Cooking as self-care

(Margaret Tran / Daily Titan) 

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me one thing, it’s the value of my health. As much as I love to work out, crafting a healthier lifestyle has always been my biggest weakness. 

Going into this fall semester of online instruction, I thought it would be easier than any other. I had lost my job due to the pandemic, leaving me much more time to dedicate to my school work. However, without anything else to structure my work around, I would spend hours at my dining room table slouched in front of my laptop.

My mental health began to take a hit and, subsequently, my physical health spiraled downhill. I felt so overwhelmed with plenty of tasks to complete as time ticked away rapidly. I stopped prioritizing exercising but I tried to compensate for it by not eating fast food.

It worked for a while. I would do my best to stay away from junk food but nothing I ate required using the stovetop or oven. I would assemble a sandwich or have a frozen meal for dinner, but I knew I wasn’t getting the fitness results I wanted.  

In the hopes of improving my physical health, I decided to give meal-prepping a go. 

As soon as I started, the physical and mental health benefits were apparent. I had always wanted to cook but it seemed like such a daunting task. Having no idea where to start, I stuck to the basics. Chicken and vegetables with a pasta salad for lunch became my daily routine.

Carving out a couple of hours of my day to cook a week's worth of lunch and dinner, I would listen to music or put on a podcast in the background while I zoned in on chopping vegetables and making sure the pasta didn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Due to the focus and attention that cooking requires, I found the perfect opportunity to step away from my laptop and decompress from my work. 

Cooking allowed me to make time for myself in my busy schedule and ensure that the quality of the food I ate was a priority in my life.

My weekly meal prep session became a ritual that I looked forward to all week long. Meal-prepping became a part of my self-care routine, although the fun and rewarding aspects of it quickly became repetitive. 

Eventually, I switched to a meal-kit delivery service, which sends three meals a week for two people at a cost of $25-$30. This consistency added more structure to my meals and provided me with a good portion of protein with carbs, grains and greens. 

The delivery service helped me explore cooking in the way I had always wanted to. I learned easy ways to cook basic side dishes like rice and to utilize ingredients that were already in my pantry to add a twist on something simple, like a sauce for chicken.

Ultimately, my desire to eat healthier and cook more goes hand in hand with my excitement to work out again. Even though finals are right around the corner, I feel more relaxed after adopting a healthier lifestyle.

For those like me who are intimidated by the idea of cooking, don’t be. Taste different flavors and discover what kind of meals you gravitate toward. Keeping an open mind will guide you to unique dishes that you may relish in. There’s an endless supply of recipes online that can help prepare you for the kitchen.

As tempting as it may be to pick up fast food instead of taking the time to cook, preparing your own meals can help save money and potentially act as a form of self-care.

Cooking has helped me listen to my body and understand that I need to fuel it in order to feel energized every day. I’m able to look after myself physically and mentally through the act of cooking in the kitchen, and it’s empowering.

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