More than eight months ago, our clients, and maybe dietitians alike, relished the extra time to get into the kitchen and prepare meals. Moms and dads were cooking with their kids, social media feeds were full of #quarantinekitchen food posts, and people were experimenting with new recipes and cooking from scratch. But as the months have dragged on, is the novelty wearing off?
A recent survey by OnePoll for Sun Basket, a subscription meal delivery service, found that 55% of respondents reported feeling fatigued by cooking more at home. While many still enjoy cooking and are trying to maintain healthful habits, others reported being tired of planning and preparing the same meals over and over.
How can we help our clients work through boredom and find simple ways to continue to eat healthfully?
Here are eight tips for RDs to help clients who may be struggling with “cooking fatigue”:
1. Offer help with meal planning. Meal planning is one of the biggest pain points and is particularly challenging for those who follow a restricted or special diet. There are a variety of meal planning websites RDs can use for little to no investment (and some sites may even pay the RD). Many of these sites have plans for specific dietary needs and include recipes and shopping lists. These sites can take meal-planning stress off both RDs and clients.
2. Recommend they prep and cook ahead. Cutting vegetables; making oatmeal, rice, or grains; and hard-boiling some eggs can make meal prep much faster. Even if your clients aren’t going into an office or to school, suggest they make their breakfasts and lunches ahead to make the day less stressful.
3. Propose convenience meals and shortcuts. A rotisserie chicken is an easy chicken dinner. Frozen vegetables can be turned into a quick stir-fry with leftover tofu, chicken, or beef. Many grocery stores have ready-made crab cakes, stuffed seafood, or seasoned meat and a variety of side dishes that can be heated at home for a quick dinner that everyone will enjoy.
4. Help them redefine what a “meal” is. A meal doesn’t need to take an hour to prepare. A cup of low-sodium canned tomato or vegetable soup and a sandwich; a snack board filled with meat, cheese, fruits, and vegetables; or a salad with leftover beef, chicken, or salmon can be an easy, balanced dinner that takes little time to pull together.
5. Make use of meal kits. Whether ordered from a meal delivery company or picked up at the local grocery store, meal kits offer convenience and variety. Most include all ingredients, have clear directions, and can be prepared in less than 30 minutes. Many cater to specific dietary needs, and several companies work with dietitians to offer clients discounts.
6. Suggest leftovers one night per week. Encourage clients to make and freeze extra meals or cook an extra chicken breast, flank steak, or pork tenderloin. Soups, stews, and casseroles freeze easily and reheat quickly. Leftover rotisserie chicken, cooked salmon, or flank steak make great ingredients for tacos, salads, or grain bowls the next day.
7. Consider cooking classes. There are several online cooking classes and videos that are wonderful sources of new ideas and skills-building opportunities. RDs can offer their own virtual classes or guide clients to one of the many free or low-cost options online. For example, Common Threads offers no-cost, specialized classes tailored to low-income families. Airbnb has a variety of classes for reasonable prices offered by chefs and RDs from around the world.
8. Encourage clients to connect with friends and family. Food brings people together, but social distancing has been one of the most difficult parts of this pandemic. While the warmer weather allowed for socially distant family gatherings, getting together over a meal will be more difficult as cooler weather arrives. We’ve seen virtual happy hours—why not share a virtual dinner? Suggest clients get family or friends together and have everyone make the same meal and sit down virtually to dinner together. Yes, it’s different, but everything is different this year. Virtual dinners are a way to enjoy being together and maintain those important family connections.
As the long haul of the colder months begins, we can help our clients, friends, family, and even ourselves by employing a little creativity and offering some encouragement to continue exploring and enjoying good food.
— Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN, is a food and nutrition communications professional, recipe developer, and brand ambassador for the StarKist Co. and owner of Laura M. Ali, LLC, a Nutrition Communications Company. She loves learning about food, exploring how food has shaped our culture, and teaching people how to enjoy the food they eat. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @LauraAli_RD and her blog at onthekitchenshelf.com.