Cooking for One

Is there a point in cooking for one? The common consensus may be it’s too much trouble to cook for just one person, but is it really? So many of us now find ourselves alone, it’s worth revisiting the question.

Obviously, the benefits of cooking apply whether you’re cooking for one or cooking for six. The question is whether the ratio of effort, ingredients, time, and cost outweigh the ease of popping open a package and grazing. The truth is, you will have to weigh this for yourself and there are many things to consider.

As with most things, the process of thinking through the answer to the question will be revealing and provide insight. That has value no matter what the conclusion.

What are the considerations?

Health

Fresh food prepared at home is the easiest way to eliminate preservatives, artificial coloring, and other additives. It’s the easiest way to make food compatible with your specific dietary needs. It’s the easiest way to control sodium intake and minimize ingesting potential carcinogens. Preparing your own food gives you more control over its healthiness.

Time

The pandemic has overloaded already full schedules with tasks that were previously unnecessary. Some people may have temporarily discovered extra time to bake bread, but most people I know do more dishes, double-up housework and work, have more time-consuming errands, and have had to revise their method for approaching every area of life. Time is an even more precious commodity than before.

Preparing your own meals does take time that you might otherwise spend on something else. If cooking results in food that makes you feel more energized and satisfied, less lethargic and bloated, and less distracted by gut pain, it may well be worth it. There are also ways to maximize efficiency so that the time spent on food prep is minimal.

Cost

If you purchase large amounts of fresh halibut, you’ll spend a fortune and call me crazy, but in general, purchasing individual ingredients is more cost effective than buying prepackaged convenience foods. This is especially true when it comes to gluten-free packaged food.

And you don’t have to strictly buy one or the other. You can make your own macaroni & cheese using store-bought gluten-free pasta. You can keep frozen chicken nuggets, or ham, or pimento cheese on hand for days that plans unexpectedly change and you need something quick.

Taste

I don’t think you can beat the taste of a fresh tomato or peach. In fact, I’d argue that perfectly ripened, they’re best eaten unadorned. Fresh spinach from the garden tastes like a whole different green. Recognizing the inherent scrumptiousness of fresh food cam mean you feel less pressured to go to great lengths to enhance something that’s wonderful on its own. This will save both time and money.

Waste

Perhaps the most frequent argument against cooking for one is that you’ll waste too much food. That is a possibility. But there are many ways to counter this.

I frequently share dishes with my neighbors. Once I hit the point at which I recognize I am tired of something, I throw the balance in a jar and deliver it to the porch next door.

Recently, I made a pie in a pan that a friend left at my house long ago. I needed to test a recipe and I needed to return the pan. I made the pie, took out one piece, then called my friend to come get the rest of the pie thereby accomplishing both.

Occasionally, I freeze something to reheat later. If you’re willing to freeze cookies, then why not pesto chicken, chili or lasagna? And when I don’t want to freeze, I repurpose.

Braised boneless pork ribs become carnitas tacos. Chicken becomes chicken salad. Breakfast sausage and spinach land on mashed potatoes for an upside-down version of sausage shepherd’s pie. This list could go on forever. I repurpose often.

Rather than waste food, you can always share with strangers. There are plenty of children in my neighborhood who can use extra food. While I have not determined the best way to get it in their hands yet, I am constantly making assessments that will contribute to a plan.

Looking at health, time, cost, taste, and waste are somewhat measurable. Cooking also offers intangibles that can’t be objectively measured: warm feelings, pleasing aromas, aesthetically pleasing visuals, family memories, creativity, a feeling of accomplishment. It is the intangibles that pull me into the kitchen. It’s the taste that keeps me there. And the health benefits are a major bonus.

I cook for one. For me, it’s worth it. Let me know if it’s worth it for you.

Vigilance Takes a Toll

Vigilance takes a toll, but there are rewards. Safety and good health require vigilance and over time. You don’t just put your child in a car seat on the way home from the hospital and call it good. To keep him safe, you put him in it every time you take a ride in the car. You have a system to remind you to take him out of the car on a hot day. You religiously scan the ingredients of food if your daughter has a peanut allergy. You don’t just do it on Mondays. You do it every day of every week of every year. That’s what it takes to keep her safe. No matter who you are, each day will require you to be alert and diligent to stay safe and healthy.

Brush your teeth twice a day. Look both ways before you cross the street. Scan your surroundings before you enter an intersection or drive across a railroad track. Don’t click on email attachments that can’t be verified. Watch for snakes when you swim in the river. Check the depth of the water before you jump in. Check the temperature of the water before you put a child in the bathtub. Keep laundry pods, household cleaners, and medication out of the reach of children. Don’t leave a six-month-old unattended on an adult bed. Don’t pour lighter fluid on a fire. And, of course, don’t run with scissors.

While most of us accept the vigilance required to follow the safety rules above, we often become defiant if we believe a safety rule will take away something that brings us pleasure (avoid fried food, avoid sugar, stop smoking, stop vaping, drive within the speed limit, don’t hug your grandchildren), requires us to do something that doesn’t offer immediate benefit (wear a mask, stay out of a crowded dance club, limit contact outside your home), and/or requires us to pay attention to multiple choices each day (drink plenty of water, eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables, avoid gluten, walk 10,000 steps).

You don’t have to pay attention to any safety or health guidance. You can assume the risks. You might come out okay. And there’s no question, vigilance takes a toll.

Paying attention all day long and making mindful choices doesn’t feel carefree. It doesn’t feel fun. Sometimes it’s tedious. Sometimes it’s annoying. Sometimes it’s exhausting.

And constant vigilance can affect your physical health. Living in a heightened state of vigilance each and every day is stressful. The body may respond to that stress by making and releasing extra cortisol – a stress hormone that increases glucose in the bloodstream, alters immune response, and suppresses digestion. It is corralling the body’s resources for fight or flight. Normally, this response is self-limiting, but when danger is constant, the spigot may not get turned off without deliberate action to reduce stress.

In March, the US public at large began to get a glimpse of what it feels like to live defensively every moment. Suddenly, we were instructed to be on guard for a virus that could be anywhere, or everywhere. There was no way to know who may spread it so all interactions became suspect.

There’s still no way to know with certainty when you’re in danger and no way to know when the risks will decrease. The only way to be safe is…constant vigilance. A large percentage of us have not been able or willing to practice this. In a mere three months, it’s become evident that Americans as a whole have little emotional stamina even when the consequences of letting down are guard may be deadly.

This could be a window into a path for improving both mental and physical health. What if we put a laser focus on building resilience and learn from those who have been through trauma but still manage to thrive – Elizabeth Smart, Michelle Knight (Lily Rose Lee), Jeannette Walls, Joey Jones, Oprah, Maya Angelou, Col. Charlie O’Sullivan, etc. What if we entertain the thought that their spirits shine not in spite of, but because of, what they endured?

I believe flipping the script could make all the difference during this pandemic and beyond. It has been life’s difficult, heartbreaking, horrific, traumatic experiences that have taught me how strong I am, how much resolve I have, how to put fear aside in order to function, how to be alone, how to live with heartache, how to build trust, how to reset, reimagine, reinvent, how to be flexible, and that what I do matters. I am more resilient because of, not in spite of, a sometimes rocky path.

Focusing in with determination and the openness to learn when faced with difficulty puts us on a whole different path than lamenting what could have been or should be. Attempting to avoid life’s harsh realities rarely has positive consequences in the long term. And denying real challenges does not help build emotional muscle. Weathering life’s unavoidable storms requires vigilance.

And, yes, vigilance takes a toll, but there are rewards for sticking with a plan–safety, health, resilience, and the possibility of thriving even in dire circumstances.

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/11/18/nine-years-after-war-took-marines-legs-new-causes-give-him-purpose.html

http://www.injuryslight.com/

Speed Kills

Remember the ad campaign, Speed Kills? I can’t remember if I first heard the term in an anti-drug campaign or an attempt to reduce speed limits. The phrase has been used for both. This week, I’m thinking of Speed Kills in totally different terms.

Last weekend I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor. This movie chronicles the career of Fred Rogers, the creator of MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD. There was nothing speedy about Mister Rogers. His slow pace stands in stark contrast to other children’s entertainers. This was deliberate. It was also significant.

Mister Rogers understood that very important things happen when we’re still and quiet. He included long pauses and silence in his television program. This is considered a no-no in the TV world, but as someone observed in the movie, there were many times when nothing much was going on, but none of the time was wasted.

On some level, parents and children must have sensed the significance of this. They certainly responded. Mister Rogers became hugely successful in spite of doing everything “wrong” for a television audience.

In my home, I observed that when my boys watched MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD their behavior was markedly different than when they watched He-Man. He-Man led to an afternoon of hitting each other, breaking toys, and generally violent behavior.

MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD, on the other hand, had a calming effect. After watching, the boys were kinder, gentler, and quieter. They played together instead of fighting. My house was infinitely more peaceful.

At the time, I didn’t take time to analyze why this was true, I just did the practical thing and banned He-Man. If I needed the kids to have screen time so that I could clean up the kitchen or do the laundry, we opted for MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD or the video disc Free to be You and Me.

Now, with much more experience under my belt including many years of working long hours, never missing an event, frequent travel, work-work-work-play-play-play and rarely saying no, I understand the importance of being still. Being present requires taking pauses to notice what has happened and how it makes us feel.

I know you may read that and say, “duh,” but look at how we live. We rarely pause between activities, much less during them. We fill our waking hours with movement, noise, and electronic distraction.

One of my grandchildren has 4 structured activity classes per week – he’s 9 months old! Will he be able to lie on his back, stare at the clouds smelling fresh-cut grass and feeling the solidness of the ground supporting him when he’s three or will he be lost without constant activity?

It seems we have some level of awareness that we need to increase our sense of well-being. Ways to increase wellness are often featured on morning TV. The number of people practicing yoga in the US has doubled since 2008. The mindfulness movement touts the health benefits of meditation.

In contrast, we see our friends, neighbors, and family members numb themselves with work, gaming, social media, TV, sex, food, alcohol, and drugs on a regular basis. Sometimes we see ourselves doing the same. If we know we need to feel better, and we know that slowing down to reflect and be present in the moment will help, why do we keep speeding forward?
speed
What’s difficult to admit, much less discuss, is what lies underneath a need to speed through life at a level of maximum distraction. If you have lived in an environment of chaos and/or danger to your physical or emotional well-being that you could not escape, it is excruciatingly hard to sit still and be present. It is also necessary if you are to heal the wounds your spirit has suffered.

It is in this context that I now view the phrase – speed kills. Speed kills our connection to our spirit. This removes us from knowing, accepting, and loving ourselves. It removes us from the very best parts of ourselves. At its worst, this disconnect allows us to act out our anger, hurt, and frustration in vindictive, destructive ways.

In the face of a tragic, hostile act, we often wonder – what kind of person would do that? Often the answer is simple: someone who has suffered in ways you cannot see and may not be able to imagine.

Remaining present and emotionally open in the face of violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning, is intolerable for most everyone. It is absolutely healthy in those situations to engage in fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning in order to protect yourself.

The problem is many, not just some, MANY of us have lived in an environment in which violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning were the norm. Living in persistent, unrelenting physical and/or emotional danger creates wounds that are both physical and emotional and result in disconnection from ourselves. Constantly being in a state of fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning creates long-term barriers to calm, peace, connection and joy.

When we have the strength and courage to sit still and be present, it opens the door for all the emotions we have been avoiding to come rushing in. This is a great opportunity to release those emotions and the hold they have over us. That’s easy to say, but terrifying and hard for many of us to do even if it is worth it in the long run.

I’ve spent years unraveling the knots in my stomach and my spirit. I know that I did not choose the environment that created them. I was born into it. Accepting this hasn’t eliminated the seemingly bottomless well of sadness I feel in my solar plexus. It hasn’t removed every trigger that can send me into an emotional flashback that I simply can’t outthink. (I know this isn’t some particular defect in me. Signals from the amygdala can override executive function, but it still feels terrifying and out of control.)

Mindfulness has helped me rewire my brain away from anxiety toward noticing small ways in which I feel good. I feel less braced for the (as I learned to view the world) next inevitable attack. My new level of awareness lets me deliberately shift my focus in order to feel better in a given moment.

I am painfully aware how difficult it can be to find support for a healing path. Even places we expect to provide a cushion for processing trauma, grief, depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms – the therapist’s office, doctor’s office, church, or support groups, may not provide the type of support we need. Feeling unseen, unheard, dismissed, targeted, or misunderstood can leave us feeling even more alone and, sometimes, revictimized.

Healing can bring immediate improvement, but I do not know of a straight or swift path to wholeness. That journey is a process unique to each of us. The best support along the way is to be seen and accepted just as we are at any given moment.

Perhaps this is why I so appreciate Mister Rogers simple affirmation that he likes us just as we are. But I cannot fully receive that message unless I am sitting still.

http://www.doitnow.org/pages/psas.html

http://focusfeatures.com/wont-you-be-my-neighbor/

https://www.fredrogers.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_to_Be…_You_and_Me

https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/untold-story-america-mindfulness-movement/

http://childhood-developmental-disorders.imedpub.com/systematic-review-of-mindfulness-induced-neuroplasticity-in-adults-potential-areas-of-interest-for-the-maturing-adolescent-brain.php?aid=8553

https://seattleyoganews.com/yoga-in-america-2016-statistics/

https://www.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/domestic_violence2.pdf

http://besselvanderkolk.net/the-body-keeps-the-score.html

http://www.traumasensitiveyoga.com/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5518443/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/yoga-perfect-home-workout/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/sometimes-stop-order-start/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/travel-tip-17-stay-home/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What We Eat Reflects Our Priorities

scaleLooking back at the horrific events of the past week reminds me that our actions always reflect our priorities – even what we eat reflects our priorities. No matter what we tell the world, what we do sometimes belies our words. Not only can this sometimes confuse those around us, it can hinder us from reaching our goals. No change can come until we have the courage to stare the facts in the face.

There are millions of choices when it comes to food and health. What works for one person may be detrimental to another. We each have a unique ecosystem within our bodies. The only way to know what works for you is to become aware of your body’s signals and educated about the foods you choose to eat.

Keep a food journal for a month and you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your priorities. Sometimes when we express a priority, what we really mean is we feel we “should” focus on a particular thing because of peer pressure or a doctor’s recommendation. It often turns out to mean much less as far as our everyday behavior. Not only does this make us feel bad, it becomes an impediment to making positive change. For example:

If your stated top priority is to limit the sodium in your diet, but you don’t take the time to read the labels on your salad dressing, sandwich meat, cheese, packaged soup, and whole wheat bread, then you will not be able to achieve your goal because you won’t know whether you’re within your limit.

It could be that limiting sodium is not a top priority, but instead falls below work, screen time, working out, or whatever it is that keeps you too busy to read labels. That’s okay. Once you recognize the facts, you are in a great position to make the best choice for you.

muffinsIf your stated priority is to avoid sugar and you continue to eat bread, breakfast cereal, frozen pizza, muffins, ketchup, barbecue potato chips and Ranch dressing, you are choosing foods that contain sugar. Once you recognize this you can decide to: 1)Eliminate these foods and all others that contain sugar, 2)Limit sugar by not eating dessert or “sweets”, but stop trying to avoid it 3)Eat as much sugar as you want.

Any of these choices is okay. Only you can decide what’s right for you. Once you look at the facts, you’ll be able to see how to achieve your personal goals more easily.

If your stated priority is to avoid processed food, but you eat at fast food or fast casual restaurants every day at lunch, then a revision of your stated priority or a change in venue may be appropriate.

If your stated priority is to avoid carbs, but you eat potato chips, drink beer, consume commercial smoothies, or coffee drinks, eat bagels or yogurt with fruit on the bottom, then it’s time to review your priority. It could be that research must take precedence while you learn more about carbs or it could be that you decide you don’t want to avoid carbs other than those from added sugars.

asparagusIf your stated priority is to feed your children real, unprocessed food, but you grab the Lunchables®, packaged mac & cheese, or fruit roll-ups more often than the broccoli, black beans, sugar snap peas, carrots, cauliflower, squash, green beans, and asparagus then perhaps it’s just a goal and not a priority or maybe you believe education, sports, or dance are more essential building blocks for a good life and have prioritized those over real unprocessed food. If so, that’s okay and only your stated priority needs to change.

This flight of fancy may seem unimportant to you, but choosing and owning our choices is the only real power we have in life. You cannot control other people. You cannot control nature. You cannot control what foods make you feel bad. You cannot control all public policy. You cannot control feelings that come rushing from a subconscious trigger. You can control when and how you act on your feelings and you can seek help if prior trauma leaves you doubting your perceptions.

Ultimately, it is our choices that allow us to create the best possible life we can have no matter what uncontrollable or tragic circumstances we encounter. This is true when it comes to diet and health. It is also true in relationships, finances, on the highway, and in a job situation. Changing our lives for the better is always within our power, but it will not happen until we have the courage to observe the facts and tell ourselves the truth no matter how ugly or difficult that truth is. It is at that point that it becomes possible to give up excuses and blame in order to craft the lives we desire.

When I can embrace and accept the things about me about which I feel the most shame, I begin to treat myself as though I matter, my priorities matter, my health matters, and my heart matters. While I hope that this will be valued by everyone I encounter, I know it will not. When my values run counter to yours, I can make a choice to argue with you, bully you, harm you, dismiss you or hear you, inspire you, and have compassion for you. I will not always make the ideal choice. It is then you can have compassion for me.

I wish us all the courage to become our best selves.