When you consider supporting your own mental health, what comes to mind? If you are like a lot of people, you will think of things like breathing exercises to help you relax, positive thinking, or even professional therapy. Yet, there may be a recipe for a healthy mindset that involves an ingredient you never would've guessed: time in the kitchen.

Yes, culinary therapy is actually a thing. Some people report that this unique form of therapy can be used to counter everything from anxiety and depression to ADHD. Best of all, culinary therapy is productive, enjoyable, and possibly even delicious! Let's take a closer look.

What is culinary therapy exactly?

Believe it or not, there is actually a textbook definition for culinary therapy, which was developed by Michael M. Kocet, Ph.D. Culinary therapy is a specific therapeutic technique that makes use of things like cooking, gastronomy, culinary arts, and personal relationships with food to address psychological challenges or emotional stress. 

The whole idea is that methodological baking and cooking require mindfulness and problem-solving skills, which may lead to improvements in feelings of anxiety, difficulties staying grounded, and more. Dr. Kocet created the idea of therapeutic cooking while teaching a graduate counseling course. However, he also has an in-depth history in mental health counseling. 

Why Kitchen Therapy Works

When attempted properly, kitchen therapy requires several things from the person cooking, such as:

  • Attention to detail

  • Focus on food preparation

  • Following steps

  • Staying committed until something is finished

  • Making time-management decisions

Cooking also involves being in the moment, which is otherwise known as practicing mindfulness. Cooking steps oftentimes require tons of focus, so other stresses and thoughts are not the primary concern. Therefore, much like meditation, culinary therapy allows an individual to step away from usual thought processes to focus on something else. In the end, this may lead to feeling much less stressed or anxious, more joyful and content, or even more focused and ready to disarm an emotional issue. 

Culinary therapy may also offer less-obvious benefits as well. All people have some relationship with food, whether that relationship is good or bad. Families connect through food. Cultures are formed around food. And, even some civilizations are shaped and formed by the availability of certain foods. Therefore, it is also not impossible for people to learn a lot about themselves, their relationships, or even their biggest stressors simply by handling food in the kitchen.

How to Practice Kitchen Therapy at Home

Kitchen therapy is not as complicated as other forms of therapy. In order to try out therapy of the culinary type on your own, all you really need is a few simple pointers. 

Read the recipe thoroughly 

Take your time getting to know the recipe you are working with before you get started. Read the information, examine the ingredients, and read through each step in the process. Think about everything you will need to get from beginning to end. The primary goal here should be to focus on just the recipe and what you are about to do. 

Get prepared

When practicing culinary therapy, prior preparation before you get started cooking is important. Once you start cooking, the goal is to have everything you need at your fingertips. This particular concept in the culinary world is used by French chefs often, and is known as “mise en place". The translation for the phrase is simply, "everything in its place." Dr. Kocet says that mise en place creates the stage for a more therapeutic experience that is not filled with the stress of dashing around to grab what you need as you need it. 

The full Prepdeck is obviously a good choice for mise en place preparation; you can have your ingredients chopped, organized, and measured. However, even smaller tools can help. For example, you may need a scrap sack for vegetable peels or an apron to keep your clothes from getting dirty.

Cook mindfully 

As you get started cooking, focus on what you are doing. If you are chopping ingredients, notice how the knife feels as it slips through different ingredients. If you are melting butter, admire how the chilled block melts into translucent creaminess. Pay attention to how foods smell as you apply heat or add ingredients. 

As you cook and focus on each individual part of the process, you may notice that you find some parts easier to handle and others a little more challenging. When something comes as a challenge, consider how you could change the process and achieve a desirable recipe outcome.

Other tips for success

  • Start out with simple recipes that make you comfortable 

  • Pick a time when you won't feel rushed

  • Have fun with the process and feel free to get creative 

  • Stay positive, even if the end result is not what you intended—culinary therapy is not about "doing it right"

  • Practice eating mindfully when the dish is done—savor every bite and flavor 

  • Consider hand washing the dishes, which also requires slowing down and being mindful

Could Kitchen Therapy Be Just What You Need?

In the end, if you're feeling stressed out, anxious, or even depressed or dealing with lacking attention, make your way to the kitchen. A little cooking, a new recipe, and a Prepdeck may be all you need to walk away feeling emotionally better.