Cooking for Mental Health? Why the Kitchen Can Help Cure Depression


July 21, 2022

cooking for mental health

How does cooking benefit your mental health? A friend of ours poured her heart out to her new therapist.  Depression and anxiety were leaving her unable to balance all the demands in her life, and she needed help.  The family was stretched to its limits, and as a single parent, she’d learned to rely on frozen prepared foods and takeout for all her nutrition.

The therapist gave her a long, steady look.  “All right then, your homework for this week is to go do some grocery shopping, buy a nice prime steak, cook it at home and enjoy it with your family.”

My friend thought it was a weird thing for a therapist to say, but she was a good patient. So she did what he asked.  She had reached out to me for some tips and I was more than happy to jump on a quick zoom call and gave her the how-to from my home kitchen.

And it proved to be her first step to a better life.

Why Did the Therapist Recommend Cooking for Mental Health?

Cooking can help someone break out of the depressive cycle because it’s not just a simple chore.  It engages you physically, mentally, and socially in something larger than yourself.

Look at all the steps involved in cooking anything, even something as simple as a single steak:

You have to think about the future, if only for a moment

  • “I will cook a steak.” Suddenly you have a clear goal, and it’s a goal that you can actually meet. It’s a short term goal with an easy win. You got this!

You have to go out to the store

  • Well, fine, you could order delivery.  But if you’re honest with yourself, that’s a cop out. If you go out to the store, you’re breaking out of yourself.  You interact with people as you buy your ingredients, you think about side dishes you’d like, you smile at the person who helps you check out, and they tell you to have a nice day.

You have to pay attention to your body

  • Cooking uses your senses. You have to see how the steak is cooking, listen to the sizzle, smell the aroma, feel the texture of the meat, and finally taste the result.  If you’ve been living in your head too much, cooking can help you rejoin the world. If you think about it, it’s a great exercise for mindfulness.

You have one small thing you can control

  • Depression and anxiety can make you feel like you don’t have any agency. Things just happen to you, you have no control.  Cooking a steak gives you agency over one very small thing.

You feel a sense of accomplishment

  • Life is a series of never-completed tasks, but with cooking, you complete something.  You make a meal, and then you eat the meal.  You’re suddenly moving forward instead of spinning your wheels.

You can open up your world in different ways

  • Once you’ve cooked one meal, you can take the next step.  Do you want to try an unfamiliar recipe? Do you want to invite a friend over to cook with you? Do you want to shop at an ethnic grocer and see what inspires you?

That Sounds Great, But Does Cooking for Mental Health Really Work?

According to research, yes.  A 2017 study from the National Institutes of Health found that cooking intervention can improve the ability to socialize and can increase self-esteem. In 2021, a Japanese study found that cooking with a caring adult improved behavior, sociability, and resilience in children.  And finally, a new study out of Australia found that a 7-week cooking class improved confidence and mental health in at-risk adults.

Takeout meals and convenience foods can be a life-saver when life gets busy, but cooking is essential to who we are as human beings. The act of preparing our meals roots us in our physical environment improves our confidence, and can even break us out of the bad thought cycles that trap us in our depression and anxiety.

Do you or someone you love need a small change to break thought patterns and feel a sense of accomplishment?  Try a cooking class and experience the big changes that can come from a small action.

Cooking for mental health. How the kitchen can help with depression and anxiety

Are we connected yet?

Say hi on social. 👋

You’ll find more kitchen tips and inspiration. On IG: @chef.rafael.gonzalez and on Facebook, Chef Rafael Gonzalez.

Want to try the steak recipe that I shared with my friend? It’s a favorite and a restaurant classic you can make at home.

Grab it right HERE along with a few other restaurant recipes that we love to make in our own kitchen.

8 Restaurant Recipes

Send a DM if you try one of the recipes and feel free to tag me! I’d love to see how you enjoy it!

Try other easy restaurant favorites to make at home

I share a lot of recipes, mostly of restaurant classics that our family enjoys to eat at home. Give it a shot! You can make this too!

Beer and Vodka Battered Crispy Cod Fish Tacos with Chili-Lime Crema and Red Cabbage Slaw

Arugula Flatbread with Goat Cheese, Prosciutto and Mushrooms

Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad

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