“Make the Best Turkey” “Are Your Mashed Potatoes the Fluffiest?” “The Only Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe You’ll Ever Need” “Ultimate Buttermilk Biscuits” I browsed the magazine rack at a local stand recently and was immediately stressed out and overwhelmed. What if my turkey is good but not the best? (What if I don’t even make a turkey at all?!) What if my mashed potatoes are sort of chunky not fluffy or if I alternate between a few different cookie recipes? Does everything have to be the best or the ultimate?

I think we put unnecessary pressures on ourselves (and possibly our children, spouses and friends) in areas where it doesn’t really matter. Is my dinner edible? Is my family full? Well-nourished? Shouldn’t those be the criteria? And then let’s move on. How much time do we need to spend perfecting our biscuits? Is anyone’s palate really sensitive enough to tell the difference between those that have been slightly over-mixed and those slightly under? And even if there is, so what?

It’s not just around Thanksgiving that magazine after magazine and cooking show after cooking show exhort us to turn our kitchens into a competitive arena. It’s constant and I think it’s affecting the quality of our lives and ruining the pleasure we once took in cooking for our families. In an already packed and stress-filled life, do we really need to add this in?

But I think there’s an even bigger issue at stake here. All things being equal, I’d certainly rather cook and serve the best chicken than a mediocre one. But not only is it not worth the extra anxiety, it is definitely not worth the time and effort. All that energy that I spend trying to get my chocolate mousse just right could be devoted to more weighty issues.

Am I as concerned about my character as I am about my apple pie? (I’ll let you know after I make my pumpkin and pecan pies this year with homemade crusts!) Am I spending at the least the same amount of time if not more trying to be kinder and more patient? If I serve a great hamburger with a big frown on my face, what have I accomplished?

It’s possible to argue that we could have it all – be gourmet cooks and cheerful to boot. It’s possible but usually something gives. And, even if we can handle it all with a smile and good graces, there is still an opportunity cost. There is still time and resources and energy devoted to cooking that is not devoted to character development. I am not simultaneously reading books of personal growth and basting my turkey. I am not doing exercises to improve my character while creaming the margarine and sugar. I am not involved in introspection while beating my eggs…you get my drift.

We have a fixed amount of energy and it’s up to us how we allocate it. There are not that many magazines, books and shows challenging us to be our best selves, but there are untold number encouraging us to develop our culinary skills. We need to work hard to resist the temptation to put our energy in the wrong place and remember that the ultimate judgment will be about our personal attributes and not our brownies.