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Picture this. You’ve just come home from a busy day at work. It’s 6:00PM and your stomach is just beginning to grumble. You look in your fridge: dill pickles, a stalk of broccoli, a half full carton of milk, and some frozen chicken breasts in the freezer. Ask yourself, will you order takeout tonight? Perhaps head to a local restaurant? Or will you head to the store to pick up something to cook for dinner? If you are anything like me, then in this moment you are thinking that cooking sounds like a total drag.

Well, you would not be wrong here. Figuring out what to cook and cooking it when we are ill prepared, tired, and overly hungry is not likely to lead to an enjoyable experience. But who’s to say our cooking experience needs to be like this? Today we will review a few simple tips to help you begin to find the joy in cooking again.

Plan for the week ahead:

Planning out what you will be eating for the week ahead of time will take the guesswork out of cooking, making it simpler and more enjoyable. Choose one day per week to sit down with your significant other, your kids, or your computer and plan out what meals you would like to have the following week. Inventory the items you already have in your kitchen, and make a list of the things you still need. Write down your weekly plan somewhere where you can easily refer to it later. These simple steps will take 15 minutes of your week, but can greatly improve your overall cooking experience.

Prepare what you can ahead of time:

Meal preparation is a great strategy to set yourself up for success for the week ahead. Additionally, preparing meals when you have more time, are less hungry, and have lower levels of stress will significantly improve your experience. This can be as simple as chopping up the vegetables you will need for the week to creating casseroles that you can quickly pop into the oven on a busy weeknight.

Try a new recipe, but remember that less is more:

Trying out something new in the kitchen can be fun, but expecting yourself to master a handful of new recipes at a time may become extremely daunting. Instead, commit to trying one new recipe at a time, and cook that recipe on multiple occasions. Be sure to try a new recipe when you know you have the time and patience to spend a little extra time in the kitchen. Once this recipe becomes second nature for you to cook, you know it is time to find a new recipe to try. This strategy will help you to build your recipe arsenal while keeping cooking fresh and fun.

Create an enjoyable atmosphere while cooking:

Take advantage of the time you spend cooking, and make the most of it by creating an environment you enjoy. This might mean inviting the kids in to help with food preparation, calling a close friend to chat while you prepare food, or putting on your favorite music or podcast to enjoy while you cook. Cooking is an opportunity to take time for yourself away from work and other commitments, so get out of the mindset that it needs to feel like yet another chore. Instead, allow cooking to be one of the best parts of your day!

Flash back to coming home from work at 6:00PM. You check your note on the fridge—tonight you’ll be trying out the new fajita recipe you found over the weekend! You grab the bell peppers and onions you sliced up on Sunday, the chicken that has been marinating, and turn on your favorite classic rock station. In 20 minutes, you have a home cooked meal that is delicious, simple, and dare I say it… a joy to cook!