We all go through up weeks and down weeks. Sometimes though there are prolonged periods where for some reason or another, life is tough for a longer period of time. That’s been the last 4-5 weeks for me. Now I realize people go through far far worse, but I wanted to throw out a few things I’ve learned and used to keep myself sane in the (non) kitchen through this time in the hopes it will help someone!
For context we’ve found ourselves (by choice) without a kitchen for 2 months through a home renovation. But at the same time, my energy plummeted in my third trimester of pregnancy, and I had a muscle issue flare up that meant I couldn’t move easily, or lift anything. Jared’s world at the same time was maxed out as he finished up his masters while working full time so he’s just been limited in how much he can help (which I’m 100% on board with!) and then adding in a few other things I’m not going to mention online, I’ve not been in the best place. But finding structure always helps me, so I had to work out how to make this little ‘season’ work and here is my two cents on what’s helped me! My purpose isn’t to give you a sob story, we’re out the other end and I’ve never been so grateful for being able to walk, seriously. But I hope this helps you!
- Know your limits. It can feel frustrating to acknowledge your limits but I think it’s actually empowering. Instead of failing to do what we think we should be able to do, we only plan to achieve within what we know we’re capable of. This season I was going to plant a garden in our new house, I signed up to a veg box to feed us while it grew…. and then I didn’t plant a garden and I cancelled the box. But admitting that I couldn’t do either one well actually freed me from feeling I had to.
- Know what you need. It can be easy to let everything go, including how we eat when we go through more challenging times. But identifying at the beginning what you need is a great help. I don’t want to start eating in a way for the sake of simplicity that actually makes me loose my energy and ability to give my best to life! For me that’s not going for processed foods, not eating white refined grains, actually cutting back on sugar, and making sure I get lots of simple fresh veggies. They’re going to look different on my plate – and might look like dunking a whole pound of raw carrots in store bough hummus, but I’m going to get them in cos I know I need them!
- Keep simple food on hand. “Since when did I subside entirely on bread, bananas and almond butter?!” Yes, I texted my husband that. Work out what simple food you’re ok with, and keep it on hand. Like REALLY simple. For when there isn’t another good option. For us this has been high quality sprouted grain bread, almond butter and bananas / pears, legume pasta (lentil or chick pea) with organic clean store bought sauce.
- When you have time/energy/ability to cook, make big batches! For us this has looked like… once I’m actually at the grill, making a few pounds of grilled chicken thighs and aTON of grilled veggies. Or when I manage to get enough heat on the single burner to cook rice, making a giant pot. Soaking lots of oatmeal for overnight oats, making literally pounds of soaked and cooked chickpeas or making a massive pot of stewed apple that lasts a whole week. For zero extra cooking time I got a lot more meals.
- Find a few store bought pre made items to substitute for things that take the most time to make. I had to realise that without a kitchen or the ability to walk properly I was going to have to give up making everything from scratch. I found a bread, a pasta, and a nut butter (and a few other things!) I was happy buying store bought, and rotated our meals around them.
- Explain to the people you cook for and set expectations – make it fun! I don’t think Jared needed any explanation, but it really helped me to tell him! I felt myself needing to apologize for how boring meals were, for how repetitive or ugly the food was that we were eating. So it helped me to just say ‘hey, here’s what I’m capable of right now.’ Then we’ve made the craziness fun where we can. We’ve eaten simple toast meals snuggled in bed because the house is freezing, and we’ve pretended we’re camping as we eat very simply grill food outside in the dark, try to enjoy the simple, and laugh about it. *disclaimer, he doesn’t refuse to cook, or expect me to because I’m a woman or anything like that but he works a 40+ hour week and is also in school so it works well as a division of labour and I’m happy with it that way!
- Sign up for a meal delivery service. We didn’t do this because we don’t even have a kitchen to put them together in, but a service like Green Chef, or Sunbasket can really help depending on why the season is a tough one for you! Check out a few of the best ones in a blog review we did HERE.
- Explore online grocery shopping options! There was one week where I was basically housebound, except due to the reno I couldn’t be at home. Catch 22. So my days looked like Jared loading our son into the car before work and me driving straight to a friend’s house who unloaded him while I crashed on their sofa. Needless to say, grocery shopping was tough. Jared always offered to go but I always chose having his help at home rather than having him home from work later. I think the best online service is Thrive Market. From cloth diaper friendly laundry detergent, to pre packed pouched of black beans, genuinely health snack foods, and a lot of things are cheaper for me than buying locally. I don’t do it on a regular basis but for bulk buys of things I love that are way cheaper (like tomato paste and pasta!) it’s incredible. You can get 25% off and free shipping by doing a trial HERE. And if you’re like me, sign up for trials when you need them, set a reminder in your calendar and cancel. The overall membership is only $60 a year but if you’re using it for a tough month, get the 30 free membership then quit. It’s a great life hack, you’re welcome. Do the same with Amazon Prime for your Christmas shopping ha! I’m the queen of using free trials!
- Adjust your budget for extra eating out (if you can), and locate the best budget meals. Then don’t feel bad using them! We plan a meal a week out not our budget. Basically anything beyond that and I feel guilty, which means I started off this little season feeling guilty ALL the time. But we adjusted our budget and worked out how we can do it a little more – because a lot of days there were no other options and feeling longingly guilty wasn’t working well! We also worked out which were the best budget meals to eat out (with still being healthy) and small ways to make them cheaper. Like getting veggie chipotle bowls so they guac isn’t extra, or splitting a guac. Or Clayt and me sharing a meal. The little things DO count in the budget!
- Do do what you can when you can. Ok, so this is just the other side of the coin for balance. I know that sometimes it’s easy to feel like if it’s a more challenging season, (or even ‘it’s the holidays’ or some other specific time period) and kind of ‘give up’ on the normal efforts we make and think we’ll course correct afterwards. While I’m ALL about making life manageable, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. I don’t like delayed stress, but rather getting through those short time periods in a way that doesn’t hurt me later either. So I’m always looking for the moments I can cook, clean, make a homemade meal, prep something in advance even if it doesn’t feel easy, to balance out the moments when I really can’t! So there have been some days I’ve come to lunch time and something unexpected is happening (massive wood boards blocking my dishwasher so I can’t get dishes was one day) and I wanted to shrug my shoulders, turn around and pick up food to go. But I stopped and said wait, I DO have energy today and I’m NOT in pain so we’ll make something work! I think I balanced our single burner on the edge of the counter by a box of tools and made Clayt and I very boring scrambled eggs and we dipped carrots in tahini, but it worked! So do what you can when you can, save the dollars where you can, get extra nutrition where you can so that you’re balancing it out with when you really can’t!
- Tell people what’s going on and accept help! This would be my weakness! It’s easy for me to feel like I should be able to manage and do more, but Jared made me text some of my closest people and be honest with them. We’ve had friends welcome us over for dinners, let me come and crash in their houses unable to do anything, and take us out for meals. It’s vulnerable to ask for help and to be real about what we can’t do – but let your community into what you’re going through! It always helps!