When Cooking is Overwhelming

If you know the Murrishes in real life, you know it’s been a weird, tiring summer. Nothing tragic (and for that we give thanks), but it’s been one small thing after another piled on top of life with a baby, growing toddler and shifts in work for both my husband and myself.

Since May, we’ve hobbled together dinner every night at home thanks to (alarmingly frequent) Target pick up runs, the random Costco haul, and takeout nachos from Condado.

I told Mike recently that I could feel shame creeping up as I reflected on our summer eating. Our grocery budget is 😬 The kitchen is cluttered and disorganized. Nutrient dense foods took a back seat (like backseat in an 18 passenger van backseat)

As I felt shame creep through my body, I reminded myself that all of those things are morally neutral. We were in a place to spend more on groceries for a season. Mess is simply mess and not a sign of failure. My family and I always had a breakfast, lunch and dinner to eat.

Over the weekend, these words from @theformulamom came up on my Instagram feed:

“There is no failure in motherhood. Only responsiveness. Changing your plans based on the needs and circumstances around you isn’t weakness. It’s wisdom.”

Over the past few months, I didn’t cook any of my favorite summer meals. Vegetables were sparse. The kitchen sorely fell into disarray. But, I responded to the circumstances that the summer kept throwing at me. And there is no failure in that.

On Friday, I did a massive Aldi haul to stock our pantry, fridge and freezer. Lord willing, this fall won’t include quite as much upheaval as summer brought. But even if fall brings craziness, we’re now in a place to prioritize meal planning, cooking and all that entails. We’ve got goals and action steps to bring down the grocery budget, prepare satisfying and nourishing meals, and get the kitchen running smoothly again.

I also am not looking at this summer as a failure. I’m remembering that in a season of stress and not fun surprises, I kept my family and myself fed in a way that worked for our life and well-being. Some of the habits we adopted aren’t sustainable long-term, but I did what I needed to do to care for my family from a place of health (as opposed to anxiety). 

Before I had Phoebe, I would think about all the things I would do as a mom once I had a child. I wanted to be a mom who cooked from scratch, who breastfed, who had something called “a cleaning schedule.”

After Phoebe was born, all of that faded away as I struggled with some postpartum OCD tendencies. I realized what was most important to me as a mom was to show up and care for my family from a place of kindness, love and peace. The specifics of how the care happened were secondary.

This summer was another chapter in that story of my motherhood, my life. My primary work was not to make sure my daughter ate a certain number of veggies each day or that I kept breastfeeding at all costs. My priority was to be kind, loving and steady, even amidst the chaos. I am under no illusion that I did that perfectly; I know I didn’t. But I did make that priority my primary work at the expense of eating vegetables as often as recommended and having a tidy kitchen, and I have no regrets.

Postscript: Before I had kids, I thought I should have a higher threshold for stress than my mom friends since it was just me and my husband in our household. That was a lie, and not recognizing my limitations and honoring them led to me to isolate myself and turn inward. Being married and having kids does not mean my life is automatically harder, and therefore more deserving of caring for myself and honoring my limitations. We all deserve the care needed so we can function and live our lives from a place of wholeheartedness. // When I write, I write first as human being. Even though my examples and stories include my kids, husband and household, I hope you see first the universal themes and apply them to your life situation is right now (even when I don’t have the time or space to do so here).

A Few Practical Tips and Resource

I can’t say enough good things this blog post from Jennifer Anderson of “Kids Eat in Color.” She takes the public health concept of “harm reduction” and applies to real life situations in the kitchen. This mindset shift changed how I thought about the past six months of my life of caring for a newborn alongside a toddler, starting back to work as a mom of two, and managing the chaos of our summer. 

Along with that, I bought the cookbook Real Easy Weekdays from “Kids Eat in Color” and I’m glad I did. I’ve not cooked much from it, but it’s given me a lot of good ideas. I have some theological/philosophical quibbles with how Jennifer Anderson introduces and talks about food, but I’ve found her cookbook (and Instagram) practical and helpful.

In the kitchen, I’ve found precooked meat (chicken nuggets, meatballs, chicken strips, butterflied fried shrimp) game-changing. I’ve also really loved cooking with ground meat because you can just plop it in the pan and cook it. No handling the raw meat, no slicing or dicing, no cleaning a dirty cutting board.

Along with that, bagged coleslaw mix and pre-washed greens have been really helpful.

Finally, could I write a post of this nature without mentioning KC Davis? The answer is of course, “no, I could not.” So here are two of her TikToks that are particularly helpful on this topic: Cooking is Morally Neutral + Levels of Priority.

If you have a chance, comment below with any tips or tricks you have for feeding yourself (and your family) in a stressful season.

To close, here’s an excerpt from a favorite “Every Moment Holy” liturgy that speaks so well to this topic.

“Lord, I have little time to build this meal, but I would still make of it a holy offering…

Even in our common haste, may this meal serve as a catalyst for a deeper grace, reminding us to be ever thankful. Let those who share this food embrace the fellowship of the moment, however fleeting, and let them rise from the table knowing that even in their comings and their goings, they are nurtured and loved.”

A Liturgy for the Hurried Preparation of a Meal