I had a couple people ask about it, so I’m planning to occasionally start sharing what happens in our kitchen in a week’s time. Meal planning, what we food we purchase and where, the timeline of our days, etc. Before I start though, I feel like I should explain my history as a home cook, as I’ve finally acknowledged that I can’t view cooking the way I used to. Hopefully this is helpful to someone!
My grandma influenced my love for cooking at an early age by always having a job for me in the kitchen when I asked to help and by cooking such gourmet meals that food became an exciting magical adventure. I’d “ooh and ah” over her creations, her gorgeous place settings, the fancy cups she let me use, and the high quality ingredients she served us at every visit.
In high school I started asking my mom if I could cook and I began to experiment with various ingredients and recipes. My skills were limited and my stress was high as I learned how to time multiple recipes to be finished simultaneously, how long to cook each ingredient, what the tastiest method of cooking each ingredient was, etc.
I got married at 19 and wanted more than anything to be a fantastic cook. Andrew also has a strong passion for cooking. The two of us, for first 5 years of marriage, rarely made the same recipe twice. We love trying new things, particularly Asian. Like I said in a previous post, I loved cooking but I was cooking with processed foods. And I always, always followed recipes to a T. I was paranoid that if I changed one little thing that the recipe would turn out awful or at least just enough “off” that I wouldn’t fully understand how good the dish could have been. Every once in a while if I made something a second time, I would experiment with it and do something a little different based on our preferences, but never the first time I made something. And don’t get me started on those bloggers that don’t give exact measurements. I can’t even handle it.
I also loved meal planning and sitting down to all my cookbooks, magazine cutouts, and Pinterest to scour my recipes, looking for the yummiest sounding adventure. I would try to overlap ingredients for the sake of the budget, which was stressful, but doable. The only thing that slightly damped my love for meal planning was the fact that our budget wasn’t a bottomless pit for food fun, it was fairly tight.
Then, when we realized we needed to start eating healthier, things got a little bit tricky. I still loved meal planning and was excited about it, but things were obviously changing. I tried things from the bulk bins, processed food that seemed healthier, and tested out new preparation methods. My focus on cooking shifted from exclusively being about amazing flavor to a combination of amazing flavor and learning healthier techniques.
Once Emery’s diet restrictions became clear in November 2013, the meal planning complications got kicked up a notch. I still told myself and everyone around me how much I loved meal planning; I still thought it was fun and I knew I loved cooking, but I found myself starting to procrastinate. What once used to be an exciting job that I would tackle before anything else, became something that I would put off for days at a time. I would often put it off until the last-minute, holding my head in my hands, totally stressed out and asking Andrew for feedback on my choices for the week and if he [the numbers guy] thought I would be in budget. At one point I gave the meal planning over to Andrew because I was so stressed. I was having such a hard time coordinating meals under all our restrictions – the kids and I don’t feel well after eating eggs [unless in baked goods]; we had to omit gluten, grains, and dairy for Emery; anything bulk or packaged had to come from a certified gluten free facility which greatly reduced what ingredients we had access to; I had to coordinate meals around a meat pick up that happened every other week and I never knew what cuts of meat I was going to get; I had to stick to a budget; and use as few processed foods as possible for Andrew’s liver. Trying to find recipes that met our family’s needs was hard and stressful. And on top of this I was constantly trying to tackle new skills as I attempted to learn the full Weston A Price lifestyle
[I should insert into this story that I have an obsession with anything 100+ years ago. After the bible, the plumb line to which I compare everything I do is, “what would people have done 100 years ago?” I started pondering, somewhere in the midst of this stress, about what a kitchen 100+ years ago would have functioned like. People didn’t used to have access to all the crazy ingredients we can find in the stores today. They didn’t have 20 cookbooks in their pantry to reference. They didn’t have Pinterest. They had basic, delicious ways they prepared food that I’m sure they easily memorized and weren’t stressed and overwhelmed by. I kept flirting with the idea of what this would look like for me, but kept shoving it to the back of my mind because it intimidated me. Recipes are my crutch. Not only do they give me confidence the meal will turn out yummy, if for some reason they don’t, I can blame the recipe’s creator ;-)]
One day, a few weeks ago, I finally acknowledged to myself that I didn’t like meal planning anymore. In fact, I’d grown to hate it. It wasn’t fun anymore. As I was reflecting over my married life, I tried to figure out what the problem was. Yes I have new limitations, but why is this so hard for me? I finally realized, that in addition to my list of criteria above, I still had this fantasy in my head that meal planning involves exotic dishes, tantalizing ingredients, magazine-cover worthy plating, and a brand new recipe every time. I hadn’t come to terms with the fact that that’s not what my family needs right now. That was a fun season of my life and I will always look back on it with joy and rose colored glasses but it’s not my reality anymore.
The reason meal planning wasn’t enjoyable anymore was because I didn’t acknowledge that my pre-healthy approach toward food couldn’t coexist with the limitations my family’s diet puts on our meals now AND still have time to spend with my kids and husband. I was trying to have my cake and eat it too. I do think that one day, after we’re through the GAPS diet, our kids are a little older, and I find a rhythm with fermenting, canning, preserving, etc, that I’ll be able to make more elaborate meals, but not right now. Now, I’m trying to figure out how to embrace traditional real food cooking, meet specific health needs, and actually enjoy the process. I was failing at the latter.Since this enlightening discovery, I’ve finally decided to channel my inner pioneer woman [not the blogger, but a legit pioneer woman from back in the day.] and cook more simply. I’ve stepped out side my comfort zone and used my previous experience with cooking everything under the sun to finally allow myself to cook without a recipe. For the first time, a couple weeks ago, I went to the grocery store without a plan. I grabbed meat, produce, and herbs and came home and stood in front of my fridge, intimidated. Each night I threw things together with a loose plan. Andrew would come home, peek skeptically at was on the stove, and ask what was going on. He could tell I was winging it and was a little nervous! Surprisingly, everything turned out edible, nothing got burned, and we actually enjoyed it. I survived! I was only slightly less stressed than the week before, when I was planning every detail, but I could tell it was going to get easier.
The first week was rocky but I’m starting to find my groove. After five years of cooking a bazillion different recipes and experimenting with different flavors, I’m learning what works and what doesn’t. It’s taken me some time to trust myself in the kitchen, but it’s finally happening. Some days I got so focused on the main dish I forgot about making a side. Some days I didn’t have my act together and things weren’t timed well so we to ate in shifts, but it was part of the learning process.
The last couple weeks food has not been stressful for me the way it used to be. I have to spend so much time prepping our food each week that being stressed and consumed with planning every detail was having an effect on my joy and attitude to be able to serve my family. Real food stopped being fun. I was forcing myself to continue because my family’s health left me no choice, but I wasn’t taking a minute to step back and realize that there had to be a better way. I’ve always had it in my head that to be a diligent and responsible wife, I need to meal plan. For some families and wives, I’m sure that’s the most helpful thing for them. But for me and our family’s needs, it wasn’t a good fit anymore. I think the main thing I’ve learned is to recognize when I need to change my approach. I tried for, far too long, to do things in a way that wasn’t helpful to my family because I was so caught up in the idea of making something different every time I cooked.
I still look for recipes if I have something in mind I want to try, especially for ferments or an idea for excess leftover ingredients, but for the most part I’m done [for now] with meal planning and it feels so good! And don’t worry, if you’re a recipe follower, I’ll post the recipes I make up when I share a week in our kitchen