The weirdest gift I ever received was one of the most influential in my life.
A vacuum sealer.
Wilson and I did not have kids yet, but he was still in the military and deployed. Thus, I lived alone. And my sister bought me a vacuum sealer.
“What am I supposed to do with it?” I asked.
“You are supposed to start cooking,” she said.
“It doesn’t cook things, it seals them.” I retorted.
“Duh, Toad. <don’t ask–it’s what she calls me>… You are supposed to start cooking real food. Healthy food. Enough for more than one person. You eat some, you freeze some. Over time, you can kiss the frozen section of the grocery store goodbye—but not literally. The produce guy gets mad when he has to clean your lipstick off the glass. Ask me how I know.”
Slowly, over time, I started really eating. And slowly, over time, I started to get better. I had been sick, very sick. That was a big part of my Frozen Section Excuse actually, too sick to do much of anything. Too sick to care.
I started by cooking one real meal a week. Not spaghetti night, not a hotdog, a real and delicious balanced meal. I worked full time and so I made this my Saturday evening routine. Although I grew up in a home with delicious, homecooked meals, I also grew up left to my own junk food devices too, so I had a lot to learn. I did cook for hubby, but living alone?
Cooking for one is a lonely thing; many-a-meal I ate standing over the kitchen sink, refusing to sit at a table by myself. Lest you think that a nourished lifestyle comes easy to this girl, let me tell you about rock-bottom. I distinctly remember eating cold peas out of the can. Over the Sink. For Dinner.
If you currently live on things that come in packages or cans or are from the frozen section; if you just open it and heat, then try this: Set aside one night a week to cook a real, balanced, healthy meal. Use a cloth napkin, a real plate, and even sit down to eat it.
You will feel more human.
Do not cut the recipe in half to serve one; double it! Use vacuum sealing bags to make your own “t.v. dinners” for other days. Label the package with its contents and date, and you can drop the whole thing into a saucepan of boiling water, or (if this is where you are in life) even microwave it. If you do live alone, you should put 3 of each meal away into the freezer. Give this a month (a variety of 4 real meals) and you now have some choices when you open that freezer. You now have food to take for lunch at work, too, so that you can cut back on eating out.
Soups & Stews. This will kickstart Step 1. The reason I suggest starting with soups and stews is because they really are forgiving. If you are not a great cook and tend to spill the cayenne, don’t worry—just add more broth and make a bigger pot of soup. If it is bland or the flavor is off, experiment until you like it. Do not worry about fancy. There is something wholly comforting about the unassuming nature of soup. This is also the best way to experiment with foods that might be new to your system. When I realized I needed to cut white flours out of my diet I started experimenting with grains that were completely new to me—quinoa, barley, teff, and spelt. A handful of anything will fill a soup nicely, and your tummy. If you are really just that bad at cooking, I mean, so bad your dog paws at his nose when offered, consider investing in some great spice mixes (like Chili Seasoning, Mexican Seasoning, or Italian Seasoning).
(Don’t even like soup? You haven’t tried any of these recipes, then….seriously):
To freeze your extra soup: put a serving size into a bowl and place it into the freezer, uncovered. In a few hours, pull it out of the freezer. Turn the bowl upside down under the faucet. With your hand on it to catch your soup-cube, run warm water over the bowl. It will pop out and is ready for the vacuum sealer! Then, to warm it up, you can either warm it in a saucepan or the bag itself. You are now combining the convenience of the frozen section of the grocery store with proper nutrition and homecooked meals!
Find something you enjoy in the kitchen. Or find a happy distraction. Let me say this another way. I hated cooking meals because it felt like a lonely task with too much cleanup. But I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Prairie Home Companion every Saturday night; I would get lost in the tales of Lake Woebegone, and you know what—this woman was getting stronger just by getting into the kitchen and making real food. Cleanup was enjoyable when I was laughing at the stories and singing along to the goofy songs. So although meal prep and cleanup are still—to this day—not my fave, I have found a way to redeem that time with something educational, distracting, or just plain fun.
This was also the period in life when I discovered that I love baking! Getting into the kitchen to bake, for me, is completely different than a meal. During those lonely single days, I started baking breads and treats using real food ingredients. This helped my health tremendously because I cut out all white flours from the store. I saw my blood sugar stabilize and my energy come back.
Seeing results serves as its own motivator, too. No matter how much I hate washing dishes, I love being healthy.
Always carry something to eat. The pressure to “grab a bite” was strong in my life. The blood sugar problem was a legitimate excuse often, too. And yes, I was that crazy lady that oscillated between hitting the side of the vending machine and whispering sweet nothings to it in great desperation. But once I started baking, I had things like oatmeal bars and homemade cookies that I could seal in snack portions. I would drop a snack into my bag before leaving the house, always glad that I did.
Replenish ingredients with healthy alternatives. Some people quit white sugar cold turkey. I did not. But I did begin to replace the empty bags with ingredients I could feel better about. For instance, the sucanat replaced the brown sugar. The wheat and grain mill replaced store bought flours. The cacao nibs replaced the palm oil & preservative-laden stuff I had been eating.
One at a time.
It took time for me. Then I noticed a peculiar thing. Even though I saw many of these items as costing more than their junk food counterparts, I found they lasted a bit longer. It was because a real brownie made with real ingredients really satisfies. I no longer crept into the kitchen at 11pm to finish them off! I also found that buying in bulk meant I was saving a considerable amount of money than the typical last-minute run to the grocery store.
A Head Start
You read this blog. You have a plan. Give yourself some grace. Do not compare yourself to some food blogger (who probably still dips into the occasional jar of Nutella in front of her computer screen when no one will find out <cough>). Just take a step. A single step. And then tomorrow, take another. You will look back on this moment as the start of something good, the start of a healthier and more nourished you.
One step at a time,
Nothing in this blog constitutes medical or legal advice. You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes. Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.