Cooking isn’t just a means to an end when you’re feeling hungry—it can actually be considered a kind of therapy. Professionals refer to the act of cooking at home to boost your mental health as ‘therapeutic cooking,’ ‘culinary therapy,’ or ‘culinary mindfulness.’
According to Culinary Art Therapy founder Julie Ohana LMSW, “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.”
While it shouldn’t be considered a complete replacement for therapy, cooking at home offers science-backed mental health benefits that will help you feel happier.
Feelings of accomplishment
Cooking for yourself or others means setting an achievable goal for yourself and following it through. This is a practice that behavioral activation therapists use to treat depression and anxiety. According to the Society of Clinical Psychology, the focus of setting and completing achievable goals is on increasing “the patient’s contact with sources of reward.”
Exercise your creativity
A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology demonstrated that people who occupy themselves with creative pursuits (such as writing, singing, and cooking) seem to have happier lives overall.
Cooking at home allows people to experiment in the comfort of their own kitchens, even when following a recipe, because they have the freedom to swap out ingredients and see what happens.
Many modern cultures emphasize instant gratification, which makes opportunities to practice the art of patience increasingly rare.
However, cooking at home puts you in a setting where you must be patient enough to go through the steps of mincing garlic, chopping an onion, waiting for the oven to preheat, etc.
Connect with others
When you cook for others, it can be a boost to your self-esteem, however, sometimes you need an extra hand or two during the process, which helps create a sense of community. Coming together to decide who will cut the veggies and who’s in charge of rolling out the fresh pasta can be a fun experience that helps everyone involved improve their communicative skills and practice delegating tasks.
Improve your relationship with food
A spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association Dr. Susan Moore says that children whose parents allowed them to take part in cooking meals were more likely to think positively about healthy food.
For those who were not taught culinary skills, teaching yourself how to cook also has its own rewards, such as improving confidence and eliminating the feeling of uncertainty once mealtimes come around.
Based on findings from a study published in Public Health Nutrition, those who cook home meals tend to be healthier than those who eat out often, so if you have health goals, then try to cook at home at least a few nights a week.
The planning and preparation necessary to cook at home will help improve your overall organization and mindfulness. If you’re cooking on the fly, then you have to be mindful of what’s in the pantry and then practice resourcefulness by creating something out of what you already have. On the other hand, having an idea of what you want to cook later will help you budget for your groceries and eat healthier.