Cooking Is One of The Most Rewarding Things You Can Do Right Now

It improves mood, atmosphere, finances, health, stress, skills, and more.

mother and son cooking

Getty Images/Holly Wilmeth

Over the past ten months of pandemic life, cooking has become a refuge for me. It allows me to unplug from my computer, use my hands to create delicious things, and hang out with my children in a fun and active way. The most obvious benefit is the food that emerges from the kitchen – hearty, satisfying meals and baked goods that fill my kids' bottomless bellies and give us reason to gather as a family around the table – but there's more to it than that.

New York Times food editor Sam Sifton wrote something recently that caught my attention. In reference to kimchi fried rice, he said it "improves moods, atmospheres and weeks alike." It's a bold claim, but he's spot on. Cooking, in fact, improves even more than moods, atmospheres, and weeks. I'd argue it improves physical health, finances, stress levels, and skills. Really, it's one of the most rewarding things you can spend time doing these days. 

Let's take a closer look at those suggestions I've made. When you cook your own food, you control exactly what goes into your body, and not just the quantity of finished product – all the ingredients, too. It's the best possible way to "dial in" or clean up your diet; and if improving health is your main reason for cooking, you're not alone. A recent survey by cookware company Abbio found that twice as many Americans are cooking at home than a year ago, and that nearly a quarter are doing so in an effort to eat healthier. (It's the top-cited reason.) 

From a financial perspective, cooking from scratch cannot be beat. It's considerably cheaper than ordering from restaurants, buying prepared food from supermarkets, or subscribing to meal kits. In 2018 Forbes found that ordering takeout is five times more expensive and meal kits are three times more expensive than cooking from scratch. The difference is more pronounced if you're cooking for a family. Making your own food means you can prioritize ingredients that are on sale, about to expire, or plant-based, and you can prepare larger quantities.

How does cooking improve stress, you might be wondering? The act itself can be calming to some people (it is for me), but if you're organized enough to batch-cook meals in advance, you eliminate the eternal weeknight dilemma of "what's for dinner?" Furthermore, as you get better at cooking, it becomes easier to whip things up at short notice, sparing the need to order food.

homemade cookies
A selection of cookies I made recently. Cookies improve everything.

K Martinko

In terms of improving skills, you can't help but improve if you do it over and over again. With so many other outlets for hobbies shut down right now, why not view your kitchen as a mini universe to be explored? You've got the tools, not to mention the human requirement to eat. I can't think of another hobby that your body physically requires you to practice several times daily in order to survive. (If only guitar-playing were necessary for survival, then my playing would rapidly improve!) With kids at home these days, they can learn to cook, too, and those skills will stick with them for life.

There's great pleasure to be had in cooking for oneself. The Abbio survey of 1,000 adult Americans found that 55% say they enjoy cooking as much or more than pre-COVID, with 45% admitting they have more confidence in the kitchen now. And Sifton's mention of "atmospheres" deserves some elaboration, too. There are few things as lovely as smelling food cooking in a kitchen; it imparts a sense of security and comfort unlike any other, and goodness knows we need that these days.

Much of the winter still looms ahead. Why not view these months as a chance to get good at cooking? Sharpen your abilities, polish a few recipes, and discover the pleasure that can be carved out of a few small feet of counter space and a stove burner.