Controlling What We Can: How the Pandemic Expanded My Cooking Routine

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There are people who love household tasks, and then there are people like me.

I can intellectually understand the peaceful — even joyful — potential of acts like cooking, turning a pile of dirty dishes into clean ones, or folding and putting away laundry to make a space tidy. But mostly, for me, the acts are accompanied by a sense of unendingness. The dishes will just get dirty again. The clothes will just be piled up at the foot of the kids’ beds in an hour. These tasks are never done. I am Sisyphus. And I am not joyful.

 

Photo by Andre A. Xavier on Unsplash

The place where this frustration has come forward the most is in cooking nightly dinners. I’m a working, homeschooling mom (and was pre-pandemic), so the evenings are times of chaos and scramble. Providing nourishment for my family was not fun. It was a difficult — sometimes impossible — task of juggling taste preferences, nutritional concerns, and whatever happened to be thawed out or about to rot.

Just before the pandemic hit and we locked down, I had found the amazing solution of an in-home chef that came in once a week and prepped five meals, leaving my refrigerator stocked and my mind free from the burden of looking up yet another casserole recipe that snuck vegetables into the sauce. It was phenomenal! But then COVID came, and I haven’t even hugged my own mother in months, so having someone else in my house wasn’t on the menu.

At first — when the situation looked like it would end in weeks, not months — I just sort of gave up. Frozen pizzas. Macaroni and cheese from a box. Whatever. It was temporary. Until it wasn’t. At some point around mid-April, I had to admit that there was a new normal, and that meant it was time to cook up a different strategy when it came to feeding my family of four.

 

Photo by Gareth Hubbard on Unsplash

 

I wish I could tell you that this forced some kind of transcendent experience, and now I’m one of those people who just loves cooking. But that would be a lie. What I can tell you is that I’ve found some rhythms and resources, and what felt like an insurmountable struggle has become a totally doable task — and I’m calling that a win.

  • I cook once a week. The lesson I took from that in-home chef service I miss so very much is that I didn’t have to drag out every dish in my house on a nightly basis and remember to thaw out ingredients from the freezer each day. I could do it all once. So now Sunday mornings are set aside for the task, and — yes — I grumble about it. But I only have to grumble once a week— game changer. The prepared dishes hang out in the fridge, and people can eat what they want when they want. I know they’re getting nutritious food (more on that in a moment), and there’s no fighting over picky eaters.
  • I’ve embraced delivery services. We’re still pretty locked down, so we’re relying heavily on delivery services. We’ve fallen into a rhythm. Each Monday, I place an order with the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market (usually their big produce box). It gets delivered on Saturdays. Each Friday, I place an order with Shipt to get my staple groceries from Target. I schedule that to come on Saturday mornings, too. Every three weeks or so, I place an order with Local Harvest Grocery to stock up on meat.
  • I’ve got a Plan B. Sometimes the meals I cooked on Sunday last all the way until Friday (our designated takeout night). Sometimes they run out. I can’t predict it, and I don’t understand it. Are there people living here I don’t know about some weeks? Anyway, when we run out early, we need a backup plan. Sure, we still keep frozen pizzas on hand, but I’ve also been leaning heavily on Nourish STL, a new local company that provides delicious(seriously, delicious!) frozen prepared meals made from local produce (and a portion of the proceeds go to help mitigate the climate crisis! Win-win-win!)
a woman browsing fresh fruits at a farmers market
Photo by JPWallet on Canva

I thought about how much adjusting I’ve personally had to make as the pandemic has disrupted routines and plans, and I knew that my story played out in larger ways all around me. I miss my community. I miss walking to the Farmer’s Market and running into friends there while my kids play on the playground. I miss being able to casually dip into a grocery store when I’m lacking a key ingredient or get a craving for something random. I miss that chef service!

But these new ways of living aren’t all bad. I talked with the folks at Nourish STL — which is run by dietician Rhonda Smythe and Chef Colleen Clawson — and got this smart insight from them and how they had to shift their business model: “There is so much out of our control in the world these days. We want to give people an easy option to nourish their bodies, families, and communities one delicious spoonful at a time.” Their initial vision for Nourish STL had been a broader scale effort that served schools and corporate cafes, but they pivoted to their smaller, more individual model when the pandemic hit.

That theme — pivoting from the grand and sweeping to the small and intimate — resonates with me right now. So much of life feels overwhelming, but the ability to do this one small thing — feeding my family without losing my mind — feels like a real victory.

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