The “52 Weeks” Method That Turned My Most Dreaded Chore into a Hobby

published Mar 11, 2024
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Woman cooking in the kitchen with her dog
Credit: Boris Jovanovic/Stocksy

Though I’d like to think of myself as a bona fide foodie — booking reservations at buzzy hotspots and sharing under-the-radar favorites with my inner circle — I haven’t always been much of a cook. When I lived in New York City during my 20s, I much preferred dollar slices and bodega runs to being in my studio apartment’s kitchenette (which famously had a mini fridge). 

But when I moved to the West Coast and the pandemic hit six months later, things changed. With so much free time on my hands and restaurants off the table, I was curious to see if I could start cooking more.

When I did, I was pleased to realize I actually wasn’t half-bad at cooking. The bad news? Eating the same thing day after day got boring; less of a culinary adventure, more of a chore. Toward the end of 2022, after spending two years cooking the same four meals week after week, I was desperate for a change. 

In a very Julie & Julia move, I purchased a subscription to New York Times Cooking and promised myself I’d make at least one new recipe during each of the year’s 52 weeks. Not only is the app super easy to use, but they also had an excellent Black Friday deal.

And, much to my surprise, I did it. Despite getting married, enjoying a honeymoon, and traveling, I cooked over 50 new recipes over the course of a year. The cooking challenge became so much more than a feat I passed with flying flavors: It’s now a joyful hobby that’s baked (or pan-fried… or sautéed… or slow cooked) into my weekly routine. If you have a slight interest in cooking, it’s a challenge I couldn’t recommend more. 

If you’re also looking to get out of a cooking rut or make it more of a habit, here are a few ways it might help you as much as it helped me.

Credit: Kelsey Mulvey

Meal planning has become second nature.

As soon as I vowed to cook at least one new recipe a week, I realized I couldn’t just improvise our weekly meals with whatever was lurking in our pantry. Instead, I spent (and now spend) time every Monday morning fine-tuning the menu for the week. What was I going to cook and when? Could I swing a second or third new recipe this week? And how does Taco Tuesday fall into the equation?

Since I was now planning out our dinner cooking plans, I also got strategic about lunchtime by thinking through which dinners would yield leftovers and what we’d eat the other days. While planning meals ahead did help streamline the rest of the week, I have to admit that having a set menu has the added bonus of making me feel like Sydney Adamu. Yes, chef

It saves me time and money in the grocery store.

Not only does having a plan help automate my weekly meals, but it also makes me a more efficient (and economical!) consumer. Spending too much time in the grocery store can make it all too easy to pick up items you want, but don’t necessarily need. Unless you know when and how you’re enjoying your latest supermarket finds, they can often take up precious space in your pantry and shopping budget — only to go bad by the time you remember to use them. 

Now, I shop differently: If it’s not part of my meal prep, it’s not going on my shopping order. To help stretch my dollar even more, I try to plan recipes that use similar ingredients like tomato paste or tahini. While we used to spend close to $200 per week at the supermarket, a little bit of planning has saved me as much as $75 on groceries. Savvy spending that helps cut down on waste? It’s a win-win.

Credit: Kelsey Mulvey

It’s helped me slow down. 

As a freelance journalist, my days are typically spent juggling a bunch of deadlines, coordinating interviews, and doing admin work for my business. With the exception of a 30-minute Peloton ride and my daily walk, I don’t take much time to just… be. But ever since I started to cook new meals on the regular, it’s transformed what I used to view as a chore into a self-care moment. I turn on a podcast and then get to work turning an assortment of ingredients into something truly delicious. It’s not just cooking a meal, it’s “me time.” Still, that doesn’t mean I spend hours in the kitchen — I typically focus on relatively easy recipes that can be made in 45 minutes or less.

It feels like a creative outlet. 

I used to think of cooking as just combining a bunch of measurements, but these days I think of it as more of an art form. Since my year of new recipes, I’ve noticed just how comfortable and confident I am in the kitchen. Before I started my challenge, I felt pressured to follow a recipe’s directions to perfection. But now? I have no problem improvising as needed. For example, my husband loves dishes with a kick, so I’ll often add some hot sauce or extra cayenne to a mild meal. I’ve noticed my oven takes a little more time to get my proteins to the right doneness, so I’ll often adjust the cook time accordingly. And, if I accidentally forgot something for a recipe, I’ll work with what I have to whip up a yummy final product. 

It’s a fun and functional hobby. 

When your days are packed with deadlines and important meetings, it can feel like there’s very little room for fun things to do. Ever since I’ve started my cooking journey, though, I finally feel like I’ve found a hobby that’s more exciting to talk about than my Peloton classes or penchant for true crime podcasts — and it brings me so much joy, confidence, and nourishment. Trying new recipes has not only become a conversation starter, but it’s something I actively look forward to each day. A hobby that’s fun and functional is truly *chef’s kiss*. 

And who knows? As I enter year two of my 52-week challenge, I might kick things up a notch and try different cuisines or more complicated recipes. There is quite literally a whole world of possibilities.