Why You Should Learn To Cook For Yourself. With A Twist

Zen monks photography for our article about zen cooking

You know why you should learn to cook for yourself. It’s healthier. More economical. And cooking is fun. But what you might now know is this… Zen cooking can exercise your brain while you cook.


Cooking for yourself is one of the best things you can do for your health. It’s pretty obvious what the main benefit of cooking for yourself is: You avoid the hazardous concoction of chemicals found in premade foods. You take control of your diet. And best of all, you get to have fun in the kitchen.

But wait.

Back away from that Gordon Ramsey book. I know you’re interested in cooking but we’re going to learn to cook a different way. Because cooking for yourself without a recipe is even better.

When you cook without a recipe you force yourself to be mindful of your senses.

When you cook with a recipe, you don’t really need to pay that much attention. You follow the instructions. You take a swig of wine here, a swig of wine there. The food goes in the oven. You’re done.

What happens when you cook without a recipe is a whole other kettle of fish. When you cook without a recipe you force yourself to use your brain in new ways.

Here’s a look at five amazing benefits of cooking for yourself without a recipe.

Why You Should Learn To Cook For Yourself Without A Recipe

1: You work your creative brain: It’s so easy to hop online and find a recipe you like, then replicate it. In fact it’s too easy. You’re not really exercising any part of your brain. Well, other than your ability to follow instructions so simple a child could do it.

But when you cook without a recipe you force yourself to get creative. You force yourself to try different combinations of foods and ingredients. Hmmmmm… does coca-cola go with shrimp? [according to the Coca Cola company coke and shrimp are perfect together. Who knew?].

Cooking without a recipe is a fantastic exercise for your creative brain. And just as long as you have a good basic grasp of food and ingredients, you’re not going to go that wrong.


2: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is essentially the practice of focusing on the present moment.

Mindfulness has been proven to offer hordes of health benefits. It makes you happier, healthier, more relaxed, and more effective. Honestly, some of the health benefits of mindfulness will blow your mind.

But what the heck has all this got to do with cooking?

Glad you asked.

When you cook without a recipe you force yourself to be more aware of your senses. Try cooking a stir-fry without a recipe. Suddenly you’ll find yourself sniffing different spices and herbs to see whether they’ll work together.

By cooking without a recipe, you force yourself to pay attention to sensory information. By paying attention to sensory information you’ll be practicing mindfulness. And mindfulness is really, really good for you!

A Buddhist monk cooking in a community kitchen

3: Take Control of Your Diet

One of the most important elements of brain health is your diet. You are what you… etc.

The problem is, all those wonderfully talented chefs whose recipes we all copy; they all have one thing in common: they put lots of fat in their recipes to guarantee great taste.

But when you create your own recipes, you’re free to use whatever ingredients you like. That means you’re 100% in control of your diet. And 100% in control of your health. If you really want to get healthy in the kitchen, combine mindful cooking with these spiritual weight loss techniques. The results are astounding, as you’ll see when you try it.

If the chef looks like this, you probably shouldn’t eat his food

4: Access Novelty

Novelty is essential to your brain health.

Try doing something new. Anything. Well, anything within reason. Don’t try poking a Siberian Tiger in the eye for the first time. It wont turn out pretty.

But generally speaking, trying new things makes you feel fan-flipping-tastic. That’s because of neuroscience of novelty. Novelty stimulates your brain, creating new networks, firing new neurons… novelty, in many ways, is the brain’s oxygen. You need a certain amount of novelty to keep your brain fresh and energised.

Eating different foods provides that essential novelty.

Try it for yourself. Eat something you’ve never eaten before. You’ll find it far more stimulating than the same old bangers ‘n’ mash.

Cooking blind virtually guarantees you’ll end up eating something different, providing your brain with such much needed novelty.



5: Have Fun

Here’s a great exercise. Go get a random kid (preferably your own kid. Do NOT steal someone else’s child…). Ok, now put the kid in a kitchen full of different raw foods and ingredients and tell them tto go nuts and make anything they want.

Wait 30 minutes.

What are you left with?

Well, you’re left with a kitchen that looks like it’s been hit by an A-bomb. But you’re also left with one really flipping happy kid.

Cooking blind is simply fun. A LOT of fun. And fun is essential to good health.




Making Cooking More Fun And Relaxing

 Let me show you how to make cooking more fun and relaxing. When you do this you will get a beautiful meal and you will enjoy making it, too.


How do you achieve every self development / self improvement goal in one single exercise?

You probably can’t. After all, there are thousands of personal goals people have in their lives. There’s weight loss and fitness, productivity, motivation, happiness, and positivity and a whole lot more. You probably can’t achieve all that in one go.

That being said, this cooking exercise certainly manages to cover a heck of a lot of ground.

It combines healthy living with creativity with mindfulness with relaxation with stress reduction and a whole lot more.

And even if you’re not looking to achieve any specific aims, for any budding chefs out there, any excuse to play with food in a new way can surely only be a good thing.



Some of the many ways cooking can help you are: 


Controlling your Emotions: Because smells naturally produce emotional responses, by cooking with certain fragrances you’ll be changing your mood. Stressed? Cook with relaxing fragrances. Feeling a little bored and indifferent? Cook with the aromas of passion! 

Social: One of the most obvious benefits of cooking. Who doesn’t love a good chef?

Developing Creativity: Anybody who’s been cooking for a long time will likely be more than aware of how creative an experience it can be. Put that cookbook down and use you creative flair!

Stress Reduction and Relaxation: Partially covered by the aromas discussed above, cooking also helps relaxation and stress reduction by centring the mind around a pleasing task and, of course, by the (hopefully) delightful result.

Intuitiveness and mindfulness: If you cook without a recipe and with ingredients you don’t use very often, you’ll be forced to pay very close attention to the ingredients you’re working with; or, to put it another way: You’ll be using your nose a lot. This helps you to live in-the-moment (because you’re responding to environmental stimuli rather than plans) and you’ll have to trust your gut instinct, working out what will go with what based entirely off your instincts


All right, so let’s get to it. This time around we’re going to be creating a meal which will make you relax and will help to reduce stress.




Preparing a Meal of Relaxation and Stress Reduction

*If you are new to cooking, read my guide to Learning To Cook For Yourself With A Twist. 

Our Ingredients

* If you’re a talented chef I advise you to be creative. Use the following ingredients and create a meal without a recipe, this will force you to work in-the-moment, to use your intuition, to be more aware and sensitive to the smell of the food and, above anything else, to have fun and be playful with this exercise. If you don’t have much experience cooking then there’s a simple-to-follow recipe below which will produce equally positive results. 


Fish: you can choose which fish you want to cook with (though Salmon is recommended) but pick one rich in fatty oils.  Fish are known to boost the immune system, reduce acne and stress and improve eyesight.

Citrus Fruits: again, choose whichever citrus fruits you wish. .Fruits rich in vitamin C lower the level of stress hormones.


Honey: Natural honey is high in tryptophan, which relaxes the body, and potassium, which soothes the brain and nerves.


Brown Rice: As a complex carb, brown rice helps the release of insulin, which promotes healthy sleeping. It will leave you feeling relaxed and calm.

Okay, so there we are. These are your basic ingredients to get to work with, all of which promote relaxation and reduce stress (I’ve chosen these four as they go well together and allow you to be creative.


How to Cook Creatively 

Try this part of the exercise if you’re confident about your cooking ability, otherwise proceed to the recipe below.

The idea here, again, is to truly be creative and use your instincts and your senses.  Have all your ingredients laid out on the table, and (without following a recipe) get your nose stuck in, use your senses, and find fun and new ways of combining those ingredients to come up with a nice meal. This will help you make use of the aromatherapy (particularly of the fruits)  as you’ll be forced to use your nose.

Now then, whilst you experts set the kitchen on fire let’s see if we can’t find a nice, simple recipe for our novice-chefs to have a crack at.  ..




A simple recipe for relaxation and stress reduction

 Fish with Citrus and Honey


Ingredients: Juice of 1 orange and  1 Lemon

1 Clove garlic peeled and finely chopped

1-2 tbsp honey

1tbsp vegetable oil

Dark soy sauce

Small bunch fresh corriander

4 white fish fillets, skin on

Seasoned plain flour for dusting





How to make your relaxing, stress reducing meal 

  • Put 1.5 cups of water for each 1 cup of brown rice in a pan and bring it to a boil. Then reduce to low temperature and leave cooking.
  • While the rice is cooking, Bring the lemon juice, orange juice, garlic and honey to a boil in a small pan and allow it to bubble for a couple of minutes
  • Pat the fish dry with kitchen paper, dust and season with the flour. Heat oil in a frying pan and cook the fish for a couple of minutes on each side till golden brown
  • Season the sauce with ground black pepper and soy sauce, then stir in the coriander.
  • Pour over the fish and serve.
  • You’re done! (remember to wash-up mindfully, of course) enjoy your meal and your relaxed state of mind.

I hope you enjoyed this exercise (and the food!) and found it useful. If so, I’d love to hear how your meal turned out. Leave a comment below, join Arolemodel on facebook or twitter (use the icons at the top of the page) or by subscribing to the newsletter (via the form at the top right of the page).







Going nuts in the kitchen and cooking without a recipe is really, really good for your brain. We’ve looked at just 5 reasons why you should learn to cook for yourself without a recipe. And already it’s obvious that when you put the cook books down and you just cook your own style, you don’t just get great food, you also get a great mental workout.


Obviously you’re going to be left with a little bit of mess. But this is just another opportunity to practice some Zen in the kitchen as you can turn that chore into another meditation exercise.

Next, why not try:

Making Cooking More Fun And Relaxing.

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About Paul Martin Harrison 494 Articles
Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential. Don’t miss Paul’s inspirational and enlightening book Journey To The Buddha Within You.