When we think about places to improve our health and physical fitness, it might be the gym, the yoga studio or hiking trails that come to mind. For many, unfortunately, it’s the doctor’s office. I’d propose we add another destination to the list: our kitchens.
Yes, our time in the kitchen truly can be an important complement to both our physical and mental fitness regimes. Regardless of whether you like to cook or not, there’s a pretty good chance you spend some time in the kitchen every day. Why not make that time fruitful, give it a purpose?
For me, time in the kitchen helps me focus on what helps me feel healthy, what makes me happy and what I most value. I can’t recommend it enough as a place to enhance your physical well-being, calm your mind and nurture your social relationships.
The obvious way we connect to our health in the kitchen is by paying attention to what’s on the shelves and in the refrigerator. But given the deluge of advice we get about what to eat and what not to eat, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. So evaluate all that advice in small bites and rely on reputable resources. Focus on one type of ethnic food or seasonal ingredient at a time. Learn more about it. Experiment with different ways to prepare it. Pay attention to the sensory pleasure it adds to your life, to whether it gives you more energy, more mental acuity.
For example, right now I’ve decided to focus on fats. I’ve learned that “fat carries flavor” and that at nine calories per gram, fats are our most caloric energy source. That means I need to keep track of how much fat I’m eating, no matter what type. I’m learning which fats are best for sparking my metabolism, for helping me feel full and contributing to my health. I’ve learned more about Omega 3’s and medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil. And I now know that even small additions of avocado or extra virgin olive oil will definitely turn my ordinary salad into a belly-filling delight. Maybe next month I’ll dig into sweeteners, see what healthy choices I can add to that shelf of the cupboard.
The kitchen also can be an economical alternative to the doctor’s office or pharmacy. Despite the often repeated misconception, eating well doesn’t have to be expensive. But even if you opt for the finest, most exotic ingredients on the grocery shelf, you’ll be spending less than you will if your diet results in medical procedures and prescriptions. So you want to be healthier and save money? Hit the kitchen for your five (or, better yet, nine) recommended servings of fruit and vegetables instead of the medicine cabinet for those five (or, worse, nine) pricey little pills.
The healing power of foods is a huge and fascinating subject and the kitchen can be your laboratory. Discover how a sprinkle of cardamom can help soothe a sore throat or how a dose or turmeric can ease inflammatory pain. Of course, there are times when a visit to a medical professional is a must. But sometimes a little more time in the kitchen can be just what the doctor ordered.
For many of us, bruised by the stresses of work, family and finances, the time we spend in the gym or on our favorite hiking trail gives us the mental – even spiritual – lift we need to get through the day. The kitchen is another place to find that lift. Sure, after a busy day of work, preparing a family meal can feel like an extended job, yet another task you have to fit into the day. And it can be difficult to quit thinking of “food production” that way. If you’re just cooking for one or two, it can even feel superfluous to prepare a multicourse meal.
Again, let the kitchen be something different. Enjoy the reality that you now have more time to prepare, to research recipes, to lovingly stir your partner’s favorite risotto or caramelize a pan of onions. Chopping vegetables and even washing dishes can be meditative exercises, a way to “get in the zone” and focus the mind.
Finally, treat your kitchen as a refuge in which you can nurture your personal relationships, as well as your body and mind. Boomers often find themselves around a smaller table in the evening, perhaps facing the strange challenges of loneliness or even boredom. That’s when it’s time to rediscover and re-create the energy that once buzzed around the family table.
Initiate a supper club with the friends you keep saying you want to see more often. Host a reunion of the parents you traveled with to so many soccer games so many years ago. Meet a friend at the farmers market, then head home to the kitchen to prepare a too-lavish brunch. Volunteer in a community garden plot. Drag your spouse to a cooking class. Let the kitchen be your inspiration for renewing those relationships you value most.
So, keep your membership at the gym and your hiking shoes by the door. Schedule that annual physical with your doctor. But take time to sit down with a cookbook. Solve the mystery of homemade puff pastry. Celebrate your kitchen as a place with a renewed purpose for yourself and for your senses.
The Missoulian’s Booming section features a monthly column by a member of the Missoula City-County Health Department in order to assist Missoula baby boomer residents to be healthy and resilient. Emily Walter is a member of the Eat Smart Missoula Coalition and spends a lot of time in her home kitchen, as well as running the cooking school at the Good Food Store.
Emily can be reached at 541-3663, Ext. 214, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.