Cooking Is Good for Mental Health?

Heather says:

There is a post circulating on Facebook, at least in my circles, that notes a trend among therapists promoting cooking and baking as a part of treatment for depression and anxiety. Please not that I said a part, baking three dozen cookies isn’t going to turn you into Little Suzy Sunshine for more than a few minutes. . .

I’ve been saying this for almost 8 years, but here we go again:

Life skills are important.

Feeling confident in the ability to take care of one’s self is critical to self-worth.

Mastering a skill that has the potential to make your daily life significantly easier and more enjoyable is going to have a positive impact on your emotional state. Yes, there are people out there who hate to cook; I get that. I have an acquaintance who once mentioned to me that he’d be happy when they invented the meal-replacement pill. I have no file for that, but I’m pretty sure cooking therapy wouldn’t be effective for him. (That said, he’s one of the most obnoxiously cheerful people I know).

It’s funny, for me, I knew I was finally back when I started wanting and enjoying to cook again. I don’t necessarily look forward to cooking every meal, but I do get a little excited when I can add a new item to the menu or have an idea to test a new recipe.

For those of you feel you can’t cook, but aren’t completely against the idea, what is your stumbling block?

What would enable you to walk into the kitchen with confidence?




  1. MIchel on December 22, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    I love baking, and I learned to love cooking. I was really, really poor when my kids were growing up (single mom, dead beat dad) so I had to learn all sorts of things, cause we ate a lot of vegetables, and could barely afford meat. I learned to render fat (free from the butcher) and make soups to enhance the little bits of meat, and I learned to bake bread. My friends would come over and sit at the kitchen table to watch me knead and bake, and can the fruits the kids and I picked up all over the neighbourhood (people walk over fruit in their yards to get to the grocery and buy the same stuff!) I did it because I had to, but I found it gave me a feeling of power, and success. My friends said they felt a sense of comfort sitting in the kitchen watching me…it was like being at mom’s or gramma’s house. When I feel lousy I can’t get into the ‘hausfrau’ mode, but when I am happy the pots and pans are flying.

  2. casey on December 19, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Cooking, especially baking has always been a stress reliever for me. I’ve had a tough year, was laid off in May, finally found a job in early August that required packing the house, putting in on the market and relocating from TX to MD. (Although I almost had a job at the new Boeing plant in Moncks Corner). I’ve moved back in with my folks, it’s taking a lot longer to sell the house than I thought, I love my new job but it’s less money and a lot more hours, plus I don’t have much of a support system here. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety off and on for years and found that cooking does help. The trick is to either make something that is healthy, or if it’s cookies have a plan on who they are being donated too so I don’t eat the whole batch and start feeling guilty again.

  3. jsallison on December 18, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Wife was born on 26 Dec. Offered a choice of an upscale meal at the 50th floor restaurant in OKC’s Devon Tower, aka, The Drill Bit, or I cook Beouf Bourguignon for her 60th. She hasn’t answered so I’m dusting off the crock-pot and cast iron pan. She’s been dealing with depression since beating st3 endometrial cancer in ’04 with concurrent chemo and radiation.

    Hey, I turned the insta-dude’s lamb and Guinness stew into a tasty beef and Shiner Bock. She still thinks my version of Haute Cuisine is something akin to chili-cheese dogs. Hey, they can be tasty!

    • Heather Solos on December 19, 2014 at 5:54 am

      Ten years? That combined with a milestone birthday, that is definitely an occasion. Even if it is a difficult one for you and your wife to acknowledge.

      Depression is . . . so very difficult, to experience, to see your loved one experience, to live in the same house with.

      Enjoy the meal and the moment, it’s a special one indeed.

  4. Karen L on December 14, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    And to the title question, well, it’s extra hard to do the work of healing if you’re not fuelling your body well. It doesn’t have to be laborious. Bagged salads, crudite …

  5. Karen L on December 14, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Pork and gravy is easy. My mom did a condensed soup from a can version that I had converted to a bechamel-based sauce. Then I discovered that I liked it even better with homemade stock instead of milk. I brown a tenderloin then chop it into slices or bite-sized pieces while the sauce thickens. Then let the pork come to temp in the simmering sauce. Serve over rice with a side of veg.

  6. Karen L on December 13, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Huh. I was not expecting that question. We actually don’t eat out much. I do cook most of the time. I just don’t enjoy it. I’m content with being in a rut with the same 5-10 meals that meet a satisfactory standard for taste, expense, time, and nutrition (chilli, quiche, pork in mushroom gravy, homemade mac’n’cheese’n’ cauliflower, beef stew, tacos, rice and beans, beef and broccoli). Making it routine at least removes the effort of thinking. Store-bought ready/frozen meals (lasagna, shepherd’s pie, rotisserie chicken) make the grade a couple times per week. To sum up, I have the skills, I just don’t dig it.

    Back to your question. Stuff when I eat out … I dunno, whatever the kids won’t argue about. Pizza, McD’s. On the very odd occasion that I eat out without the kids, I’ll have a red curry, gnocchi/pasta in creamy sauce, or falafel sandwich, depending on where I end up.

    • Heather Solos on December 14, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      How old are the kids?
      And for some reason the pork in mushroom gravy sounds really good right now 🙂
      I have a goal of setting the kids in charge of one meal a week as they turn 12. My eldest is learning the basics right now, I’m trying really hard to just let him screw up rather than jump in and rescue him when he doesn’t follow the directions in their proper order. It’s hard (at least for me, as I can be a bit of a control freak)

      • Karen L on December 14, 2014 at 8:24 pm

        Kids are 3, 5, and 7. I do get them to help, when I have the patience. One of my “coping” strategies (coz really, cooking isn’t exactly traumatic) is to make myself a pot of tea and turn on/sing some music while cooking. I don’t kid myself that I am enjoying the cooking, it’s the tea and music I’m enjoying. But still, the job gets done. Occasionally with cheer. Got the idea from one of your posts when you mentioned cleaning with podcasts on.

        • Heather Solos on December 17, 2014 at 10:01 am

          I see you are on the same two year plan I was on. (Mine are now 7, 9, 11) Things got significantly easier when the youngest turned 5.

          • casey on December 19, 2014 at 8:59 am

            Wow that makes me feel old, I ‘remember’ when Ellie was born. 🙂 But we are the same age so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that your kids are older too!

  7. Karen L on December 12, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    I rarely enjoy cooking. Just not that interesting to me. Some of the other obstacles for me are planning (having nutritious, read perishable, ingredients on hand for when the mood strikes) and resentment around gender roles.

    • Heather Solos on December 13, 2014 at 7:10 am

      Karen, when you do go out to eat, what is your favorite type of food?

  8. Lee on December 12, 2014 at 7:38 am

    I think that we have to remember that meal prep isn’t just cooking. It’s a whole set of kitchen skills. Like keeping up with the dishes so that when I decide to prepare a meal, I don’t have to wade through counters covered in clutter and sinks full of dirty dishes. If I could walk into a kitchen that was always ready-to-go, I’d cook all the time! But sometimes those messy counters and full sinks seem too overwhelming to even begin.

    • Heather Solos on December 12, 2014 at 7:58 am

      Lee, this is so true.
      I loathe the kitchen in this house. It has very little available workspace, the counters it does have are very low (I’m just shy of 6′). It’s early 80s yellow and brown. It’s temporary though. I will be redoing the kitchen as soon as I can, after the main bathroom has been fixed.
      Because I’ll soon (in the next few months) be yanking the cabinetry out, I have not permanently installed the new dishwasher. . . this means, if you don’t perform the magical balancing act during the loading process it tips forward. Whee!
      Staying on top of the mess has become so much more important since we moved into the fixer upper. When the house is nice, a bit of kid clutter and stuff out is tolerable, when you’re living in -I can’t think of it a pleasant descriptor- even a little bit of junk left out is just depressing.
      It’s a self-feeding demon at times. Hang in there.

  9. Alice on December 11, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I’m in your friend’s camp – the addition of DIY Soylent to my world has been amazing. (They’re meal replacement shakes that are made from food, not scary slim-fast things – not quite a pill, but close.) For me, it means that cooking/baking can be an addition to my life when I want it, not something I have to slog through every day.

    Since I’ve never been a “live to eat” kind of person, being able to make something with enough nutrients to make me feel good that’s guaranteed to not cause problems with my food allergies and Celiac disease is honestly life-changing. Even though it doesn’t hit the hedonistic pleasure side of things that a lot of people want from food, it’s definitely self-care for me.

    That said, I also completely agree with you and Sarah – having an appreciative audience (even if it’s just you!) makes a huge difference when I do cook. Being able to focus on making GF brownies and paneer tikka masala means I’m a lot more likely to be that audience. Trying to dredge up enthusiasm for everyday stuff was pretty tough, so I like stacking the deck this way.

    • Heather Solos on December 11, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      I know someone else who was trying that, trying to remember where. . . I see it and think in a stage whisper, “It’s people!” (I’ve heard they have a sense of humor about it)

      In situations where cooking adds more stress, it absolutely makes sense.

      Related: I’ve been tackling a lot of GF recipes around here lately, not for celiac, but a wheat allergy.

      The Pillsbury Gluten-Free All Purpose flour (no, not a sponsor) is hands down my favorite GF tool so far. I made banana pumpkin muffins on Thanksgiving and sent one to someone who is celiac… I got the best compliment (they don’t know my background) “I don’t think this was a GF recipe”

  10. Sarah on December 11, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I agree, just make sure you share the meal with people who will appreciate the effort. Dishing out your offering to people who would just as soon be eating hay is a sure way to put you back into bed with the curtains closed. Or, so I’ve found. Maybe this is why people bake so many desserts. Seems at least kids always like them, and gobble tthem up.

    • Sarah on December 11, 2014 at 10:42 am

      On second thought, I remember cooking a pot of soup for myself, and eating it all by myself. That was fine. Being good to myself…..

      • Heather Solos on December 11, 2014 at 10:47 am

        Self-care. It’s a good thing. 🙂

    • Heather Solos on December 11, 2014 at 10:49 am

      And yes, ungrateful attitudes can be very off-putting, whether it comes from a child or a significant other…

      I had to laugh, when my son made dinner last night, his little sister was pestering him while he tried to cook. I said, “Now do you understand?” and you could see the light go on.

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