On March 13th, I ordered groceries from a delivery app. Earlier that day, I’d left work early as the spread of coronavirus had officially hit the city where I live, and businesses began encouraging employees to work from home. My order had 25 items, mostly staples that would get us through a few days until we had a better understanding of what was happening, and was scheduled to come at 6 p.m.. At 10 p.m., the delivery finally arrived, but with only the seven items the shopper was able to locate. My heart sunk.
Ever since COVID-19 was deemed a pandemic and 45-minute lineups at the grocery store became the norm, my anxiety around food has skyrocketed. Is it really safe to be going to the store? How much should I be stocking up on things? What do I even buy at a time like this?
I wasn’t prepared for the uncomfortable feeling that came from seeing completely cleared out shelves in stores. At once, I feel the panic to buy everything—and lots of it!—but I also don’t want to add to the dwindling stock by taking more than I need. I worry that my family is eating too much and that we’re going to the store too often, while also stressing about whether we’re getting enough nutrients or if we’re going to run out of food. The push and pull is maddening.
Time to hit the reset button
For me, it was important to take a step back and remember that I actually like cooking, and that preparing meals might actually be my solace in this situation.
I’ve always found cooking to be a bit of an escape. A way to turn off my brain and focus on something practical. And if I’m still not feeling great by the end of it, at least I can eat my feelings, right?
Pre-pandemic, I rarely had the time or inclination to make things from scratch. But now that I have an active preschooler to entertain all day every day, I’ve started using food as a way to keep her hands busy and my mind clear.
We started easy, with pancakes. Try to find a three-year-old that doesn’t get pure joy out of throwing flour, sugar, butter, baking powder and an egg in the blender to “mix” up a batch. It felt good to do something that wasn’t reading the news or worrying about whether my kid knows her letters and shapes.
Next, we’ve upped the ante with three-ingredient gnocchi (sweet potatoes, flour and salt rolled up like Play-Doh), veggie dumplings (stir-fried onions and mushrooms wrapped in wonton wrappers and steamed) and sushi (Minute Rice, cucumber and avocado rolled up in a sheet of nori). Again, it felt great to be doing something together that we both enjoyed, and there was a yummy reward for our efforts. Plus, wasn’t my kid learning about counting and practicing her fine motor skills?
Taking back control
No one actually enjoys meal-planning, but, right now, it’s one of the only ways I’ve managed to have control in an otherwise completely out-of-my-control time.
Until it was no longer an option, I took for granted my daily trips to grocers—corner stores, specialty shops, farmers markets. These have now been condensed into a single trip to one store every other week, which means we need to plan accordingly and have a backup plan if some items aren’t in stock—or, worst case: they go bad before we get a chance to use them.
Being home has given me a chance to actually get to know my kitchen instead of being in such a huge rush all the time. I’m making a point to clear up random items, like a spice I bought and used once for a recipe or the ends of bags of pasta, grains and frozen veggies. The cleaning out of the cupboards has sparked my creativity in a time when I’m struggling to feel inspired by anything, and it also has given me that Marie Kondo feeling of accomplishment.
With many regular staple items disappearing off of store shelves, so have a lot of my regular go-to meals. At first, I found this extremely frustrating. It felt like starting from scratch. But now I appreciate the challenge of making the most of what’s out there.
I have a new appreciation for canned food, like chickpeas (an easy protein!) or pineapple, which has become a snack, pizza topping and muffin filler.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve let go of any snobbish feelings towards the frozen food aisle, learning that frozen fruit holds up well in baking or when grilled (especially right from frozen), and if a meal is feeling a little too beige, some frozen peas warmed up in butter is almost always a fix.
We’re not big meat eaters, but with news of a potential meat shortage and trying to cut costs where we can, this seemed like a good time to move towards a more plant-based diet. I don’t have a ton of experience cooking tofu or even packaged meat alternatives, so figuring these out have been another challenge, but it’s one that not only feels good for our budget, but also the planet and our overall health.
A well-deserved break
Hey, this may be a pandemic, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to take a night off. Cooking can be exhausting, even if it’s something you enjoy. In most cities, restaurants and food delivery services are still operating with extra safety measures in place. Last night we ordered ramen from our favourite Japanese restaurant and not only was it good for our stomachs, but it was good for the soul.
Do I still feel incredibly anxious about everything happening? Yes, absolutely. These are still very uncertain times. But there’s one thing that is for certain: we still have to eat, so it may as well be something good.