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How To Use Cooking To Relax

Here’s The Ideal
Cooking can be one of the simplest meditations. With a little attention, it can be a way to momentarily free ourselves from life’s burdens and worries. It starts with mere veggie-chopping, but ideally, by the time we sit down to eat, we’ve forgotten our troubles, we’re at peace, and there’s joy in every bite.

Here’s The Reality
That’s what cooking can be. But if you’re anything like me, all the healthy, earth-friendly eating habits you told yourself you’d finally stick to this semester have fallen by the wayside come midterm season. When there’s barely enough time to squeeze in assignments, stuffing down fast food and chasing it with a Timmie’s on your way to class starts to seem like the only way to survive.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself about the food I end up eating when I’m trying my best to juggle work, school, and the rest of life. What I really needed was a pat on the back. When our bodies are working through the high-stress periods that come with post-secondary studies, they need our support even more, not our nagging judgments. That’s why this semester, I decided it’s time to go easy on myself. It’s time to keep my eating goals manageable and fun.

Here’s The Recipe
I’ve decided to prioritize cooking up my own comfort food, just once a week. I’ve started to set aside a few hours on my day off to cook up a big meal that’ll provide me a few lunches and dinners for later in the week. I don’t worry about whether it’s the healthiest possible dish I could make, or if the final plate will be Instagram-worthy. Comfort is the key here. The goal is to make the meal equivalent of a pair of cozy, weathered pajamas.

I try my best to make meals from scratch. I know it sounds daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Scratch-cooking really gets the body and mind engaged, which is where that meditative potential comes from. The trick to keeping it manageable is to keep it simple. Pick a dish that you know and love, something familiar and homey. It helps if you’ve watched a family member make it a million times.

Here’s an example: I pick a pasta shape (for me, pasta = comfort) and I make a super basic tomato sauce from scratch. There’s nothing quite like taking a juicy, ripe tomato in my hands and squishing it to a pulp over a bowl! It makes me feel like a kid. An hour later I’m amazed at just how beautiful and delicious the simplest tomato sauce spooned over pasta can be when I’ve brought it to life with my own hands. Savory and sweet, tangy and rich.

Pasta is my thing. Pick your thing. Take it back to the basics. Comfort food is not about complexity or skill. It’s about nourishing every part of you.

The Transformation
Going to school doesn’t always feel like the empowering place that it can be. At the hardest times, it can feel like you’re just doing as you’re told. It can feel like you’re working your arse off just to hand in an assignment, you wait for someone to judge it, and then you do it all over again. It’s hard to remember that we all have the power to make beautiful and important things happen in our own lives and in our world. Cooking can be a powerful reminder. You’re in control of a handful of ingredients, and you get to transform them into a work of art. And if you’re the only one eating it, the only judge is your taste buds.

Cooking doesn’t have to be a thing we do just to survive. It doesn’t have to be just another thing on an endless to-do list. We can cook to be mindful and present. We can cook to spend a little quality time with ourselves. We can cook to give ourselves the pleasure we deserve. We can cook to nourish our bodies, minds, and spirits.