Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Food and Time

One of the big issues that comes up in our house, and likely yours, is time. There is never enough time. For anything really, but with fast food and fine dining it is especially easy to fall into having others do our cooking for us.

Nutrition. It is an essential part of our lives and one that often gets shoved down to the bottom of our list of priorities. I get that. The mere thought of preparing dinner every night, for a potentially picky family, at the end of a busy day, tires me. Breakfast and lunch aren't any easier. Mornings are a flurry to get out the door and lunch is a series of temptations. I am horrible at brown bagging my lunches so I often end up out, spending money to get too many calories.

I could go on here about nutritional costs. About the horrors of super sizing it, how much more fat, sodium and calories we consume when we eat out (about 30% more of each), the cost to the earth of factory food production and the environmental damage caused by our love of meat. I am sure you have heard all of that, a lot. I am going to leave that alone to share some thoughts you may not have had about food.

Eating out saves us cooking and cleaning. It saves us having to decide what to make. It saves us yelling at whoever isn't setting the table. It saves us learning how to make things we like. It saves us teaching whoever isn't setting the table that they have responsibilities to their family. It saves us from family conversations. Are we really saving anything? Or is it costing us?

How does all of this relate to wellness or massage therapy? Having good nutrition and finding ways to put ease into you life are central to your well-being. Being obese, eternally rushed, and eating poorly are all central issues that inhibit wellness. Changing how we relate to food is a way in which we can improve our well-being and attend to a core part of our lives. No need to add an extra activity, just be more mindful of an existing one.

Dining out takes time. There is the time to choose a restaurant (or fight about it), travelling to and fro, and the time to actually eat. It is hard to eat out in anything less than an hour. Not really much better than the time to prepare something at home.

And what about the food itself? The deciding, the preparing, the trying, the failing, the succeeding. Does the process of engaging with food change how we are with food? When we move beyond reading the food porn that is the modern menu, do we change how we touch, hear, smell and taste food?

When we are making decisions about what we are going to eat hours, or days, in advance, our thinking is dominated by the front of our brains. When we simply order a meal the growling Grendel in our bellies are doing the thinking. Appetite and hunger draw us to fats and simple carbohydrates because they provide instant gratification for our blood chemistry and neuronal feedback loops. Compare that to our cool brains telling us that we will have had red meat for two nights already and perhaps a vegetarian, might be a good idea. Another night with potatoes might just be boring and maybe some brown rice or a yam would be nice. We don't sacrifice flavour when we plan, we just allow ourselves the luxury of thinking how we can get them without throwing salt and butter at everything.

If decision without physical inspiration isn't happening a trip to the store to check your options can go a long way. Peruse the perimeter. Check out the meat section for appealing proteins. Linger amongst the vegetables and think of what would taste good with those lovely looking tomatoes. Let your eyes be your appetite, and your brain the editor on your food fantasies.

How can you fulfil your food fantasies if you can't cook you fantasies? It is true that time , and skill, do interrupt fantasy. Butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter sauce seems too tricky or time-consuming? Try rotini you serve with some squash you roasted with butter and sage. All those flavours you are looking for are in that much simpler dish. If you mash the roasted squash you will even get the lovely creamy texture you want. It may not be plated to perfection, but it should be tasty. If your skills run to mac and cheese from a box, why not start simple, make some mac and cheese from a book and see what you think.

Even if you botch the mac and cheese or the butternut squash isn't as cooked as it should be, these mistakes change our regard of food. We start to look at how to change the outcome, how to make that squash creamy and rich, how to get a nice crunchy crust on the bottom of the mac and cheese. This process of exploration and development enriches and serves a vital purpose in our lives, it feeds us, literally. Nutrition is essential, but that doesn't mean it has to be boring, or a burden. It is a celebration of you and your food.

To tie all of this back to wellness, it is about feeling better. We are more healthy when we are proud of our choices and our capabilities. By taking an essential part of survival and making it an enjoyable experience we increase our wellness. When we put in some planning time we manage our meals better and make our lives easier. If we take the financial burden of eating out away, life is simpler. Connecting on a more intimate level with our loved ones can reduce their stress – and ours. By teaching responsibility to our families, and being responsible ourselves, we model the behaviours we want to see in the world and are rewarded by even more satisfaction with how we are living.

There will always be the temptation at the end of a long day to just go out, and that is okay. There are nights when our boys are going six ways, or we are all just spent, that the knock of the delivery guy or a crackly drive-in speaker sounds oh so sweet. We try to made those the unusual nights, and mostly they are, so I figure we're doing not too bad.

NOTE: This is the first of a series on food I am writing in my work blog. The next one will be on nutrition and cancer. If you are interested you can find my website at -Sheila
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