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vjoliv0's picture Vanessa Oliver, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian
College or Department
Lancaster Aquatics Center, room 170
Email Address

Did you know that your body expects food every day? And not just your body, but also the people with whom you share your kitchen?

That may not have seemed like that big of a deal before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the last months have definitely come with a hefty realization: if you are the person primarily responsible for getting food in bellies, you might be struggling at this point to feel any sort of spark when it comes to meals. All of the (seemingly endless) decisions required to make them happen can feel exhausting and overwhelming. Even if, like me, cooking has been not only a necessity but one of your creative outlets in the past, it's possible that after all of these months you've lost a little bit of the magic. This could be a sign you have kitchen burnout.

"I thought burnout was a work thing."

Burnout is a state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive and chronic stress. Most often, it rears up when you feel overwhelmed, underslept, not-at-all perky or unable to meet constant demands. It is typically associated with a job environment, but we've seen an increase in burnout among all sorts of areas due to the prolonged stressors of the pandemic crisis.

This burnout not only brings energy depletion, but it can cause us to resent and become detached from lots of activities we may have enjoyed pre-pandemic.

So now what?

You're not alone, and we understand that. So, here are 7 tips to find your kitchen mojo. (Maybe it's on top of the refrigerator - when's the last time you cleaned up there?)

  1. Figure out how many shortcuts your wallet can afford while keeping meals nutritionally balanced. The more convenient food that you don't have to spend time on may be worth more than the budget-sparing item that you have to prepare. Think: pre-washed greens and salad; pre-chopped veggies; shelf-stable or frozen cooked whole grains; rotisserie chicken or chicken sausage; pre-marinated tofu.

  2. Brainstorm 10 or so meals that you can rotate through. This will help you find your rhythm. I'm talking the basics, like quesadillas, chili, pasta, soup, curry... and then make slight variations to each when you feel like it.
  3. Try to be the ant and not the grasshopper. In other words, recognize good days as windows of opportunity. If you're having a good day and have loads of time and energy, think: "can I get a little bit of kitchen prep done?" Google recipes that freeze well. Make a big batch of soup or sauce and portion it out. Marinate some protein. Boil some eggs. Roast a couple of sheets or pans of veggies. Your future self thanks you.
  4. Experiment with meal kits. If you miss eating in restaurants and the change of pace they provide, consider a trial membership to a meal kit service. You'll get a change of pace for now and perhaps a dose of inspiration for later.
  5. Pick 1 night per week or month and choose to order in. If you can, choose a local/independent restaurant. You're not cooking and you're helping your local economy.
  6. Fake it 'til you make it. You can recognize your feelings of burnout while acting against what those feelings might be telling you. If you used to enjoy cooking in the before times, keep doing it as often as you can--you just might start to feel the joy again. Practicing mindfulness can help here. Ground yourself in all the sensations that go along with preparing food: smells, sights, sounds, and yes, tastes. Cooking with focus can help you with the feelings of detachment that burnout often brings.
  7. Don't go through the motions. Just don't. It's okay not to feel okay. If you need a break, take it. If tonight is PB&J, that's okay. What do you enjoy that is plain and simple? A sandwich? Popcorn? A microwaved sweet potato?

The above tips may or may not be strategies you'd try normally. But, I'm encouraging you to try at least one to shake things up a bit. No matter what, you're still feeding yourself and that is totally a win against kitchen burnout.

You can find additional nutritional support from UK HR Health and Wellness by visiting our EatWell page here.