Can cooking at home improve your mental health? There are actually a few names for it used in professional circles – therapeutic cooking, culinary therapy, and culinary mindfulness – all of which essentially mean the same thing: cooking at home can benefit your mental health.
“Cooking at home, or other places are good for your mental health because cooking is an act of patience, mindfulness, an outlet for creative expression, a means of communication, and helps to raise one’s self esteem as the cook can feel good about doing something positive for their family, themselves or loved ones,” Julie Ohana LMSW and founder of Culinary Art Therapy in West Bloomfield, Michigan, told LIVEKINDLY in an email.
1. Feelings of Accomplishment
When you cook for yourself or other people, you’re setting an achievable goal for yourself. This fits within a type of therapy known as “behavioral activation.” Used to treat depression and anxiety, behaviorial activation is a focus on increasing “the patient’s contact with sources of reward,” according to the Society of Clinical Psychology. It’s also used to curb procrastination with positive, goal-oriented behavior. In the context of cooking, homemade food is the positive outcome, the caveat being that you keep it within your culinary skillset – a lot of meal planners allow you to choose your difficulty level. And as Ohana mentioned, accomplishing something in the kitchen can raise your self-esteem.
2. Exercise Your Creativity
Getting creative in the kitchen can have positive effects on your mental health. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who spend a little time on something creative – writing, doodling, singing, cooking, etc – seem to lead happier lives. Cooking at home gives you the opportunity to experiment in the kitchen and discover how each ingredient plays a role in the dish. Even if you’re following a recipe, try swapping ingredients – for example, use sweet potato (or your choice of orange veg) instead of carrots in the first vegan mac and cheese recipe here.
Like the proverb says, “patience is a virtue.” This rings particularly true in the immediacy of the digital age, when we can interact with people halfway across the globe, watch entire seasons of shows in just a few sittings, and other forms of instant gratification. Dr. Judith Orloff, psychiatrist and New York Times bestselling author, wrote in Psychology Today: “Patience doesn’t mean passivity or resignation, but power. It’s an emotionally freeing practice of waiting, watching, and knowing when to act.”
Cooking at home requires patience across multiple steps. It means taking the time to mince garlic, onion, and ginger for optimal flavor or waiting for vegan cookies to cool before taking the first bite (although, who really waits for that?).
4. Connect With Others
Cooking for others can be an extremely rewarding experience that helps build your self-esteem. But asking others to take an active role in the kitchen can create a sense of community and also improve communication. If you’re cooking with family or friends, it can be fun to coordinate who’s taking on which task and when.
5. Improve Your Relationship With Food
Learning to cook at home can have a positive impact on your relationship with food. According to Dr. Susan Moore, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, children whose parents invite them to cook with them think positively about healthy food. Many, including myself, were raised in households where they were never taught culinary skills. Taking the reins and teaching yourself how to cook can not only lead to improved confidence, but also eliminate that feeling of dread when dinner rolls around and you’re not sure what you want to do – planning your meals in advance also helps.
6. Get Organized
Once you gain a general sense of what flavors work together and why, cooking at home for the majority of the week can help improve your organization and mindfulness. At the end of the week, I like to take a look at my pantry and write down what I can make from the ingredients I already have. Then, I’ll plan my meals for the rest of the week. It doesn’t have to be a perfect system, but knowing what you want ahead of time can help you better manage your grocery budget, eat healthier, and stay organized.
7. Get Healthier
If you have health goals, try cooking at home from a few knights a week. People who cook at home tend to eat healthier than those who go out to eat weekly, according to a study from the journal Public Health Nutrition. Of more than 9,000 participants aged 20 and older, the study found that those who cook at home consumed less calories on average and are also less likely to choose fast foods when eating out. Planning or prepping your meals in advance is also effective, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Ninety-five percent of your serotonin – the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep and appetite, mediates mood, and inhibits pain – is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, s eating healthier can also improve your mental health,