Cooking (A Personal Reflection)

From when I was fifteen onwards, my job in the family was to cook dinner for us either five or six nights a week depending on if we were going out to eat, picked up takeout/takeaway, etc. I was pleased with this job, because my previous job had been washing the dishes and I really disliked that, and my mom disliked cooking but didn’t mind washing the dishes, so we swapped when I was about fifteen and for three years I cooked all the meals for five people.

Cooking is technically not an “ADL”, activity of daily living, but an “IADL”, instrumental activity of daily living. I learned all this stuff in occupational therapy school and it’s sort of fallen out of my head because it’s just jargon and not particularly useful to me. 🙂 But it’s easy to see how compared to the others I’ve written about this week—sleeping, eating, showering—cooking is a more complex, higher-level skill. Even infants need to sleep and eat, and everyone has to have some sort of hygiene routine, but one could theoretically go their whole life without cooking, or without cooking very much. If that’s you and this doesn’t relate to you in any way, that’s fine too. This is just meant to be a personal reflection, like my other posts on these topics.

I always loved baking, putting together recipes, making box mixes for cakes and such, when I was a kid. And I really did enjoy cooking as my family job. It was a good job for me to have. Where I struggled (a lot) was with the executive functioning components of planning. How we did it was like this: I would decide on what 5-6 meals I would be cooking that entire week, in advance. And I would need to make a grocery list of all the things we would need for all 5-6 of those meals. We would also collectively, as a family, add the groceries we’d need for lunches and breakfasts and snacks throughout the week. Then my mom would do the grocery shopping.

This was a totally fair and reasonable delineation of the jobs involved in the process of getting everybody fed. And yet, I still had a really hard time with it.

Many of my difficulties with eating (like I talked about earlier this week) affected what I wanted to cook, or what foods sounded good to me to cook, but I hadn’t learned even one bit to listen to my body about that yet so I wasn’t very aware of my reasoning behind why I would cook something “too often” for the other members of my family, or leave out a recipe that everybody else liked but I didn’t.
I had a REALLY hard time with the planning of ingredients. If I needed ground beef for two things in a week, I might forget to put “x2” on the grocery list. Then after I made Tuesday’s dinner, we’d be out of ingredients for Friday’s dinner. Or I’d forget to check if we had pantry staples and would just assume we had spaghetti noodles, or I’d just see the box and assume there was enough for everybody, when we were actually out of it, or only had half as much as we needed. If I had to ask my parents to go back to the grocery store and get it, they’d be (understandably) annoyed about it, so I would try to improvise or substitute other things or just pick a new recipe that we did have all the things for, but the mental load of that really stressed me out.

It led to some ridiculous substitutions — like when we were out of macaroni noodles, so I tried to substitute the noodles from about eight individually wrapped packages of Easy Mac. I didn’t realize that Easy Mac noodles are already cooked and then dehydrated so that they can be cooked in the microwave rather than needing to be fully boiled. Substituting them into a recipe in a slow cooker caused a burnt crispy mess.


When I went to college, I only had access to a tiny shared kitchen for a massive amount of people, like 60 people. I was also really burnt out on cooking, and had a meal plan through the university where I could eat food in the cafeteria. So, I didn’t cook at all for about a year. I ate either food from the cafeteria, from restaurants, or stuff that didn’t need to be cooked or prepared in any way.

I used the teeny kitchen a little bit moving forward after that, but only for very simple things, and only when I was craving them, not out of necessity. By the time I got married and moved into a tiny apartment with an actual kitchen, I was super duper ready to cook again, though! I was really excited to have kitchen access and get to cook things.

I quickly found that it was really hard for me to recalibrate my mental cooking knowledge to cooking for only 2 people, and not for 5 people! I constantly made too much food and, as neither of us particularly loved leftovers, a lot of food would go to waste.
I continued to struggle with planning meals a week in advance, and buying all the groceries at one time, but I felt like it was what I was supposed to do, so I did my best. I found myself making extra grocery runs all the time, though. It really didn’t bother me, and I felt a lot of relief that I was the only one being inconvenienced by extra grocery runs rather than having to rely on somebody else to get the groceries I had forgotten to make note of. If it had been just slightly easier for me to walk to a grocery store, I probably would’ve simply gone and gotten what we needed everyday.

Throughout college and grad school I managed to continue making dinner what felt like “a reasonable” amount of times per week — usually five. Once I started working full-time, my ability to do that crumbled apart. It also happened to coincide with when my children really became old enough to just eat regular food at the table with us rather than their own separate baby meal, but I was completely unable to work a full day, come home and be responsible for the kids, and cook dinner for everyone all the way that I felt like it was “supposed” to happen (according to nothing except a voice in my head). However, it also coincided with us moving internationally as well as moving from a suburban/urban setting into a rural setting. Now I didn’t know any familiar restaurants and we only have two or three local anyway, so not only did I not know how to manage everything and cook at the same time, but I didn’t even know how to get us food at all.


This is an area that is still a pretty big work in progress in our family and life. We have a lot of ways that we’re getting by: I make a lot more use of local stores’ frozen and pre-prepared foods than I used to; I sometimes feed the kids some meal before they go to bed and then I cook a different meal for my husband and I; we have a lot more days than I ever would’ve thought where we (the adults) just fend for ourselves and eat what we want to eat. So much on this issue overlaps with my sensitivities around eating in general, which I talked about previously.

(I’m sure somebody will go to the comments to suggest why doesn’t my partner just cook for the family. If that works for your family, that’s great! We’re figuring out the solutions that work for ours 😊)

Meal planning is still super difficult for me. I make different lists and categories and ideas to try to make it easier, and it just continues to be difficult! Stuff works for a little while, and then it wears off, and then something new works for a little while, and then it wears off too. For now, I’ve just accepted that that’s how it is for us. Ideas don’t have to work forever for them to have been helpful for a little while.

Letting go of needing my children to eat a “prepared” meal in order to feel successful was a big step in this process for me. My kids are equally happy (or unhappy) with cheese cubes, salami slices, and a cut-up apple as they would be with a meal that took me 30 or 45 minutes to prepare, so on nights when everything is slipping out of our hands or there’s too many things and too little time or I’m just exhausted, I know that it’s okay to do piecemeal meals that way.