We’ve all been there. Sitting down for a short and overdue lunch break, you just finished rooting through the staff fridge for the other half of yesterday’s Subway sandwich, when one of those people comes in. You know who they are. Their lunchbox is big enough to transport a cat, and out of it comes a series of small tupperware containers filled with confusing colors and ingredients that presumably will become this person’s lunch. As the coworker sits there, nonchalantly assembling some kind of wonderful dish the likes of which you’ve only seen in your favorite restaurants, you struggle vainly against the eternal urge to ask the same obvious question, and finally give in:
“Did you make that yourself?”
Your coworker’s eyes light up.
Yes. Yes, of course they did. They always do, and it’s always delicious, and it always makes you feel bad. It’s not that you don’t want to cook, or even that you don’t know how– it’s just a lot to deal with, considering everything else that’s going on. Cooking sounds like an awesome hobby, but once your schedule fills up it starts to feel like masochism. Yet people like your coworker find the time, and they still appear to be getting entire nights’ sleep… so what’s the deal?
In the past few years, I’ve gone from being the “amazed bystander” in this scenario to the “slightly embarrassed home chef”. I can’t tell you how many people seem to raise an eyebrow when they find out I made my own pita bread or cream of mushroom soup from scratch; but for every one person who thinks it’s really cool, I get at least 2 0r 3 others who immediately start talking about how I must have too much free time, or how they don’t have enough free time, to cook so much. It makes me feel kind of dumb, because for me cooking has become a way to actually enjoy my free time and suddenly I’m self conscious about it. But I don’t think the intention is to offend; I just think a lot of people (maybe you’re one of them) can’t imagine how cooking more meals from scratch would do anything other than overwhelm their schedule.
So when someone like me starts a blog like this one about how cooking can make your life even simpler, it seems a little ridiculous– or at least counterintuitive. For that reason, I’d like to take a couple minutes to explain what I mean, and hopefully help you break down some of the barriers to enjoying your new favorite hobby– living well. You thought I was going to say cooking, didn’t you? Anyway, here we go:
Out of Control
Let’s clear this up: what I’m not saying is that cooking will free up more time in your schedule. At this point in most of our lives, we’re honest about the fact that most good things take commitment, and most commitment takes work. The stuff I’m saying is going along with that thought. The real idea is that for anyone who is hurtling along and feels like they don’t have a grip on their lives (which is most of us), there are great ways to start changing that pattern. If we see ourselves spending a lot of time saying “I wish I knew how to do (whatever)” or “I wish I spent more time doing (whatever)” or “I never do (whatever) like I used to”, this is a message for us in particular.
We don’t have control over our lives, and getting some control tends to change our perspective. If you’ve ever made a budget you’ll know what I mean: you have the same amount of money, but suddenly it seems like it goes a lot farther and there’s a lot more of it sticking around. Most things in life work like that. If we limit how much TV we watch, or how many hours we work, or how much of our life we set aside for friends, suddenly we notice all of those things getting a lot more traction than they used to.
So Why Cooking?
The reason I’m advocating cooking as a good place to start simplifying your life is because it affects so many other areas. In fact, how and what we eat can have a big impact on how the rest of our ideas come into play. Let’s be honest: if we’re trying to exercise more, are we more likely to do it after eating a small homemade meal, or after some fast food value meal? (Honestly, I feel like doing almost nothing, period, after I eat fast food. I usually just sit on the couch pondering the nature of the digestive system and questioning my bad choices).
Food is tied pretty strongly into a lot of other areas of our lives: our health, our schedule, our money, and our relationships. The reason I like good cooking is because it forces me to deal with all of those areas. When I’m planning meals, I become more budget-conscious (do you know how expensive butter is?? Ridiculous). I also have to set aside more time out of my day if I actually want to eat dinner, and as I cook I suddenly am noticing what kinds of ingredients I put into my body. I find as well that the second I pull off some great recipe, I wish I had more people around to eat it with me.
So all in one meal, I’ve started changing my awareness and my habits in several of the huge areas in my life. And over time, it’s made me more creative and adventurous as a person, as well as more disciplined and discerning. When I started cooking, I worried about two things: cost and taste. If I could afford it and if I enjoyed eating it, that food made the menu. But now I think about the ingredients in everything I buy or eat, and I try to teach myself to enjoy the few slow moments I spend in the kitchen, and I make sure to stop and enjoy the meals that were created with the energy and creativity of someone who cares.
The Only Way?
Could you start this process in another area? Absolutely. Start exercising more, or reading more, or make a great budget for your family. Any habit that gets you to stop making excuses for overbooking your schedule or undervaluing your health and relationships is fantastic. But I’d be surprised if somewhere pretty early in the process you didn’t realize that you need to learn to cook. Just try starting any exercise plan or making any budget without people starting to yell at you about your diet and your groceries.
And why not cooking? Cooking is great. If you don’t cook now, it’s probably either because you think you’re bad at it or because you don’t think you can spend the time doing it. But let me tell you– it’s fun. It’s really satisfying. You feel proud and in control, and suddenly you’re the one with recipes to share in the lunch room.
The point I was trying to make was that cooking can simplify your life. Again, not in a “I want to keep doing whatever I feel like and magically have more free time” way, but rather a “I’m in control of the way my time and my money are spent, and I enjoy the way I live” way. Almost nothing is better than a homemade meal with family or friends, and if even if your only goal is to make that happen a little more often, you’re off to a great start. Like I’ve said before, we could all use a little more of that in our lives.
So that’s what I have for you today. Go cook something. Just as a side note, all the recipes on this site were written with the idea of normal people with busy lives in mind. I don’t like recipes that take a lot of time for very little payoff, or cost a lot of money for no reason. I’m not saying you should only use my recipes, just saying this site might be a good place to start. I have plenty of other resources I can share if you’re interested, so just get in touch with me if you have specific needs.
Also, if you’d like more specific advice about how to make cooking work on your schedule, feel free to check out my article on cooking more on a tight schedule.
Thanks… see you next time, foodies!