I’ve hit a major wall in pandemic cooking. For a year, I’ve kept myself fed with (mostly) healthy things. The Budget Bytes website and the occasional Dinnerly meal box delivery (that link will get you a free box, on me!) have been my mainstays. I try to eat a lot of veggies, not too many carbs, less meat than plants. You know: healthy stuff.
Cooking for one is not ideal in any season. Recipes don’t make single servings – they create batches of food, which means I generally cook and eat two main meals over the course of a week. That’s a lot of leftovers, and it is usually just fine. Most of the time, I like finding interesting recipes and doing the meal planning and grocery shopping. Cooking after a day spent staring at this laptop screen feels like a great break. But the last month, all of the required time, energy and attention has mostly had me feeling like Paul Rudd (in one of the greatest scenes ever to grace a movie screen):
The kicker is, though, that there is no Janeane Garofalo in the room, or anyone else, for that matter. My entire sighing, put-upon performance is directed only at myself. There is no one else to blame, here! There is no one forcing me to cook healthy meals or clean up the kitchen when I’m done. This entire cycle of obligation/resentfulness is always and only directed at myself. Exhausting.
This week, I complained enough about having to feed myself and then resenting the fact that I have to feed myself that my friend Kendra took pity on me: “Well, why don’t you go to Aldi and just buy a week’s worth of their prepared foods. Not takeout every night, and just for one week. Maybe that will give you the break you need to get back into cooking.”
And as soon as Kendra offered that option, I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders. Well, of COURSE I can do that! Aldi has fun prepared foods, too: pizza and stir fry kits, barbecue trays and frozen waffles. It was like a whole new world opened in my brain. So simple. So silly.
I went to Aldi on Monday and did exactly what Kendra suggested, and the mental space that is freed up this week has been amazing. No hours spent debating what to eat for dinner. No cycles of obligation, resentfulness & guilt about the smallest, most mundane part of my day. I’m just…opening the fridge and pulling out whatever is on top of the pile.
I know this probably sounds ridiculous to some of you, both the ones who eat this way all the time and the ones who are still leaning into pandemic home cooking with a vengeance. But it’s real. I had not realized, until Kendra gave me permission to stop, that I had been so obsessed over my own self-imposed obligations and so sunk into my own self-created resentfulness. “Hey,” she said, “it doesn’t have to be this way. Just choose this simple alternative. It will be okay.”
For whatever reason, I did not have the resources or wherewithal to grant myself that permission that I so desperately needed. I needed someone else to grant it for me.
So, hey: it’s the end of an entire year of living in a state of fight or flight. The losses we’ve racked up are enormous. The anxiety we’ve carried is heavy. We are anticipating another few months, at least, of this state of heightened awareness.
It’s okay to give yourself a break.
I have heard people saying that for months, now, but it never crossed my mind that it could mean buying prepared foods instead of agonizing over what to cook myself for dinner. So, I don’t know what it might mean for you, right now. But if you, like me, find yourself immobilized on the living room couch after work, perseverating on your dinner choices or your to-do list or your kids’ extracurricular schedule or WHATEVER it is that is binding you up in knots and keeping you hostage to the internal cycles of demand/anxiety/resentfulness…well, hey: it doesn’t have to be this way. Take the easy option. Take a break. Leave some things undone. If you can’t entirely relinquish that sense of responsibility or obligation to your boss or your family or yourself, at least try to loosen your grip on it a little. If you are anything like me, your body and brain and being will be so grateful for the relief.