C'mon, It's Just 7 Days

Why I Cooked Every Single Meal for 7 Days (Well, Almost)

And how I fell in love with the kitchen all over again.

by:
January 12, 2019
Photo by Chelsea Kyle

In C'mon, It's Just 7 Days, members of the Food52 team share what it was like to take on a personal challenge for one week: skipping caffeine, going plastic-free, and more. (Spoiler alert: We all survived.)


2018 was the year I avoided exercise at all costs, got drinks with friends after work (like, a lot), and ate out multiple times a week (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). Not that I don’t believe we should be partaking in such pleasures—we absolutely should. But everything in moderation and all that, right?

It took staying in my high school bedroom over the holidays, sifting through yearbooks and looking at old photographs of myself, for me to realize that my adult life had been missing the kind of discipline I used to have when I was younger: Younger Me was Homecoming King and Principal Flutist in the county orchestra; Younger Me ate green things like avocados and ran track; Younger Me cooked for himself almost every. Single. Day. And it wasn't even his job.

This might sound ironic considering I’m a food editor now and write about how much comfort and pleasure cooking gives me. And of course it does, and I do a lot of it. But I certainly don't do it every day, for every meal—do you? When it comes down to it, I usually just boil an egg in the morning (if I'm not jamming my feet into my Converses, bolting out the door) and I almost always buy my lunch, or compose an elaborate meal out of snacks I've foraged opportunistically from the Food52 test kitchen. Sure, dinner leaves more room for the kind of slow, measured cooking and eating that bleeds into the night and gives me peace before bed, but even in that arena I could still use a bit more work. So, in an effort to take better care of myself this year, I've decided to do a couple of things: join a yoga studio, and cook more food.

First up? Agreeing to cook every single meal for seven whole days, as part of our C'mon, It's Just 7 Days team challenge. For this, I drew inspiration from David Tamarkin's Cook90 plan, where you cook yourself breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for 30 days with the idea in mind "that you cannot cook for 30 days straight and not come out a better, faster, healthier cook." I was most encouraged by the "better," and the notion that this kind of cooking would make me more skilled in the kitchen. But...30 days is a lot. So I decided to try seven days first.

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Top Comment:
“I definitely do not cook every meal, nor do I feel a need to embark on such a journey, but I do cook most of what I eat from scratch, often in batches, with the occasional group lunch after a work meeting or after church on Sundays. This challenge sounds like a good one to modify and personalize. For those who just aren't breakfast people, I'm sure there's still immense value in the practice of cooking for the meals they do eat. That might even remove some of the pressure (that maybe makes it more difficult to endure through the challenge) and make it more enjoyable overall. At the end of it, I'm inspired to continue cooking for myself and my friends!”
— greglum
Comment

Here's how it went:

Day One: Monday

It's New Year's Eve. I feel way on top of it because, according to Tamarkin, nearly 200,000 people are starting the Cook90 challenge...tomorrow. And I've got a 24-hour head start. When I wake up in the morning, I usually can't stomach a full breakfast, so I always have a single six-minute boiled egg with Magic Spice and a cup of coffee, which is what I do today. For lunch, Mom and I make kimchi fried rice together. For dinner, I invite my cousins over for an evening of appetizers: nori deviled eggs, shrimp cocktail, and cheesy breakfast sausage pinwheels.

Favorite Meal of the Day: The kimchi fried rice (duh).
How’d I Do?: A+ (wow, the sausage pinwheels were incredible; I'm the best).

Day Two: Tuesday

New Year's Day. I feel encouraged by yesterday's success (this is going to be a walk in the park). Of course, I have another boiled egg this morning and go about my day. Mom, Dad, and my brother Kevin are all super busy tonight, so we decide to meet back at the house for lunch. Guess who's cooking? I make a simple rigatoni alla vodka with some leftover sausage from last night—it's so creamy and comforting. My mom says it's the best pasta she's ever had (she always says this about anything new I cook her). To go with, a huge composed Italian-style salad with a homemade garlicky, oregano-scented vinaigrette, plus Texas toast. Dinner is just me, so I make the cover recipe from Cook90: sweet potatoes with chorizo, mushrooms, and lime cream. (It's so. Good.)

Favorite Meal of the Day: The sweet potaters.
How’d I Do?: A (I feel kind of guilty about my lazy breakfasts; does boiling an egg really count?).

Day Three: Wednesday

My mom just bought an army of raw, fresh crabs for one of my favorite Korean dishes ever: gaejang (or soy sauce–marinated crabs). I help her make the marinade, which is just water, soy, sugar, jalapeños, and onions that we bring to a boil, cool slightly, then pour over the crabs. We can't eat these until tomorrow (but I think this counts as cooking). Lunch is leftover kimchi fried rice with a bunch of banchan from the fridge (this doesn't count as cooking). I have to rush out to pick up my boyfriend Scott from the airport. Tamarkin says you're allowed to cheat for three of the 90 meals, so we decide to get ramen for dinner at Ton Ton in Ponce City Market (the tonkotsu is my favorite bowl of noodles in America, so I only feel a little guilty).

Favorite Meal of the Day: The ramen! It fed my soul!
How’d I Do?: C- (the only thing I cooked today was an egg in the morning and the crabs, which wasn't one of my three meals).

Day Four: Thursday

A little discouraged from yesterday—but hey, life happens. I skip breakfast because I sleep in, but wake up at noon to my uncle's loud, booming voice downstairs: He's brought us some wagyu steaks from Costco. I cook one in a skillet, carve it, and have it with white rice. It's so fatty, almost too fatty, so I take the steak pieces back to the pan to render more of their fat. Much better. It melts in my mouth. Oh! And the crabs are ready. Their sweet-salty flesh is like ceviche, only softer in taste and texture, and the soy flavor tastes incredible with the rice. Utterly addictive (my friend Irene says her grandmother calls gaejang "rice killer" because it makes you want to keep eating more and more rice). For dinner, I drive over to Scott's and we make Urvashi Pitre's Instant Pot Butter Chicken.

Favorite Meal of the Day: Gaejang.
How’d I Do?: B+ (missed a meal, but cooked two other times; plus, reaped the fruits of our crab labor yesterday).

Soy crabs, 24 hours later.

Day Five: Friday

Breakfast is white rice with fried eggs, soy sauce, and sesame oil. For lunch, I want to show my mom how to use the new Instant Pot I bought her for Christmas, so we attempt my beef stroganoff recipe (originally intended for a slow cooker), stupidly don't change a thing, and end up with a mess. The beef and mushrooms produce way too much liquid for the pot, so beefy soup spews out of the pressure release valve and ruins the kitchen. It tastes fine, but we feel dumb. For dinner, I go over to Scott's again and we reheat a frozen pizza from Publix; dessert is an Asian pear galette that I ate happily (but didn't help make).

Favorite Meal of the Day: Our Publix dinner.
How’d I Do?: B- (reheating a pizza, according to Tamarkin, doesn't count as cooking, and I didn't make the gorgeous galette).

Hello, gorgeous.

Day Six: Saturday

It's my last day in Atlanta. I decide that going to one of my favorite lunch places on Buford Highway with my parents is worth it. I want to treat my family for dinner, so I cook them a Sunday roast with Yorkshire puddings; Nigella's minty pea and avocado salad; my warm eggplant and mint salad; and these clementine chocolate lava cakes. My brother is in charge of the dessert and he forgets the olive oil, so they come out more lava than cake. -_- My parents appreciate all the vegetables, because they love vegetables. (Am I really related to these people?)

Favorite Meal of the Day: The last supper.
How’d I Do?: C+ (I may have only cooked once, but I cooked A LOT).

Rise, my children, RISE!

Day Seven: Sunday

Today I'm on the road with my dog for 13 hours, driving from Atlanta back to New York. I didn't cook anything in advance or pack myself breakfast or lunch, so I eat a few clementines when I stop for gas and later scarf down a drive-through chicken sandwich with French fries. (Have I failed you, C'mon It's Just 7 Days challenge?) Even though I should be exhausted, I come home to my Manhattan apartment and feel inspired to cook again—finally, in my own kitchen for a change. I take a giant sheet pan, roast a whole chopped head of cauliflower, plus Italian sausage, red onion, and fennel seed, and toss this with some cooked fusilli and a huge smattering of freshly grated Parmesan. It really hits the spot, as does a glass of the single-malt Scotch that Scott gave me for Christmas. And, belly full and seven days of cooking under my belt, I lay me down to sleep.

Favorite Meal of the Day: The Scotch.
How’d I Do?: C (I didn't totally fail today...right?).

Home.

Cooking every meal, every day was a lot harder than I thought it'd be. I figured, "Hey, as long as I do this after the holidays, after all the family reunions and parties, then it should be fine." But I found myself needing breaks and wanting to just go out for a meal instead of cooking it from scratch. And don't even get me started on breakfast! As I was technically on vacation, I had to force myself to wake up early enough to have breakfast at all. Still, I appreciated the exercise and caught myself occasionally noticing the act of my cooking that much more: every stir of the pot, every cracked egg, every little movement in the kitchen that fed my soul and gave me peace. I even caught myself thinking, "I forgot how much I love this."

Photo by Little, Brown and Company

In this way, like Tamarkin said, I do believe the seven days of mindfulness actually made me a better cook—or at least a more thoughtful one. But the thing I loved most was that, at the end of the day, this kind of cooking wasn't about anything other than feeding my family and myself, a challenge primarily for sustenance.

As Nigella Lawson writes in Simply Nigella, "If cooking isn't hinged on necessity, it loses its context, and purpose. I cook to give pleasure, to myself and others, but first it is about sustaining life, and only then about forging a life." So, I've started to make good on at least one of my New Year's resolutions—and just as soon as I can find an inspiring Nigella quote about joining a yoga studio, then I'll be on my way with the next.

How often do you cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Let us know in the comments below.

16 Comments

Lynn M. February 19, 2019
I'm not in the food business, just a homemaker. We eat out once per month with a group of people. Other than that I cook every meal, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks from scratch 352 days a year every day, but I love being in the kitchen cooking. My time of creativity and relaxation.
 
MarieGlobetrotter January 15, 2019
Maybe it’s just me but I feel like North Americans eat out or order in a lot. Growing up, my family never ordered in (also maybe because that didn’t exist much in Europe at the time). My parents worked but we all cooked every meal. Same now, I live on my own a prepare every meal, including the lunch that I bring at work. My kitchen is small and I work a lot sonit’s Not about that. I lead a somewhat comfortable life so it’s not about not being able to afford it. It’s just a question of habit, health and , yes, money. Does anyone know how much North Americans order compared to other countries? Just a simple question, not trying to be rude or anything. I can never bring myself to order in somehow.
 
Nancy January 15, 2019
Kudos to those who thought up this challenge. And to the food52 staffers who took them on and wrote about their experiences.
Gave us many good stories and insights...much more than the usual New Year resolution and change your life stories if early January.
 
greglum January 14, 2019
Thanks for sharing, man! I definitely do not cook every meal, nor do I feel a need to embark on such a journey, but I do cook most of what I eat from scratch, often in batches, with the occasional group lunch after a work meeting or after church on Sundays. This challenge sounds like a good one to modify and personalize. For those who just aren't breakfast people, I'm sure there's still immense value in the practice of cooking for the meals they do eat. That might even remove some of the pressure (that maybe makes it more difficult to endure through the challenge) and make it more enjoyable overall. At the end of it, I'm inspired to continue cooking for myself and my friends!
 
Nira January 14, 2019
Hi Eric,
What a great article! I cook almost every meal and have for years, but that's probably because I have two children, now teens, and a husband who needs to watch his cholesterol. Born of necessity, cooking nevertheless has become my moment of calm creativity.
 
Kristen M. January 14, 2019
Eric, this was so fun to read and I could totally relate to everything you wrote. Trying Whole30 last year, which basically requires cooking every meal, was a similarly eye-opening, tiring, inspiring, educational, slightly torturous experience :)
 
Sarah D. January 14, 2019
Haha...I love your article. It's funny because Koreans don't really believe in eating leftovers. I remember my grandma and parents didn't really like eating leftovers, but every once in awhile, you have to because you have leftover stuff in the refrigerator that needs to be eaten. When I got married, that's what I told my husband but he is practical and knows batch cooking is probably more realistic when you have both husband and wife working and have kids! But it always makes me feel a little guilty because I grew up eating a lot of freshly cooked meals since my grandma lived with us! And oh, she used to make us good stuff like yangnyum gyejang (spicy raw crab), ohjinguh jut (spicy raw squid), gom gook, yukhoe (Korean beef tartar), eundaegoo jorim (black cod stew), etc. Now my mouth is watering...:)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 14, 2019
Oh my goodness, you just made my mouth water, too...
 
Marissa January 13, 2019
I’m a chef, so I technically cook almost every single meal I eat, but that probably doesn’t count. I do find though that eating out is important. It expands your palate and mind to places you never knew to even think about. Cooking for yourself brings joy, but eating something someone else has made from their perspective with their technique is an expanding experience.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 14, 2019
Marissa, couldn't agree more! I can't wait to break my "cooking" fast this week and get sushi with a friend.
 
James W. January 13, 2019
Hi Eric - Enjoying your column, especially the hints about cooking for one. It's not always easy as I typically follow recipes and most are set up for 4 or more servings - although, if I'm going to some trouble, it's nice to have leftovers and some in the freezer. I love your idea of preparing a batch of lava cake batter, cooking one ramekin and refrigerating the balance for day to day baking. Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 14, 2019
Thanks, James! I actually just made that chocolate cake for a friend who came over for dinner today. Now I have 2 ramekins sitting in the fridge, waiting for me later this week...
 
Ted January 13, 2019
What the recipe in the photo at the top of this article, please? (I'm thinking it's Gemma Hamshaw's sweet potatoes with spiced lentils, but maybe not?)

Thank you.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 14, 2019
Hi Ted, it's the cover recipe from David Tamarkin's book, which you can find here: https://www.amazon.com/Cook90-30-Day-Faster-Healthier-Happier/dp/0316420158?tag=food52-20
 
G January 12, 2019
I'm managing to cook all but two lunches a week...!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 12, 2019
That's incredible--congrats!