Better Living

How to Enjoy Making Dinner

These 6 practices can lower the stress and increase the joy of making dinner
BY Mollie Donghia TIMEMarch 16, 2022 PRINT

Let’s talk about a daily task that many (if not most) of us share—making dinner. It’s evolved into a love/hate relationship for me over the past several years. Let me explain why.

As a child, I loved to help my mom bake and cook. I grew up learning the skills in our local 4-H club, where I took various cooking classes and entered dozens of baked goods into our county fair each summer.

It’s been a hobby of mine since then and one that I still greatly enjoy.

But since having my own children, making dinner has become one of those daily chores that always seems to fall at the wrong time of day, require too much of my energy, and take a lot longer than the time we actually spend eating the food I just prepared.

Like several of the regular routines that Mike and I have tried to simplify over the past year (laundry and cleaningdecluttering our homecoming home from vacation, or making natural household cleaners), making dinner was one I knew I had to work on improving.

I considered the pain points of this task, what expectations were misaligned, and what would make it easier and more enjoyable.

Here are the 6 ways I’ve learned for how to make dinner prep more enjoyable. Because it has to get done every day, so why not simplify the process and enjoy the journey?

1. Have a Plan

Whenever you have a plan for something, it usually yields a better result, not to mention less stress. The same is true with making dinner, where rarely does my “winging it” approach turn out favorably.

At the start of each week, I make a very basic plan of what dinners we’ll have each night. One important thing I’ve learned is to make the plan realistic. Don’t try to go all out with some creative, labor-intensive meal if you’re not likely to have the time and energy.

Instead of searching the sea of possibilities on Pinterest, I’ve found a simple system that has been a game-changer when planning my dinners—my “go-to recipe book.” It’s a binder that holds about 20 recipes that I know my family will eat and aren’t complicated to make.

2. Ask Yourself the Magic Question

If you’ve followed along with me on Instagram, you know I’m a big fan of The Lazy Genius and her life-saving hacks and productivity strategies.

One of the most helpful strategies I’ve learned from her is the magic question—what can I do now to make life easier later? It’s eliminating the pain points in your life by making small choices ahead of time. So in order to make dinner prep more enjoyable and less burdensome, I ask the magic question: What can I do now to make dinner prep less stressful later?

I look at my meal schedule to make sure I know the plan for dinner.

I get any meat or frozen ingredients out of the freezer as I start the day.

I have my dishes washed so I’m not faced with a dirty kitchen when it’s time to cook.

I marinate any meat in the fridge before the afternoon begins.

I open up my recipe binder to the right page so I’m all set.

None of these require large amounts of time to do, but when I commit to doing small steps to make the task easier later in the day, it makes a big difference. See how you can ask the magic question early on in the day to make dinner prep more manageable.

3. Lay Out the Ingredients Before You Begin 

This one doesn’t need much explanation, but when I lay out all of my ingredients before I start cooking, it makes the whole process go more smoothly and quickly. I spend less time looking through the recipe and fewer trips to my pantry or fridge.

Getting everything out at once allows for more ease when the process has begun.

4. Leave Enough Time (but Expect Delays)

Making dinner usually falls at a harder part of the day—nap and quiet times are over, the kids want a snack, and I’m usually having to settle sibling disagreements.

Whatever this time looks like for you, the most important way to avoid feeling overwhelmed is by leaving enough time, but expecting delays.

Take into consideration how long tonight’s dinner will take to make. Can anything be done early on in the day? If you have older kids, can they be responsible to help out with any steps? Start early enough so that dinner is ready by the time you want to eat, but be prepared to multitask or juggle whatever else is going on at that time of day.

Having this mindset helps to alleviate feeling frustrated when my kids require more of my attention while I’m trying to get dinner on the table.

5. Play a Podcast or Music

Whenever I’m able to listen to something while I make dinner, it’s always more enjoyable. That little bit of passive listening makes the task of dinner prep so much less tiring.

Here are some of my favorite podcasts right now:

6. Elevate the Experience

The last way I’ve found to make the dinner-making experience more enjoyable is by the way we share our meal together. Most of our dinners aren’t fancy or elaborate, but one way that I’ve found to take the experience to the next level is by doing a few simple things.

Try family-style serving. Placing the food on nice plates or serving platters and then directly on our table is one of my favorite things to do before I call everyone to dinner. Even if it’s just a pot of soup, a frozen pizza, or tacos, it’s a way to make dinnertime feel more like a valued family experience.

Light pillar candles. During the winter months, we enjoy lighting our candles and dimming the lights for a more cozy atmosphere. It makes any dinner seem more fancy and it encourages lingering as the gentle flicker of the flame always seems to slow us down.

And that’s it. Those are the six practices that have helped to make the daily chore of dinner prep more enjoyable for me and my family. I hope you find some inspiration in them.

This article was first published on ThisEvergreenHome.com

Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
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