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Dealing With Scratch Cooking Burnout

I stand behind real food not only because it is the best nourishment for our families, but also for the knowledge that it is grown as food ought to be. But I’m also well aware that from-scratch cooking takes time.

Throw a few food sensitivities, a budget, and some very hungry little ones in the mix and it’s a quick trip to the burnt-out cook line.

How many of you have been there? You’ve all got other things going on besides just three squares a day, and the fall out of those from-scratch meals, also known as my arch nemesis the dirty dish pile, could be a full-time job in and of itself.

Sometimes it can feel as though I am drowning, unable to get the dishes from today’s meals done, let alone the ones that have been back-logged from the last few days. So what’s a mama to do?

There are a few things that I find helpful when burnout strikes:

Meal plan. I know this seems like the last thing you want to do when you’re burned out, but if you’ve got to stick to a budget then you’re going to have to plan at-home meals. The planning can even become inspiration to kick into high-gear and get you out of that rut. Use Plan to Eat which keeps things simple and organized so you can worry about one less thing.

Plan easy, basic meals. If you’re not struggling with food allergies buy a loaf of good bread and make sandwiches. Splurge on a box of decent cereal to give you one less meal to cook for at least a day while you catch up. A pot of soup using whatever you have on hand can be a stand-alone meal. Eggs are quick and easy with endless variations and there’s always a quick one-pot meal. Make it about simply filling bellies with simple food rather than creating fun and excitement with a new meal.

Put catching up on dishes at the top of one day’s to-do list. I always end up with a few dishes left on the counter when the baby wakes up, or someone needs help with a schoolbook. So I almost always need at least one day of week of dish washing catch-up where I spend most of the day, off and on, working on washing a boatload of dishes.

Remember why you’re doing this. I really don’t cook three meals a day from scratch for the enjoyment of it. After three children, a homestead, and plenty of work to do I’ve hung up my foodie hat and traded it in for the pure nourishment hat. Where I once loved to experiment in the kitchen with all sorts of fun and new foods, I’ve come to realize that I can no longer look at food preparation as a hobby, but as an extension of the nurturing part of my role as mama and wife. But, I still get enjoyment out of the productive aspect of it and the happy “thank you!” I get from those around the table is more than enough of a bonus for me.

How about you… how do you deal with kitchen burnout?

Show Comments


  • Oh I can so relate. And once you get behind on the meal planning it just rushes and every meal is a chore to plan. We recuperate by doing a lot of breakfast for dinner. My husband can cook a great breakfast so that also gives me the night off. Also lentils are great since they cook up quickly and there might even be time to soak them for a few hours first. I have been relying on simple and cheap baked potatoes slathered in butter and cheddar for lunches lately. Another thing is that we have started involving the over-6 children in meal making. My oldest 3 can make a simple meal like pancakes or meat loaf all by themselves.

    Sarah November 8, 2012 AT 3:08 pm
  • I find that if I pay myself what it would cost to go out for fast food, it motivates me to cook dinner. I have to remind myself I can cook faster than I can drive out, pick it up, check for extra ketchup and throw away the trash. Also we are still hungry after a fast food dinner.

    Sandra November 8, 2012 AT 4:02 pm
  • You do what I’m doing tonight – grab a cheap soup recipe made with whole ingredients, and break your own rules to pick up a (good for you) loaf of bread at the grocery store. :) I’m making something out of my new (to me) cookbook, “Twelve months of Monastery Soups” by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette. I just got it today and had to try it out. Today’s is a cream of split pea soup, which takes 45 minutes or so to make, and most of it is “put it on to simmer and walk away”. During the last 10 minutes or so I’ll be doing a lot of stirring, and during that time I’ll heat up the fresh loaf of bread that I picked up, with a bit of EVOO and sea salt on it, in the oven. Voila, healthy dinner everyone will eat. :)

    RevAllyson November 8, 2012 AT 4:52 pm
  • I like the point about changing how you think about the purpose of your cooking.

    nopinkhere November 8, 2012 AT 8:18 pm
  • I totally agree: changing how you think about the purpose of your cooking is crucial. I love cooking and am thinking about food constantly – what I can do with what’s in season, what’s something new to challenge myself with, yes. I think about those things. But I am also thinking about taking care of ME – where am I today on the Tired Scale, where’s my creativity today, etc. Some days I do want to wow my family, but some days maybe it’s just about wowing (is that a word?) them with a side dish as opposed to a whole meal. I’ve learned, too, to never underestimate the power of the soup, the one-pot meal, and the crock pot.

    And regarding dishes… I’m the weird one, I guess, and always clean as I go. We don’t have a dishwasher and have a smallish kitchen, so letting the dishes go wouldn’t even fly. I hate feeling overwhelmed! : )

    Thank you for another kick-ass and timely post! Big love from Maine!

    Lisa Marie Lindenschmidt November 9, 2012 AT 3:24 am
  • I can totally relate, the dirty dishes pile is my nemesis (or maybe more correctly my boyfriend’s nemesis). Real food is so tasty and good for us, but I do tend to be over-ambitious and plan to cook full meals every night of the week, then come home from work and fall in a heap.

    My go-to meal is baked potatoes, which I microwave and then finish off in the oven. I top them with yogurt, cheese, beans, salad, and any leftovers in the fridge.

    Economies of Kale November 9, 2012 AT 6:16 am
  • Hello! This may not be an appropriate place for this post, but I have severe chronic fatigue syndrome and have a hard time reading so not sure where to put this. I am doing the best I can at starting GAPS diet, it’s only been about a week or so, and I am WAY worse physically and emotionally. Is this normal when you start this diet being so sick to begin with? Maybe I need to find a practitioner to guide me. Thank you

    Paula Brandl November 10, 2012 AT 5:32 pm
    • Paula, I’m so sorry for your health troubles. GAPS will make you feel worse before you feel better. How long it takes to start feeling better is quite individualized. Most people say they turn the corner around 3 weeks. I didn’t start feeling better until around 5 weeks. Are you on Intro or did you go straight into full GAPS? You will definitely need support, whether that is from a GAPS practitioner, a naturopath, or just a sympathetic friend or loved one–get some folks on your team. Someone knowledgeable in GAPS can help you sort through symptoms and reactions more objectively than you’re able to and can be a huge help.

      I’ve done a series of posts here on the Plan to Eat blog about my time on GAPS Intro that you may find helpful (I spent 6 months on Intro). Here is a link to my post about week 1: You are welcome to leave comments on any of those GAPS posts and I’ll find them and do my best to answer any questions you might have. All the best to you in your healing. Erin

      Erin November 13, 2012 AT 8:18 pm
    • Hi Paula! First off good for you for starting GAPS, its the right place to start. I started intro in March and it took a full 3 months for me to get through intro…I was in pretty bad shape. After the first week I became so dehydrated and miserable but recognized I was in trouble and got some rehydration packets from the pharmacy and was almost immediately 90% better. I’d say the first 2 weeks were rough, but then it started to get better. After 3 months on intro I was feeling better, but it took me another 3 months to be even better. I remain on GAPS now, it has made a huge difference for me, quality of life. Will you be cured immediately, doubtful, will you feel worse before you feel better, yes. Just remember this is a long term commitment and it will make a huge difference over time. Hang in there and look for support and sometimes just a place to vent….If you can find a GAPS practitioner, go for it, its hard to do it alone! Feel better!

      kelly December 1, 2012 AT 11:05 am
  • Eggs are always my cooking burnout solution! And your counter looks like my mom’s! I love it.

    Loretta | A Finn In The Kitchen November 11, 2012 AT 2:38 pm
  • Can I just say THANK YOU for posting this? Since having to go gluten-free about two years ago, I am so. tired. of dealing with eating. Because *I* am the one with the special diet, it’s a vicious cycle of being hard to plan/cook, so I don’t get enough of the right foods to eat, so I’m wiped out, so it’s hard to plan/cook…and on it goes. And there are no happy “thank you’s” around my table at the end of the day – generally just complaints. Pair that with the fact that we *can* get takeout *very* quickly, and the motivation to cook quickly slips away.

    It is more helpful than you can imagine, just to hear that I am not the only one!

    Rachel Ramey November 13, 2012 AT 3:51 pm
  • thank you! I’m currently there myself, barely want to eat because I’m burned out on the all the prep and constant clean up. I have a tiny freezer and no space for doing bulk so I’m going to bite the bullet and order a ‘freezer’ and start batch cooking, portioning etc. and back to broth batches for the freezer too. i know what needs to be done but until I have a way to save the food, there been no point. I’ve been wanting to do canning but live overseas and fido/mason jars are hard to come by and expensive, I’ve been slowly collecting them (freezer seems to be the best idea)
    Currently my fridge is full of soaked/dehydrated nuts, ghee, eggs thats my daily intake for now, just easier to do eggs and gaps pancakes!
    thanks for the reminder, I’ve not seen a post addressing this topic so THANK YOU!!

    kelly December 1, 2012 AT 10:59 am
  • I can get too ambitious when meal planning, so this school year, I have made a real effort to plan really easy meals, often in one pot. Pasta tosses, stir fry, stews, soups and chili. While I’m the one who tends to get bored and would rather have complex flavors or different combinations, I’m a more sane mommy with the simple fare. Something else I’ve learned to do is batch cook the more complex meals (like homemade chicken nuggets) and freeze the extras so all that work pays off for more than one meal.

    Jessica December 1, 2012 AT 7:43 pm
  • I can soooo relate! We have been cooking healthy from scratch meals now for 9 years. I mean, just about every.single.thing. O_o I have 9 children and so that’s a lot of preparation. And, yes, I’m a foodie. I’m the one who gets bored. I’m the one who likes it gourmet. Well, life just hasn’t been about me lately (I know. Big shock lol). I plan my meals all at once for the entire month and make out the monthly and weekly shopping lists right then and there. Also, I double about half of my recipes and freeze them to reheat later in the month only adding some fresh bread or salad to complete that meal. If I have a bad day or just don’t feel like having what’s planned (as often happens) I just get out one of my frozen meals (almost like going out. The meal is already prepared and I get to peruse the list of yummies.) Since the cooler months are upon us we have been having quite a bit of stews and soups which are oh so satisfying on a chilly day. This makes it even simpler and inexpensive. I hope that helps out some of your readers!


    Julie December 2, 2012 AT 9:30 am
  • Ya know, there is nothing wrong with asking and even EXPECTING daddy to wash up a few dishes sometimes! I know the fellows can get busy with their own work, but they can spare five minutes from time to time.

    amy December 13, 2012 AT 10:35 am
    • Amy – I didn’t mention this in the post, but when my husband sees that I am struggling he often times just does some dishes or cleans something up without me even asking. Love that!

      Shannon @ Nourishing Days December 13, 2012 AT 10:47 am
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