By Diana Kelly Levey

Undo the feeling of dread.

Some people say that cooking and being in their kitchen is their happy place. They call to mind positive family memories and meals served there. For others, the kitchen is a reminder of past failures — like burned dishes and failed recipes. The kitchen can also feel like a pressure cooker, and cooking may quickly feel more like a chore than an enjoyable experience.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Luckily, there are some things we all can do to feel calmer and happier in the kitchen. Here's how to make the most of your time so you can prepare meals and cook with ease.

Photo: Cavan Images/Getty Images

1. Get organized.

You knew this tip was coming. It couldn't be avoided. An organized, neat kitchen that's free of clutter is going to be the first step when it comes to keeping stress at bay while you cook and throughout the day.

Research finds that women in dual-income partnerships who felt their homes were cluttered had increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, throughout the day. Creating an organized environment can also help you keep your waistline in check. Research finds that a cluttered kitchen or chaotic environment could cause you to eat more.

Do this: Dedicate at least 30 minutes this week to de-cluttering your kitchen counters and cooking surfaces. You could spend another 30 to 45 minutes each on cleaning out your fridge and getting your cupboards organized. This will help you have a better understanding of the foods you already have, which makes it easier when creating your food shopping list. Make sure you have sterilized surfaces to put food on during prep, as well as clean dishes and utensils before you start cooking prep work.

2. Arm yourself with time-saving tools.

If one of your goals with cooking is to spend less time in front of a stove and more time doing other activities you love, investing in tools that can boost efficiency will help.

Do this: Dull, cumbersome, and outdated utensils can slow you down. Make sure you're working with good, sharp knives to cut down on a lot of your work and help you get through meal prep faster. Consider using a food processor to help chop vegetables or herbs, and make sure you have a Microplane, grater, and an immersion blender to do some of the prep work.

3. Read your recipe.

There's not much more frustrating than making a "15-minute meal" recipe only to discover it takes at least 30 minutes — and many dirty dishes — to make. It can leave you feeling unprepared, or worse, incapable. Few cooks can sustain repeated blows to their cooking capabilities like this and still enjoy time behind the stove.

Do this: Read through any recipe before making. Be sure to note if there are additional, unforeseen steps (like making a specialty sauce). Make adjustments to the recipe if there are places you can cut time and effort — like swapping in different vegetables because you have those on hand, or looking for places where you can modify with a faster-cooking grain or use microwaveable vegetables to get dinner on the table faster.

4. Play an audiobook or podcast.

One problem many cooks have with being in the kitchen for a while is feeling like they should be doing something else that's productive while cleaning, chopping, waiting for water to boil, and stirring food in a pot. Listening to podcasts while you cook can help alleviate that feeling.

Personally, I feel like I'm accomplishing more in my day when I'm working my way through my podcast queue and learning something while I cook. In the past, I've downloaded audiobooks to listen to during cooking time and worked my way through a book club read in a little over a week.

If you have a TV in your kitchen, tell yourself that this is the time when you get to watch your favorite shows, which will make cooking feel like something you're doing for you while taking care of your family.

Do this: Set up a docking station or portable wireless Bluetooth speaker in your kitchen. Ask friends for a podcast recommendation, or download an audio book. Press play, and start cooking.

5. Use kitchen time as a creative outlet.

Some cooks follow recipes to a T, while others use them as a springboard for inspiration and experiment with different ingredients, techniques, and flavors. I tend to be a stickler when it comes to following recipe directions, often because I'm afraid my modifications won't turn out well. But I realize I could have more fun with cooking if I see my time in the kitchen as a creative outlet. That could mean trying a new recipe that takes me out of my comfort zone or (gasp!) swapping out a few ingredients for others I think would result in a delicious meal.

Do this: Research finds that spending time on creative goals throughout the day can have positive effects on our well-being. Think of kitchen time as your time of day to let loose from the constraints of rules and regulations. Do what makes you happy.

6. Invite your family to participate or play nearby.

If cooking is particularly special to you because it recalls memories from when you were younger, start making new memories by inviting friends and family into the kitchen — and into the cooking — with you.

Do this: Get your partner involved with some of the cooking. Give them a task or two that can help make the cooking experience more joyful by bonding during your time spent together. If you have the space, have your young ones work on their homework or do simple art activities at a table nearby. You'll be spending quality time together while getting a delicious meal out on the table.

Related: How To Do Weeknight Dinners Without Totally Stressing

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