Cooking for yourself: You are worth the effort.

I think this is a lesson that all of us could stand a refresher in, myself included, as we continue down the path toward feeding ourselves like competent adults.

Caveat: Feeling that it’s not worth the effort to prepare food for yourself is very different from literally not having the energy or resources to prepare food for yourself. The latter happens sometimes to all of us – either we are just bone-tired and pressed for time and eating is just not going to happen (or can only happen in rudimentary form), or we honestly don’t have the money to buy the food we want or need, or we haven’t yet learned to cook in the way we want or need. I have personally been in every single one of these situations at some point, and none of them are easy. But they are not what I am talking about in this article, just to be clear.

What I am talking about is that feeling, when you genuinely do have time and energy and food and skill on hand, but you manage to talk yourself out of making food that would truly nourish you because somehow cooking “just for yourself” doesn’t feel worthwhile.

Story time: the last time I was in this situation was when my husband starting working really late hours, not getting home until like 8pm. Previously, we were eating dinner together around 6:30, and then I would have evening clients afterward. This change in his schedule meant we were each on our own for dinner, and I wouldn’t even see him until 9pm.

For the first couple of weeks, I was THE SADDEST, gazing out the window like fat Cyndi Lauper. I completely abandoned the wifely habit of having dinner ready promptly at 6:30pm (smoke detector blazing) and would just sort of listlessly snack on whatever random food came to hand. Toast, cereal, Cheetos, peanut butter from the jar, whatever.

Many cat selfies were taken during this dark time.

I was a tragic, grazing Camille, and inside a week, I felt horrible. Even more horrible than lonely. I soon connected the horribleness to the lack of eating an actual dinner. (Thank you, nutrition degree! $20,000 well spent.) So I resolved that I would Cook An Actual Dinner, no matter what time my husband came home, and I would even dish up a plate for him like the saddest make-believe tea party of all time.

It took some activation energy, no doubt. I had to convince myself to stop dragging my feet, and remind myself that not feeling like crap truly was worth the effort, that my own well-being (and by extension, I) was truly worth the effort. Through the bad-and-wrong feelings and the internal toddler whining, “I don’t waaaaant to,” I did it once. And it was tasty and made me feel better. So I did it again. And again.

I plated my husband’s part, wrapped it in foil, and put it in the oven to warm, just like I imagine many pre-microwave era housewives had done. He was appreciative, and most importantly, both of us were well-fed instead of coasting on fumes.

So, anecdote concluded. Not feeling like death: it’s worth it!

Let’s talk strategies. For those of you with roommates or significant others who share food, the cooking-and-keeping-warm strategy I did above can work if you’re already in the routine of cooking most nights. You could also keep it cold instead by putting leftovers in the fridge. Either way, you’re staying out of the temperature DANGER ZONE. (As well as the Kenny Loggins DANGER ZONE.) And for some reason, just feeling like you are cooking for more than one person, even if that person isn’t physically there, can get you over the hump.

For those of you who live or eat alone, things are a little trickier because you don’t have another person depending on you (and therefore motivating you) to cook something every night. When I was single, I solved this problem by cooking once or twice on the weekend and freezing it in portions. I tell you this as someone who is not a fancy cook: it’s not as hard or as fussy as it sounds. I believe in cooking things in a single pot, if at all possible – especially since at the time, I lived in an apartment whose kitchen was a stove, a fridge, a sink, one rickety square foot of counter, and a cart I bought from Canadian Tire.

More importantly, it is worth it if you are sick of eating out or scrounging. I have five or so basic recipes that I learned can be frozen in portions and reheated rather well: Hoppin’ John with rice, Beans Bretonne with arborio rice, beef stew, creamed chicken and mushrooms with mashed potatoes, and chili con carne. These all have the advantage of being one-pot meals (oh, except the mashed potatoes), and several of them make good vegetarian recipes with small adjustments. I make them all in a Dutch oven.

The trick is to remind yourself that having a stash of frozen meals does not mean you are obligated to eat those meals every single day. If you pressure yourself with this, there will be resentment and tears, trust me. These meals are your safety net for when better plans (going out with a friend, getting a roasted chicken from the store, ordering a pizza) don’t materialize. You will never be in a situation where you regret having a few frozen meals stashed away. Eventually, you may even come to prefer your own cooking to ordering pizza. But only if you don’t force it. Intersperse eating them with your scrounging method of choice.

I still cook and freeze something every other week, so I can have a hot, homemade lunch during the weekdays, and for emergency dinners. In fact, I just finished a nice cup of chili, an apple and some rye bread for lunch. It was delicious. Furthermore, I made it spicy enough that my husband won’t go near it. TIGER BLOOD.

(I know Charlie Sheen jokes are very 2011, but I’m old and time moves more rapidly for me.)

Alright, so here’s where I ask for your input, like a good little blogger: I am a pretty uninspired, workmanlike cook, so I’m sure the rest of you have even more brilliant ideas for 1) convincing yourself you are worth the effort, and 2) using amazing Crock-Pot technologies to sink further into lazy debauchery. Go for it in comments.

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