Getting Zen in the Kitchen: Nourishing Self-Care Where You'd Least Expect It

What if we viewed spending time in the kitchen preparing food as a therapeutic self-care process, much like a trip to the day spa? When we make intentional time for self-care, like getting a massage or a pedicure, taking a vacation, or just carving out time to “Netflix and chill,” we’re feeding into ourselves by pressing pause and purposefully giving our minds and bodies a rest. But what if we could feed that need for self-care daily simply by getting in the kitchen? When we take the time to cook nourishing foods for ourselves, it’s one of the greatest aspects of self-care we can create. It’s high time we start to view the kitchen as the forefront of the self-care process, and the preparation of nutrient dense foods as vital to a well balanced self-care routine.

For many, the kitchen is a daunting space. Perhaps you never learned some of the basics of meal prep, and the idea of spending any span of time with the vast array of kitchen cooking utensils and receptacles is intimidating at best. Many of us grew up with the rise of “helper”-type boxed meals, where one pot, some water, a mystery powder, and a little ground meat magically yielded a dinner-esque substance. We never learned the important basics, like how to chop an onion, cook meat, or prepare veggies. We live in a culture that is so far removed from the cooking experience, with drive-through conveniences and pre-packaged microwave meals at the press of a button. We don’t have to prepare food. Pre-made options are everywhere. It’s no wonder the kitchen space has become a no man’s land for many. It’s just the place where our coffee is made and our freezer and microwave do the bulk of the work.

Often it’s fear of the unknown that keeps us stuck and prevents us from trying something new.  You may think you hate cooking, but perhaps you’ve never had a positive experience in the kitchen with the right utensils to ease the process. For example, I grew up with dangerously dull kitchen knives. Trying to chop anything was an adventure in sawing through even the softest of produce and not maiming fingers along the way. I truly hated it. When I got married, we were gifted the most amazing set of proper knives, and I had no idea how much I LOVED chopping things until I had the right utensils at my fingertips. Now it’s almost therapeutic! And yes, that may sound crazy. But when you have the right equipment and even just a simple understanding of how to properly execute some kitchen basics, the process becomes streamlined and, I daresay, enjoyable. Before you hang up that dish towel for good, remember that there's a vast wealth of information at your fingertips (hello, Google), and it’s easy to find quick how-to tips and videos for learning those kitchen basics. No Iron Chef-level mastery necessary. You can get by with some very simple skills and just a handful of good equipment.

Preparing healthy meals for ourselves and our families is the gift that keeps on giving, especially when it comes to our health. Maybe you can’t fathom the thought of spending each evening in the kitchen after a long day of work. That’s ok. I understand fully that we’re all busy and feel pressed for time in many aspects of life. But even a few hours on the weekend spent on meal prep can yield a week’s worth of nourishing meals. One and done, and the benefit is the same—nourishing meals in place of instafood-like substances. A microwaved meal just doesn’t yield the same level of satisfaction as preparing something yourself. You get not only the sense of purpose in the process, but also the pride of accomplishment in doing something great for yourself, your family, and your health as a whole.

To be clear, there are many times after a long day that I don’t feel like taking the time to prepare a meal. Something instant would certainly be more convenient. But the price paid in terms of health for something full of preservatives and less than fresh franken-gredients just isn’t worth it to me. And more often than not, I find that in just starting the preparation process for a healthy meal, there is a calming, therapeutic essence that unfolds. Meals don't need to be a strenuous multi-step process. It’s as easy as picking a protein, some veggies, and the path of least resistance in throwing it all together. One pot, one pan, minimal effort. And I’ve not once regretted the decision to prepare a meal, or thought to myself “Gee, I sure wish I hadn’t made a nourishing dinner. What a waste.” With the fine-tuning of any new skill, the more time you spend doing it, the more comfortable and experienced you become. The process gets easier, you gain confidence, and your skills continue to improve.

It's time we changed our thinking around food preparation, from one of stress and “have to” to a therapeutic “get to” experience. I “get to” nourish myself in this way. Instead of viewing time in the kitchen as a burden or chore, what if we shifted our thinking to one of privilege and self-care through food? Peace in the preparation process. I get to have a say in the outcome of my health. I get to exercise therapeutic creativity with simple, nutrient dense meals.  

Food for thought, my friends! And on that note, I would LOVE to get feedback from you on some areas of kitchen mastery you’d like to know more about. I’ve got some quick video ideas on the horizon for navigating through kitchen basics, like how to chop an onion and crush garlic, geared towards taking the fear out of the unknown with easy techniques and proper tools. Let me know where you feel intimidated--or even an area that you've proudly mastered--and I’ll be happy to help encourage and empower you in the kitchen!

I whisk you the very best (hehe, oh utensil puns...),