How Cooking Can Improve Your Life ~ By: Sarah Monroe

Over the past few years, I’ve worked as a psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner. Much of my job entails teaching members of our program about mental illness and “coping skills”: skills you develop to relax, wind-down, cope with difficult life circumstances, de-escalate from especially tough situations, or to simply feel more joy throughout the week.

The truth is, we all need coping skills for different reasons. Some people pray, exercise, talk to a counselor, spend time with a friend, take a nap, read a book — there are endless healthy ways to practice therapeutic skills every single day.

For me, it’s cooking.

I hear so many people talk about the stress that surrounds the idea of cooking every day, but I want to talk about the ways in which cooking can be therapeutic, even for the non-believer.

1. The act of cooking is relaxing on its own.

I know, I know. Some of you are already rolling your eyes thinking about all of the past frustration you’ve experienced as a result of cooking. However, cooking is truly a craft that gets easier over time. Whether you’re making a simple plate of pasta or scrambled eggs or following an elaborate recipe, the focus that cooking requires can help our minds take a break and rest in what we are focusing on in that very moment — making a meal.

2. Cooking can give us the opportunity to serve others.

Ya’ll — I’ve had a LOT of hobbies in the past that I’ve considered to be therapeutic coping skills for myself. However, for me, none served the purpose of serving others quite like cooking does.

There is something so special about sharing a meal with people you love. Inviting people to sit at your table. Practicing hospitality through the act of making others feel comfortable, loved and appreciated. Simply put, we feel better when we give back, and cooking is an easy way to do just that.

3. Food is nourishing to our bodies, minds, and spirits.

I remember the days before I began cooking for myself. Food was a stressor because I didn’t know what else to do besides order a pizza or pick up a quick bite from the dining hall at my college. Now, there is nothing wrong with enjoying pizza every now and again. But a balanced, healthy diet nourishes our minds, bodies, and spirits. It gives us energy, helps us to think clearly, and improves our mood. Learning to cook helped me to nourish myself more consciously and listen better to my body. By cooking, I found that I was also practicing healthy eating as a form of self-love and care.

4. Cooking can give us something to feel proud of.

Cooking can be HARD. There is no denying that. When I first began to cook, all I could make was pasta, rice + beans, and a very simple stir fry. I didn’t know how to make a single thing from scratch, how to add my own spices, how to roast or sauté, or how to bake a cookie. So, after a lot of trial and error, making mistakes, and finally practicing recipes, I learned how to cook on my own. I feel so proud of my growth because I worked HARD for it! So whether you cook, draw, play music, write, hike, garden, put your whole heart into it.

Cooking gave me something to focus on and practice after a tough or exhausting day. It gave me something to make positive progress in. Each new recipe I followed correctly gave me an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and a boost of energy. I felt invincible!

I wasn’t looking for cooking to become a therapeutic, post-work ritual, but it did. If the reasons why cooking can be therapeutic resonate with you, trying some simple recipes is a great place to begin. I’ve attached a couple of my own recipes for you to try. And remember, whatever you choose to do for yourself, do it passionately.

Bio: Sarah Monroe is from Buffalo, New York and moved to Nashville about 7 years ago for a job at a non-profit. She fell in love with the city and the people who live in it. In her spare time she loves to be in the sunshine, spend quality time with friends, watch the sunrise, travel, hike, draw, and most of all, cook. Find Sarah on Instagram and visit her website at www.venzieeats.com.

Try one of Sarah’s favorite DELICIOUS recipes: Butternut Squash + Sweet Potato Hash. 

Makes About 3 Servings

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat with 2 Tbsp.olive oil
  2. Add onion, and sauce until onion becomes translucent, about 5-8 minutes.
  3. Add diced squash and sweet potato, and cook about 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so (some browning/burnt edges is good!)
  4. Add about 3 Tbsp. water to the skillet, and cover with a lid. Allow mixture to steam for a few minutes.
  5. Continue to saute about 10 more minutes, and check for doneness by poking with a fork or taste testing. (If vegetables are still hard, you can steam mixture with a couple Tbsp. water again, and continue to sauté. If mixture is fairly soft, just continue to sauté).
  6. Add paprika and fresh thyme once mixture is mostly soft, and continue to cook until completely soft.
  7. Add garlic powder as well as salt + pepper to taste once mixture is soft, and sauté about 30 seconds.
  8. Add balsamic vinegar, and cook 1 more minute, stirring consistently, allowing vinegar to deglaze the pan and thicken.
  9. Serve in bowls topped with choice of runny eggs, goat cheese, parmesan, fresh herbs (thyme, parsley, etc!), sliced avocado, hot sauce, hot honey, etc. — Get creative!***Note: Add more oil if the contents of the hash are sticking too much to the pan. The balsamic vinegar added in the last step should deglaze the pan for you at the end, and steaming with water half way through should so the same. This meal is great for breakfast, lunch OR dinner, and I make it for all three!
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