I kind of remember the days when I would plan, prepare and share gourmet meals with my husband and friends. I enjoyed shopping for special ingredients, prepping food for hours, lingering over a simmering pot with a glass of wine.
Things are a little different now. My life simply necessitates a different approach: highly organized weekly meal plans, one weekly trip to the store for groceries, streamlined shopping lists and a strong emphasis on quick-to-prepare meals with a simple list of ingredients. These are the hallmarks of my cooking experiences these days.
There’s a lot of benefit to this new way of doing things. We save money by keeping our meals simple. We emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables in our meals which boosts our health. I’m efficient and productive with my time by organizing my weekly food needs and meal planning. Food costs don’t spin out of control because I don’t impulse buy anymore.
But there’s one thing I wasn’t happy about.
It seems I assumed a different perspective when preparing meals for my family, which probably stems from this very efficient, time-saving approach. I began preparing and cooking meals in a more frenetic and harried manner.
It’s true, the time I have to cook is much shorter than before, but I no longer truly enjoy the little time I do have.
Many nights, my husband will watch the kids for 30-45 min so I can get dinner ready and on the table without little hands grabbing at the counter. I actually have the kitchen to myself (most times) and, yet I rush around, hyper-focused at the task at hand, as if I have a boss over my shoulder timing me. Somewhere in the process, I let the quick meals mindset strip me of enjoying the preparation of the meal.
Even though I’m not multi-tasking or being interrupted, I act like I am. I’m chopping, scrambling, slicing and stirring with a factory-line worker’s mentality. And I am sure that this energy flows straight to the dinner table. “Let’s go, guys, and get this dinner done so we can move on to bath, floor game time, books, bed…” Sound familiar?
I decided to change this.
It was as simple as that. I decided to stop using the rushing-through-dinner paradigm and recreate something new with my meal prep time. I gave myself time to enjoy this process and made space in a busy day for me. I’m more mindful and relaxed, right at the time of the day when I’ve often hit my most frazzled. It’s transformed our dinner time and resulting evening time into something much more peaceful and enjoyable.
Here are some suggestions to help you calmly prepare your quick meals:
1. Play music.
Listening to music you love gets you grooving, relaxing, or just plain happy. If there’s music you love but your family doesn’t (and so, like me, it doesn’t tend to be played), that’s the music you may want to play for yourself. Make this a special time.
2. Light a candle.
The calming and soothing aspects of candlelight happen even when other lights are on in the room. It’s a quick, simple way to acknowledge that you deem this time to be spent differently.
3. Wear an apron.
This may or may not work for you, but if you like aprons, try it. Like the candle, it sends a message that you are switching gears to cook a meal, a task that you enjoy and give your full attention to (for however many minutes you have).
4. Think about why you make dinner and who you’re doing it for.
This point is probably my favorite. I spend time in my thoughts about the nourishment and care I give by providing a nutritious, delicious meal made with love (which means a lot). I think about the people I am preparing this meal for – the ones I want to give to and nurture. You don’t have to make a five-course gourmet meal. You can serve pizza and a salad with as much love and nourishment as lobster. Remind yourself about your intentions. You may even find new, special ways to present and dress up your meals. For example, throw a sprinkle of basil on top of your pizza!
I incorporate smiling throughout my day. When we choose to change our moods with a (admittedly fake) smile, typically, a good mood will follow. I like to put my apron on, turn on the music, light a candle and plant a big, goofy smile on my face. It’s kind of dorky, but man, does it work!
6. Use the time to check-in (with yourself).
Use the food prep time to slow down and notice your breathing. When we do things with our hands or bodies that are repetitive, like weeding, walking or chopping carrots, it’s a great time to slow our mind and give our body some deep, smooth breaths. When I quietly and calmly work on simple tasks with my body or hands, I tend to pray.
Use these precious few minutes to decompress from a busy day. Hopefully, setting aside this time to yourself at the end of a long day will bless your life as it has mine. This is one way I’ve learned to fill my cup after a day that may have felt draining or frazzling.
Do you also feel rushed during your dinner prep? Do you have ways that help you slow down and enjoy the process?