22 Ways to Make Cooking Easier (and More Fun) This Year

published Jan 22, 2022
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There are plenty of reasons why “cook more” makes it onto so many New Year’s resolution lists. Cooking at home can save you money and help you to eat more healthfully, of course. And cooking can also be a real pleasure — one that can get you socializing with friends and family and can help you learn about history and cultures through different cuisines. When you cook at home, you can satisfy whatever craving you might have and dial in the flavors exactly how you like them.

That said, even those of us who work with food for a living can fall into a cooking rut. So, to help, I’ve put together this list of 22 ways to ease yourself back into cooking this year. The key word here is ease — and some of the tips don’t involve cooking at all!

1. Save some 3-ingredient recipes.

If just looking at a long ingredient list has you reaching for the takeout menus, dip your toe back into the idea of cooking with some three-ingredient dinners. You don’t even have to make them yet — just save some that look tasty in your Kitchn recipe box or however else you save recipes you want to try. (I often just throw links in a Google doc.) Feeling a tiny bit more ambitious? Level up to five-ingredient recipes

2. Find a few new-to-you recipes.

When I’m struggling to find motivation to cook, I shake things up by making a new recipe. One of my favorite ways to find new recipes is to ask friends about their favorite dishes — whether it’s a weeknight dinner or a weekend cooking project. I’ve also recently been inspired by my colleagues’ picks for our editors’ favorite recipes of 2021 list — I’m looking forward to trying everything on the list (especially the Ginataan Na Sugpo). Another recipe I just added to my must-make list is Justine Lee’s Rabokki, which features some of my favorite ingredients, like gochujang and fish cakes, in a dish I’ve never had. Trying a recipe you don’t normally cook can get you out of your rut — and you might just find a new go-to recipe. 

3. Shake up your spices.

If you are sick of the same ol’ chicken thighs or roasted veggies, the quickest way to mix things up is to broaden your choice of dried herbs and spices. You can buy, toast, and grind individual spices, but there are also some really excellent spice blends out there that allow you to just open a jar and shake on a whole new flavor profile for an otherwise simple meal  — pretty convenient on a random Tuesday night. Asha Loupy, recipe editor at Diaspora Co. Spices, says that she loves pulling from the brand’s wide range of chiles to wake up weeknight cooking. She’s a fan of the Guntur Sannam Chillies, which are ground with a bit of sesame oil and salt. “The other spice that I am really excited about that has changed my weeknight cooking is the Aranya White Pepper,” she says. “It’s floral, tangy, a little woodsy.” I love browsing NYC’s famous Kalustyan’s market for spices (you can shop online, too), and when I visit my family in Louisiana, I always come home with various Cajun and Creole spice blends from a local spice store, but there are plenty of widely available blends you can pick up at any grocery store or online. See our guide to our favorite places to buy spices for shopping advice. 

4. Grab a store-bought sauce.

Prepared sauces are a go-to for Kitchn’s grocery editor, Mara Weinraub. “I really like Whole Foods’ prepared pesto,” she says. “I use some that week and then freeze the rest for later in the month or the next month.” She loves this pesto salmon with burst cherry tomatoes and she also mixes the pesto into cooked pasta with any roasted veggie. “My favorite combo is sweet potato and some broccoli; then I throw some chicken in at the end if I feel like it.” I’m a big fan of any simmer sauce from Maya Kaimal for whipping together quick and flavorful dinners. See our list of our favorite spreads and sauces of 2021 and our guide to simmer sauces you can buy online for more ideas. 

5. Stock your pantry and freezer.

“I stock my pantry with versatile staples, like beans, lentils, broth, pasta, rice, salsa, and simmer sauces (plus some frozen veggies and a pack or two of chicken for the freezer), so I’m ready to go,” says Senior Contributing Food Editor Kelli Foster. With a well-stocked kitchen you can pull together all sorts of meals without setting foot in the supermarket. Here are a hundred ideas for turning pantry staples into meals to get you started, plus a few of our favorite pantry dinners

6. Give meal planning a try.

I have to admit, I’m a little daunted by the idea of meal planning, even though I know it would make my weeks easier, help me avoid food waste, and keep me from getting hangry quite as often. That’s why I’m planning to take this advice from Kitchn Contributor Patty Catalano, who is responsible for many of our Power Hour meal plans: “I try to ease back into meal planning by deciding on just one or two meals per week. That way I’m not overwhelmed by prep or triaging leftovers from the fridge,” she says. This sounds much more manageable than creating a monthly spreadsheet of meals. Patty also says she goes back to basics with recipes like these lemon thyme chicken thighs paired with easy steam-in-bag frozen veggies. 

7. Grab a sheet pan.

Sheet pan dinners have gotten more and more popular over the past five years, according to Google search data, and for good reason. Prep and cleanup is easy, and once everything is on the sheet pan it’s largely hands-off (aside from possibly an occasional shake or two of the pan). But sheet pans aren’t just for dinner — you can whip up big-batch eggs and pancakes for breakfast on a sheet pan, too. 

8. Treat yourself.

When I’m bored of cooking, sometimes getting a little fancy is the answer — even if I’m just cooking for myself. One of my go-tos is scallops because I can get really excellent scallops at the farmers market and they’re quick and easy but still seem really special. I’m eying this artichoke risotto with seared scallops for my next swanky solo supper. 

9. Serve breakfast for dinner.

Turning mealtime upside-down is another great way to bust out of a cooking rut. “I love to make breakfast for dinner almost as much as I love to eat breakfast for dinner,” says Executive Lifestyle Director, Lisa Freedman. “What it entails, specifically, depends. Sometimes it’s just a plate piled up with French toast and oven-baked bacon. Sometimes it’s a casserole that I’ve made in advance. Sometimes it’s an omelet with random fridge veggies. None of these ever feel like work and they’re impossible to mess up. Note: If you’re going to be making casseroles anytime soon, get the Hot Dish from Great Jones.”

10. Make a big-batch breakfast.

While we’re on the topic of breakfast, aside from opening a box of cereal, the easiest way to make breakfast is to lean into big-batch cooking. Make a pan of muffin-tin eggs or muesli over the weekend and you’ll thank yourself every morning. 

11. And keep big batching for lunch and dinner, too.

“When I’m trying to ease back into cooking, I lean hard on my Instant Pot and slow cooker, for big-batch meals I can drop in and that basically cook themselves (think: lentil soup, slow cooker baked ziti, and pulled pork),” says Kelli. “With almost no effort I get meals for days.” 

12. Pick up a rotisserie chicken.

Drop by the deli section of your grocery store or big-box store for a rotisserie chicken and you’re more than halfway to a satisfying dinner, such as a warming soup, hearty salad, or skillet pasta. Reminder: You can also just cut up the chicken, steam some veggies, and call it dinner.

13. Buy some gnocchi (it’s always the right answer).

As Senior Contributing Food Editor Sheela Prakash notes in this roundup of gnocchi dinners, “One of the very best things you can do for yourself is keep a bag or two of store-bought gnocchi in your freezer.” That’s because gnocchi have almost endless potential to be transformed into incredibly easy meals. 

14. Plan for leftovers.

I always say that the only people who don’t like to eat leftovers are people who don’t cook. Having leftovers in the fridge is a little present to myself, so I always try to cook a bit extra (or a lot extra) when I’m roasting chicken or vegetables or making grains and pastas — Patty calls these intentional leftovers. The key to avoiding boredom is to have ingredients on hand to transform leftovers into new meals. For me that means keeping lots of sauces and spreads on hand (pesto, gochujang, Sriracha, sun-dried tomato paste, harissa, tahini sauce, etc.) to give different flavor profiles to veggies, grains, tofu, and meat. Leftover cooked vegetables and meats can also be added to different types of pasta dishes, used as taco fillings, or baked in casseroles. To get you started, check out these ideas for turning leftover chicken into dinner

15. Get yourself a gadget.

If you’re a gadget-lover, getting a new kitchen tool can be just the inspiration you need. Whether that’s an Instant Pot, an air fryer, or something small like a kitchen scale or even a garlic press, go ahead and splurge if you think it’ll help you cook more. Then check out our most popular Instant Pot recipes and air fryer recipes of the year to put that new toy to good use. 

16. Sharpen your knives.

Whether you sharpen your knives yourself or get a pro to do it (many kitchenware stores offer this service), a sharp knife will transform your cooking prep work from something that’s frustrating and time-consuming to a pleasurable task (really!). It will also make your ingredient prep safer, as a dull knife is more likely to slip and cause you to cut yourself. 

17. Make a clean-out-the-fridge frittata.

If what’s stopping you from cooking is the thought of making a grocery list and going to the store, take a look at what’s in your fridge and you might discover you don’t have to shop at all. Take some eggs, add the leftover odds and ends of vegetables, meats, and cheese in your fridge and stick it in the oven for a frittata that can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Fried rice, grain bowls, and salads are more great ways to avoid food waste and grocery trips. 

18. Make somebody else do the work.

Got kids? Put ’em to work. If this is a hard sell, try what one of my friends does — she tells her teenage daughter she can have whatever she wants for dinner, as long as she makes it for the whole family. (Guess what, family? You’re vegans now!)

19. Make nachos for dinner.

Sometimes the best way to get back into cooking is to think beyond the meat-and-three concept of meals and let yourself to have some fun with dinner. 

20. Do a baked potato bar.

Baked potatoes are cheap and easy to make, and if you set out a DIY toppings bar people can choose their own adventure for dinner (or a casual get-together).

21. Host a soup swap.

While hosting a traditional soup swap might not be in your plans right now, it’s easy to host a low-contact soup swap — just get a group of friends to make big batches of soup and divide into containers for sharing. Then meet up at someone’s house (or even in the driveway) and trade the soups. It’s an almost instant way to add some variety to your monthly meal plan. 

22. Take the night off.

Feeling totally burned out on cooking? Go out, order takeout, or pick up your favorite prepared meal from Costco or wherever you shop. You can always ease yourself back into cooking tomorrow. 

This post originally appeared on Kitchn. See it here: 22 Ways to Ease Yourself Back into Cooking in 2022