By Krystal Register, MS, RDN, LDN, Director, Health & Well-being, FMI and Kelli Windsor, Director, Digital Communications, FMI

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We both love family meals. For Kelli, family meals were a tradition growing up and she is committed to making family meals happen every day. Krystal also credits her commitment to family tradition and has both a personal and professional passion for family meals—her career has focused on sharing the benefits of family meals and gathering around the table for nourishment and conversation. Despite our joint passion for family meals, we’ve hit a fork in the road.

Kelli Is Veering Left Towards Cooking Fatigue

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our family made dinner a nearly nightly dining occasion—cooking something interesting, sitting down together and discussing the events of our day. When the pandemic drastically shifted our lives, we continued this tradition, only now it was more often—sometimes at breakfast, lunch and snack time, in addition to dinner. We’re part of the 49% of grocery shoppers that cook more than before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2021.

In the quest for inspiration, we quickly went through all our favorite meals and repeated them to the point of exhaustion, dived deep into our collection of cookbooks, found new motivation online and tried to get into the family meals groove. But as we near the two-year mark of the pandemic, both my husband and I have reached a cooking cul-de-sac and need help, desperately.

There is no one better equipped to fight cooking fatigue than Krystal, whose career has been spent helping shoppers like myself overcome family meals obstacles.

Krystal Steers Right Towards Slow, Steady Solutions

My best advice is to have a plan but remain flexible. Create a family friendly list of general meal ideas or themes that are part of your routine. Make your list together and keep it simple; even one-word triggers for a nightly theme can be helpful: grill, pasta, tacos, chili, seafood, chicken, vegetarian, etc. Keep things simple, easy, familiar and fun.

Rely on a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator, freezer and put seasonal items right on your countertop. Create your list right in the supermarket app or online with everything you need to stock up for success each week. You can even keep this as an on-going list.  When you run out of something or come up with a new idea, pop new items onto your list. Whether you shop online or in person, you’ll be ready to go with a detailed plan and organized list.

Lean on your favorite grocery stores for support and inspiration. Be sure to tap into the supermarket website and app features to optimize your shopping, cooking and family meal experience. We know from our recent Retailer Contributions to Health and Well-being report that food retailers are stepping up to provide recipe links, cooking tips, meal ideas and even short video clips from registered dietitians, chefs, produce merchants and seafood experts. When I decide at the last minute to thaw seafood (according to package directions), I pull up a quick video of my go-to retail chef  on pan-searing for reassurance.  

Gain confidence in your own kitchen as you assemble meals with skills, knowledge and items on hand. When the fatigue sets in and you hear someone ask, “What’s for dinner?” I say relax, light a candle and know that you are set up for success. Grab an idea from your list, inspiration from your grocery store, take a deep breath, crank the salad spinner (kids can help), roast some veggies, pan sear some chicken, grab a BBQ sauce from the pantry, rolls from the freezer and smile.

Getting Back on The Straight and Narrow

We all go through highs and lows with our cooking routines, but it’s nice to know food retailers have an abundance of resources to support shoppers, no matter if they’re facing cooking fatigue, looking for inspiration or just want an easy meal solution. Moreover, as we embark on September, also known as National Family Meals Month™, retailers will share even more support and inspiration to help shoppers recommit to staying strong with family meals.

Download U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends