basic technique – 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil, shake in an empty jam jar until mixed – and give them the creative license to play with flavor combinations. You might be surprised at how excited a 7-year old can be when given a simple and delicious responsibility where they can make the rules, and it’s a great step for helping them discover how to cook on their own terms.
- Make a meal plan. Not having to come up with new ideas for dinner every damn day can relieve a lot of stress. I’ve even seen savvy ninjas make it a family affair to sit down on Sunday nights, decide what to cook for dinner that week, and map out a meal plan as a team, delegating different jobs to different family members. Nice!
- Bonus tip: Organizing your kitchen is a HUGE way to make cooking more enjoyable. It’s definitely not relaxing to get tripped up in the middle of a recipe, frantically digging for that one tool or ingredient while your dish burns on the stove. Once panic sets in and your dinner goes all Sodom and Gomorrah, it can be tough to recover a sense of calm and enjoy your meal. Invest a little time in organizing your kitchen cupboards and drawers so things are easy to find, and donate any extraneous gadgetry to charity. Your stress levels will thank you.
To-do this week:
Every week, try to implement one new tactic from the list above: play some music, clean out your craziest kitchen drawer, teach your spouse how to chop an onion. Then check in with yourself and see how you feel preparing dinner each night. Did the music help the most? Great, play more of it. Did the drawer make all the difference in the world? Awesome! Think about tackling the spice drawer. Every little step helps, and when you do just one new thing a week, it won’t add to the overwhelm that’s already piled up at the end of the day.
Also, join the Fearless Fresh Kitchen Ninja group on Facebook, and say hello! Introduce yourself, ask a question, share your dinner ideas with everyone else in the group.
This content was originally posted on FearlessFresh.com.