A table of food with a vase of tulips at the center

When I moved seven hours away from my family to start college, I could barely scramble an egg. I loved food. However, I had never made learning to cook a priority.

My twin sister was moving with me, and she had always been the chef in our family. I was more like kitchen help. I’d get out the ingredients and put them away. I washed dishes as she finished with them so there would be less to do when we were done.

Throughout college, I found no need to start cooking. If my sister didn’t make us a meal, then I could throw together a sandwich or run to the Chick-fil-A down the street from our house. I both entered and exited college with no knowledge of how to cook (though my egg scrambling skills had improved). In fact, there’s a story my friends love to tell of the time I accidentally made 112 chocolate chip cookies. If you’ve never made cookies from scratch, then there are no red flags raised when the recipe calls for five cups of flour.

I both entered and exited college with no knowledge of how to cook.

I had always heard people (my sister included) say that cooking was refreshing and even therapeutic, but I didn’t know this for myself until I had to learn to cook. As someone with an autoimmune disease, I had all but come to the end of what modern medicine could do for me, and I still found myself feeling miserable and in pain every day.

In a last-ditch effort to feel at least somewhat like myself again, I decided to stop eating things that I knew were terrible for me, even though I was convinced I loved them. I stopped drinking Coke every day and swinging by a fast-food restaurant for supper on my way home from work. My sister and I started meal planning. Slowly and not without mistakes (I turned a $20 brisket into a pot roast, for example) I was learning to cook food that was tastier than anything I could get from a restaurant, and I realized that I was falling in love with cooking.

From the start of planning my meals weekly to cooking each evening with my family, making a home-cooked meal is more than an obligation. It’s a routine. When I’ve had a long day at work, I look forward to unwinding and spending time in the kitchen with my family.

After the work week, my favorite Saturday activity is planning my meals, creating a shopping list and spending the morning in the grocery store, though this looks a little different these days due to COVID-19. When the day has been long and all I feel like doing when I get home is crawling into bed to watch This Is Us, I find that prioritizing a home-cooked meal means I am prioritizing myself. Cooking can be a form of self-care. Few things make me feel more accomplished than tasting the first bite of a home-cooked meal when all I really wanted to do was cave and pick up a pizza on my way home.

I find that prioritizing a home-cooked meal means I am prioritizing myself.

Making home-cooked meals a priority also means I save money and waste less food. What I don’t eat for dinner is taken for lunch at work. At the end of the week, my fridge and pantry are not cluttered with produce that’s gone bad or ideas for cooking that have not left my brain. I feel more accomplished, better mentally and physically. Plus, I even have money left over to put into savings or put towards a new book or pair of shoes (my two favorite treats!)

I have found ways to make “fast food” recipes better for me. This way I don’t feel like I’m missing out on foods I loved before I started cooking. Even doing the dishes after a home-cooked meal feels rewarding and surprisingly easy. I love the extra time visiting with my sister as we cook, and I appreciate the ingredients that go into each of our meals. I control how much of everything goes into the foods I make.

When I finish cooking a meal, I do not feel overwhelmed by the time of night or annoyed that it’s later than it would have been if I’d picked up fast food on my way home. Instead, I feel refreshed, full and ready for the next day. We get to choose what we put into our bodies, and food can either heal us or poison us.

We get to choose what we put into our bodies, and food can either heal us or poison us.

Every now and then, I think about my college days surviving on drive-thru and Oreos. If you had told the girl who went to Sonic every morning and afternoon that a year later she would cook every meal she possibly could at home, she would have laughed in your face. She was going a thousand miles an hour at all times. She was overwhelmed and needed a way to unwind from trying to balance school, work and applying for jobs. If I had known then what I know now, then I probably would have enjoyed my last year of college a lot more.

Cooking is both a necessity and a luxury for me. Prioritizing cooking at home each night is my favorite form of self-care. While we are quarantined, pull out a recipe book or your Pinterest boards. Try something new and good for you.

Do you make cooking at home a priority? Why or why not?

Image via Emily L. Blake, Styling via Katherine Warnock, Darling Issue No. 7

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