Dinner Won't Always Be Instagram-Worthy, Says Cookbook Author Leanne Brown—Here's Why That's Perfectly Fine
Sometimes you nail dinner, preparing a beautiful and delicious meal the entire family loves. Other times, you set off the smoke detector or realize there's no way to salvage your dish, so you scrape it into the compost and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. While spending oodles of time on a complicated Instagram-worthy recipe that turns out even better than you expected can be fun and rewarding, dinner won't always be perfect, and simply feeding yourself and your people every night is a serious accomplishment.
"If your standard is, I gotta always be topping the last thing I made or I have to be doing it up to a standard of someone on TV or a parent or grandmother, that can be really heavy, and it's not helpful," says best-selling cookbook author Leanne Brown. "I think a lot of people stay away from the kitchen because of that, or feel really bad in it, really worried about what other people think about the way they cook rather than focusing more on what they need and their own standards." And it really is so easy to feel the pressure to make that perfect dinner every single night: After all, the evening meal can be one of the few things we can control in an uncontrollable world. But it can also be anxiety-inducing, which is why Brown, the author of the forthcoming Good Enough: A Cookbook: Embracing the Joys of Imperfection, In and Out of the Kitchen ($19.95, barnesandnoble.com), suggests leaning into the imperfection.
Let's face it: There's really no such thing as the perfect dinner anyway. Between different taste preferences, how much time you have and how much time you want to spend, access to ingredients, and financial resources, ask ten different people what makes a good dinner and you'll get ten different answers. "No matter how good a cook, how many years you've done it, you're going to have times where it doesn't work out very well. And you have to figure out how you are going to relate to yourself in those moments," says Brown.
It's easy to have perfectionism sneak into the kitchen, but Brown thinks it's more important to be playful when cooking and to remember there's no such thing as failure. "Be playful about it; maybe you're going to have a beautiful result, maybe you aren't, but you will have fun or have at least felt peace," counsels Brown. Here are a few of her top tips to make preparing dinner easier.
Decide in Advance
Boring, maybe, but Brown swears it works, especially on those busy days. Know what your plan is, stick to it, and allow your brain to rest.
Stick to Your Favorites
Pick a few of your favorite meals to prepare each week. When you know the weekly menu consists of dishes you and the other people in your household enjoy, a good chunk of the pressure is already off.
Experiment in Moderation
After you have your favorites, do small experiments. If, for instance, you always make meatballs on Fridays, Brown suggests adding some herbs one week or integrating some zucchini another.
When you're feeling overwhelmed by dinner, treat going into the kitchen almost as walking into a yoga class. Take big deep breaths, ground yourself, focus on your body in the moment. Don't look at your phone or make a mental to-list focus on making the meal; all you have to do at this moment is make the meal.
Make Dinner a Team Event
It can be painful if one individual in the household is the only one deciding on and cooking dinner. That person is constantly having to perform and be evaluated. Make dinner is everybody's job, Brown says. Your kid can decide what the meal is (within reason), someone else picks up the ingredients, and then someone else can prepare it. Then, if someone doesn't like it, it's not on one person because everyone made it. "I think that experience, that teamwork of doing things together can also really create, intimacy, and trust in lovely ways that can spill outside of making dinner together and helping other parts of life," says Brown.