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As someone who cooks at home often, I thought I would have a leg up on my family’s eating during the pandemic. But I quickly found that knowing how to cook isn’t the same as wanting to — and it’s not the same as doing so.
Nine weeks ago (or so … eight and a half? Feels like an eternity.), my kids began their schooling at home, and I began working at home. We’d stocked up on food, prepared for the homebound time and were ready — in terms of supplies. What I wasn’t ready for was how cooking for every meal would feel foreign, hard and weighty.
It wasn’t because I don’t like to cook though — I do. And I have a treasure trove of quick and easy ways to make flavorful food at home. But I had developed some unconscious habits in recent years that I didn’t even realize I had.
Sure, I made dinner most nights and we got takeout once or twice a week. And breakfast was usually at home. But lunch? Though I always aimed to take lunch to work, I often grabbed takeout downtown instead. Though I didn’t count it in my total, I was eating out a lot more than I thought.
That was a big reckoning in those early weeks.
At first, I cooked lunches and dinners for everyone all the time. I mean, we were home, so why not? And lunches weren’t PB&J — they were full-on meals. That meant I was taking my laptop to the kitchen while I sauteed veggies, tossed together a quiche or made some other seemingly easy meal midday. It meant that I returned to the kitchen in the evening to do it again.
It felt like I was in the kitchen all the time, while also working full time, monitoring school work, making sure my kids got out for fresh air and exercise and … it was a lot. It, too, was weighty and bogged me down mentally. Not only was I cooking more meals than ever before but I was also time-stretched in a most unexpected way.
It wasn’t long before I felt something entirely unexpected: cooking fatigue.
I tried to push through. We had to eat.
And that, actually, is one of the reasons I love writing about food: It’s a universal thing. It unites us all. Still, while dealing with cooking fatigue, I also felt a lessening desire to write about food.
In the end, I realized I didn’t need to be Super Girl in the kitchen. My kids — they are 12 and 14 — both know how to cook. They both learned from me from an early age and also went to a good cooking camp. They’ve been making their own breakfasts for years and have both learned to make things beyond eggs. So why wasn’t I letting them do more than feed themselves in the morning?
Having them take the reins on their lunches several days a week helped. And they took over dinner duty once a week, making seasoned ground beef, guacamole and cilantro lime rice the way I taught them (yes, we have tacos once a week, every week).
It lightened my load, both physically and mentally.
Plus there’s an added benefit to letting my kids make some lunches and dinners: they get to have creative control over what they eat. That’s led to my daughter teaching herself to soft boil eggs (a delightful topping for fancied up ramen!) and my son to learn how to drain fat from browned ground beef.
Good lessons. Good residual benefits.
Every little bit of control I gave up, welcoming others into the kitchen, meant a little bit more time and peace of mind for me. Now, when I make lunch or dinner, it’s fun again. I can be creative. I don’t feel overwhelmed.
As for writing about food, I am trying to find my way back. But this is a good first step.
Sarah Walker Caron is senior editor for The Bangor Daily News and author of five cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.