How Learning To Cook Made Me Happier + Healthier

Cooking doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming – it can be an amazing creative outlet and a great way to eat healthier, too (which nourishes the mind and soul as well)! Read to learn how I got started cooking and how it’s made me a happier and healthier version of myself!

It wasn’t until my last few years in college that I realized I knew pretty much nothing about cooking. I grew up in a wonderful and loving household, but neither my mom nor my dad (nor either of my stepparents) would ever really cook on a regular basis. We had a lot of takeout and store-bought foods and simpler meals like pasta with tomato sauce, so I never had anyone who taught me the ins and outs of cooking – how to make a meal out of random ingredients in the fridge, how to use healthier substitutes, or how many store-bought items you could make from scratch.


My first attempts at cooking

In college I started to see how amazing and creative cooking could be. I lived with three amazing women in my senior year who are still my best friends to this day, and two of them also happened to be incredible cooks. I watched with awe and envy as they effortlessly threw together amazing and healthy meals right there in our teeny tiny apartment kitchen and I thought, “I want to learn how to do that!” The truth was, I didn’t even know you could make so many things from scratch – I had never even thought about it.

So my last year of college was when I began to discover my deep love of cooking. I watched my two friends closely, had them teach me techniques or recipes when they could, and started practicing in my spare time. I remember one of my first meals I learned to cook was chicken with balsamic sauce and vegetables – and it was horrible and the vegetables were burnt but I had made up the recipe myself, and I was so proud.


Cooking as a creative outlet

My cooking slowly but surely got better and better, and I was getting more creative with the recipes I was trying. I began looking for recipes online in my spare time and trying them out on weeknights for Steve (he has always been my #1 fan and recipe tester, so I want to give him a huge thank you for that). I was so excited to discover how much I loved cooking, and how I could easily recreate store-bought sauces, dressings, and dishes with healthier ingredients.

The following year was my first year teaching and the peak of my anxiety, so along with listening to music, hanging out with friends, and watching my favorite TV shows, I also stopped cooking. I didn’t feel like I had time and I was too emotionally overwhelmed. I survived that year on a lot of Trader Joe’s frozen meals and hoped one day I would feel well enough to cook again. Losing my drive to cook was one of the saddest parts of that year for me, because it had truly become a passion that I wanted to nurture.


Developing healthier habits

Once I quit teaching the following year, I was so excited to have time to cook again, and luckily I have been regularly cooking since. It has been so much fun to see myself gaining new culinary skills and continually getting better (with occasional hiccups, of course) and subsequently feeling more free and creative with my cooking than ever before. I now set aside time each week to cook because I know it’s a form of self care for me, and while I wish I could cook even more than I do now, I appreciate the fact that I do get to do it at least weekly.

In the past year I’ve moved towards cooking with less dairy and fewer simple carbs (only complex carbs and whole grains around here now!) and have been feeling better than ever physically. Coming up on the blog I’ll share some of my favorite lighter weeknight recipes and healthier ingredient substitutions as well as my journey with completely changing my eating habits this past year!

P.S. This is one of my favorite cookbooks for easy and health weeknight recipes!

Xoxo, Melina