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Check, please! Why I set an expiration date on my weeknight cooking experiment

Rana Roop | October 14, 2015

home-cooked meal

I decided to take on the challenge of cooking a meal every weeknight for a week. Here's what went down.

Editor's note: Could simply adding an enriching or challenging activity – or giving up a bad habit or dependency – really make an impact on your workday? The CareerBuilder writers decided to find out – we each picked one thing to add on or give up for one workweek to see how it affected our workplace productivity, mood and success. We'll be blogging about our experiences throughout the next several weeks (that is, if we make it through the challenge in one piece).

I'll admit I'm not as out of place in a kitchen as Paula Deen is in a ballroom, but my version of "cooking from scratch" is still limited to making mac & cheese out of the box — or scrambled eggs, if I'm feeling fancy. When I'm starving at dinner time, do I dream of being Rachael Ray or Jamie Oliver? Who wouldn't. But I leave for work around 7 a.m. and don't get home until after 7 p.m. on any given weekday, so if I had to choose between watching "Dancing With the Stars" or "Scandal" and prepping dinner from scratch…

But I decided to take on the challenge of cooking a meal every weeknight for a week. Here's what went down.

Weekend prep

I needed to do some prep work before my challenge week started, so the first thing I did over the weekend was to plan the menu before ordering groceries (thank god for Peapod!). Should've taken me 20 minutes tops, right? Not even close. My husband and I spent more time arguing over compromising on a menu than it probably took me to cook all five meals combined.

Well, this was off to a great start — kind of like a runner who spends so much time warming up that she's exhausted when it's time to actually run the marathon. (Not that I would know; the only marathons I run through are on Hulu or Netflix.)

His dietary restrictions: No dairy; no sugar; no seafood; no meat other than chicken; no fried food. My dietary restrictions: No vegetables; nothing boiled or steamed; nothing my dog would refuse to eat.

He wants chicken and dumplings; I want chicken curry. He wants marinated chicken breasts; I want oven-fried chicken. After we finally settled on five meals, he uttered the words that could've been a deal-breaker if we had we been dating: "What are you making for sides?"


Even worse, they have to be vegetable sides. Ugh, zucchini? It sucks being an adult.

Cooking for two

I was actually excited on Monday to start the experiment — kind of like the nervous excitement when you find out Ricky Gervais will be hosting the Golden Globes.

Fortunately, I had cut up and prepped the ingredients for my beef and vegetable soup on Sunday night, so all I had to do was mix everything together and wait for an hour. Monday was a breeze. I can totally do this every Monday, I thought. Then Tuesday rolled around.

We had to wait until 8 p.m. for the groceries to be delivered to our doorstep on Tuesday night. As I was unpacking it, I realized I forgot to order a cream of mushroom soup to make my chicken fettucine dish. This experiment had already started wearing on me, and I wanted so badly to reach for the phone to have a pizza delivered.

But then I remembered my co-worker Debra, who had to give up coffee for an entire week, and thought…forget it, I can do this. So I pulled a switcheroo and decided to cook one of the quicker and easier meals I had originally planned for later in the week.

Wednesday through Friday turned out to be fairly uneventful.

Some other random thoughts I had during the week:

  • Does it count if I make a PB&J sandwich tonight — from scratch?
  • This would be a cool experiment for my husband to try next week, except I should pick the menu.
  • How on earth do people make fancy salmon dishes on weeknights after work — like do these people even have cable or Hulu or Amazon Prime?
  • I should learn to make French fries.
  • Why didn't I accept the challenge to give up social media for a week instead?

Post-experiment: Let's get real

With all the healthy, home-cooked meals I had been eating, I felt it was only fair for my body to be re-introduced to its regular diet the following week — you know, just to even things out: fries, chicken tenders, Chipotle, fries, corn, bacon, country-fried chicken, Zantac, Coke, fries, fried chicken sandwich.

I felt pretty good coming in the following Monday and had the best of intentions of carrying through with my plan to continue to cook at least once or twice on weeknights. It's been about three weeks, and that hasn't happened yet, but there's hope. Maybe one of these days I will wake up and think that cooking is more therapeutic than watching "Fashion Police."