The Mental Health Benefits of Cooking for Others

by Krista Garcia

Feb. 11, 2020

by Krista Garcia

Everyone enjoys a home-cooked meal, but after scrolling past photos of beautifully plated meals on Instagram or Pinterest, the prospect of recreating a picture-perfect dinner can seem more impossible than inspirational. Even if you care about where your food comes from, cooking daily can be a challenge for the time-starved (i.e. all of us).

Yet cooking for others has been proven to provide mental health benefits beyond just bonding with loved ones. The act of preparing meals might seem selfless, but it’s also a way to build confidence, self-esteem, and forge connections. Feeling connected to others is a cornerstone of being human. This connection is no small thing—it can also lead to increased happiness, better health, and longer lives. There’s a good reason why the concept of a #DeviceFreeDinner has been embraced by families looking to connect with each other instead of zoning out at mealtimes.

Cooking for others also feels good because it shows gratitude. And gratitude can go a long way in reshaping your perspective.

Perhaps being more mindful is one of your goals for 2020. Mindfulness is simple on the surface; it’s being aware of the present moment, without judgment. Mindfulness has become an increasingly popular practice because it can potentially reduce stress, increase empathy, and even boost immunity. And when you make an organic dinner for family mindfully, you can get a healthy meal out of your mindful time as well.

Who wouldn’t want those benefits?

Sure, getting healthy meals on the table might be stressful, but that’s where reframing can save the day. Cooking can be stressful. It can also be a contemplative act that’s a form of self-care. Boring-but-necessary routines like washing dishes, folding laundry, or making your bed have been shown to work as meditative moments. Cooking is no different.

A girl wearing a red shirt smiles at the camera while standing in front of a pile of freshly made waffles in her family’s kitchen

Melody and RoseMary Stoller cook breakfast for their large family on Stoller’s Organic Dairy, one of Organic Valley’s family farms in Ohio.

Not just the once-a-year organic spiral-cut ham roasted for extended family or the grass-fed New York strip steak seared for a romantic Valentine’s dinner, but also the rushed bowls of cereal while getting the kids (and yourself) ready in the morning. In these instances, the thought really does count.

Mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand. Rather than scramble eggs as fast as you can, think about where those eggs came from as you crack them into a bowl and begin to beat them. Imagine the happy hens that laid them. Are they outdoors roaming free in the grass? Are they scratching in the earth and taking dust baths like nature intended?

You might also notice the yolks are darker yellow, which has to do with the quality of feed the chickens get. If they’re organic, you can be assured they are free from pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic hormones and GMOs. Mentally thank a farmer for keeping these things out of our food and out of our bodies.

The same goes for the butter melting in a sauté pan. You might notice that the sticks of butter are a lighter color in the winter when they're eating more stored, dried forages while the pastures are covered in snow, and a darker golden color in the summer when the cows are grazing fresh, green pastures outside all day long. What cows eat translates to changes in their milk!

Related: Organic Valley Butter has a not-so-secret ingredient!

Scrambling eggs or packing lunches might feel like drudgery. But a small reminder that good food matters to your own or your family’s health can allow those same scrambled eggs and sandwiches to set a positive tone for the day. Making a delicious meal for yourself and others provides a nutritious foundation. It’s also important to remember showing love can make you feel loved too.

It’s not likely you’re going to change your attitude overnight. Old habits die hard, but it is possible to shift your mindset. Recognizing that cooking can be a form of love is an important first step, and even if your meals aren’t social media-worthy, you can be proud about choosing organic to emphasize how much you care about friends and family.