baking, Canada's Food Guide, food choice, life transitions

You’re worth it (laments of a baker whose batch size has been limited)

I’ve been living alone for the last three weeks while my spouse has gone to our retirement house to do some painting. Well, I’m not truly alone – my 21 year old is still here but he works lots of nights so we pass each other on his way to work and my return from work. I think of myself as a resilient person, happy to be with myself and enjoying my own company, and it certainly isn’t the only time I’ve been alone. I have deployed in my military job (well, arguably there were other soldiers with me), I have been on course in my military job (well, again, I had course mates), but this might be one of the few times in my life where I didn’t have a regular “posse” to take my meals with, and I have been a little alarmed of how lazy I have become with regard to meal preparation. Yesterday as I was coming back from a wonderful power walk, feeling fit and strong, I passed a local coffee shop, I felt an overwhelming urge to stop and pick up a sandwich for supper, just so I could avoid the task of cooking for myself. I was just about to stop when I realized this was about the 4th time this week that I had a similar urge. Thinking of the newly released Canada’s Food Guide mantras “cook more” and “be more mindful” of the influences around food choice, I thought to myself, “This is crazy!” and kept walking. I arrived home, defrosted some chicken breast, made myself a homemade chicken Caesar salad and settled in for a night of Netflix, happy to have avoided the temptation of an easy meal and happy to be in complete control of the remote control.

In the recently released Canada’s Food Guide, Health Canada has included the concepts of mindfulness, focusing on home food preparation and eating as a group for very good reason. Food is a social activity. Many of our cultural traditions, regardless of the origin of that culture, involve food and food preparation rituals. As humans, we are meant to eat together. I have always found the work surrounding the preparation of a family meal (festive or not) quite relaxing and certainly worth any effort I needed to put forth. So why is it so hard to muster that effort when I am cooking just for me? Not sure, but I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. In fact I was speaking with my elder son about this issue as I was typing this blog. My son’s partner until very recently has travelled a lot for work. My son’s reaction to the trials of cooking for himself? “Mom, it’s brutal!”

So why bother? Why not just grab something from the deli and be done with it? Cost is a limiting factor for most folks, but even without that factor, when we are not in control of the food preparation process, we are also not in control of the nutrient content. Portion sizes are generally larger (at least for me as I’m an aging short woman) and that means body weight becomes more difficult to control. Ready made items are generally higher in fat and sodium (check out the nutrient information on that frozen entree the next time you’re in the grocery store – you’ll be shocked!) And if you’re a foodie, the taste is normally substandard. Home made items for the win on all accounts – cost, nutrition, and taste – but how to muster the energy to cook for yourself?

One of the best habits I’ve seen among my friends who are in the “live alone, eat alone” phase of their lives is preparation. Many of them devote a day or so to prepare larger portions of food and then portion it down to single servings. I’ve done this a lot as my husband and I entered the empty nester stage of our lives. I would cook a large lasagna (sometimes out of habit), serve it for dinner and then single portion the rest, freeze it and send it with him for work lunches. This would work well in my situation as I could cook one or two main entrees and single portion them and freeze them for later meals. However if you’re not careful, you’re going to be very tired of lasagna very fast. Another idea is to buy raw product such as fish, meat or poultry and single portion the items out before you freeze them. In this manner, you simply have to defrost one portion of meat and then pair it with a salad, veg or other healthy side to make your meal complete. My personal commitment over the next week is to treat myself as if I was a member of my family. Sounds silly, but why am I so hesitant to put the same effort into my single meal that I would very willingly put into the meals of my family? I need to walk the talk of this blog – I’m worth it – and I will set the table, garnish my plate, and turn off the tv and enjoy the meal. That is my promise to me for this coming week.

Finally there are a ton of blogs and websites dedicated to the single diner or the couple. I searched the web over the weekend looking for baking blogs dedicated to small batches as I really thought that if cooking for one is tough, baking for one would be tougher (and I was dying for a good cinnamon roll!) I was very happy to find an amazing website called http://www.dessertfortwo.com which caters to small batch cooking and baking. I made myself the cinnamon rolls this morning and they were amazing! So, that’s my thoughts for today. Cooking for myself falls under the category of necessary self-care and I will make a stronger effort to do it. I’m heading to Nova Scotia to the “big house” next week so I’ll have my hubby, pups and hopefully extended family to cook and bake for. Stay tuned for an amazing white cheesecake recipe just in time for Valentine’s Day!

I would be interested in hearing how everyone meets the challenge of cooking for themselves or for themselves and a partner. Please place your ideas in the comments below.

This week – cook yourself dinner – I’m going to!

Victoria

Cinnamon rolls for one! (I’ve saved the others for tomorrow) For my baker friends, the edges are a little ragged because I bake with gluten-free flour. As gluten provides the structure that holds the dough together, gluten-free products are a bit more delicate and don’t always hold their shape. For my friends with celiac, substitute the regular flour for gluten-free flour in the cinnamon roll recipe in a 1:1 ratio – you will not be disappointed!