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Published on March 31, 2020

wooden surface with blurred background of pot on stove

How Your Kitchen Can Be a Place of Relaxation

We’ve all heard of “comfort foods” but in these uncertain times, it might be better for our long-term health if we take a slightly different approach toward finding comfort from the kitchen.

Culinary therapy is growing in popularity at many mental health clinics and therapy offices. It can be used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and addiction, just to name a few.

Now I’m not suggesting you track down a culinary therapist, but maybe just try to change your perspective on cooking.

The Many Upsides of Cooking

Instead of seeing cooking as yet another household chore, think of the potential benefits, which include:

  • Stress relief
  • Balance and coordination
  • Sensory awareness
  • Improved physical health
  • Enhanced ability to plan and organize
  • Time management skills
  • Relief from boredom (especially if you have older kids at home at the moment)
  • Improved memory, attention and focus
  • Self-esteem and sense of accomplishment

The dietitian in me can’t help but focus in on the “improved physical health” benefit. When we make good food choices (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and lean protein) it is more likely that we are getting the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to stay healthy and happy.

Although some pantry staples are hard to come by at the moment the produce section at the stores I have been to are well stocked! Staying on schedule and eating balanced meals can also help control production of hormones like ghrelin and cortisol which affect mood.

Prepare to Cook and You'll Prepare to Succeed

Here are a few ways to help your kitchen become a place of relaxation, instead of stress.

  • Prep, or mise en place as the French would say, does make sense. Gather all the necessary pots and pans, measure out your ingredients (put the remainder away), wash and cut vegetables, etc. Taking the extra time at the beginning can lead to less clutter and less need for frantic multi-tasking. With good prep I often find I can get a lot of clean-up done while I am cooking so when we get up from the table after the meal I don’t have a disgusting kitchen staring back at me.
  • Don’t compare yourself to Rachael Ray or Ina Garten. They have done extensive mise en place and have large teams of experts waiting in the wings to make sure everything turns out perfectly!
  • Let your creative juices flow. This is especially important when there is some uncertainty regarding what will be available at the store. It’s a good time to experiment with new and old recipes, or try whipping something up from what you have on hand. And at least for the moment if it turns out really bad you can just pick something up curbside or have it delivered. As Julia Child said, “No one is born a great cook; one learns by doing!”
  • Stay out of the kitchen in stressful moments and try deep breathing or light stretching instead. I understand the need to escape your new at-home work desk or hide from your children in the pantry, but the dopamine high from that piece of candy or salty chip will only last a second. Then comes the guilt and desire for yet another dopamine high… thus the cycle begins.
  • Limit distractions at meal time. It doesn’t matter if you are eating alone or with a group be mindful, present and take your time to truly enjoy what you have worked hard to create.

Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian at Avera Heart Hospital. Get more insight on nutrition and health.

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