6 tips for cooking during coronavirus

May 2020

It’s a strange world we all exist in at the moment and although it might not feel quite so new anymore, it certainly is a big change from our old normal. I certainly recognize the ongoing gravity and sadness of the situation, but I don’t want this post to dwell on the negatives. Instead, I want to focus on the things we can still do. That we still need to do. And one of those is cooking.

I’ve always found that there is something soothing and grounding about the ritualistic nature of simple, everyday activities. Of tying on my apron (I love these cheery printed ones from Thornback & Peel), turning on the radio (music only for me currently, preferably something upbeat) and pondering the eclectic assortment of ingredients I have lurking in the fridge or cupboard. I know that I might not be able to craft the most elaborate dish ever created (setting expectations at a sensible level is a necessity), but I can usually throw something relatively nourishing and tasty into a pan and have it on the table pretty promptly.

But given the ongoing challenges of food shopping and the radical shake-up of our normal routines and habits, I wanted to use this post to extend an encouraging hand to anyone who might be feeling a little overwhelmed or tired from feeding the family every meal day-in, day-out for weeks on end. And is it just me, or does it sometimes feel like we are cooking 178 meals a day, rather than 3?!

Anyway, here are a few shopping & cooking tips to help reassure and empower anyone who might just need a boost. I wrote them for myself as much as anyone else. And a quick reminder; this website is packed full of free, nutritious recipes. Have a browse if you need some inspiration.

1. let go of perfection

In times like these, flexibility and adaptability is key. Perfection is always impossible (coronavirus pandemic or not) and is simply a recipe for disappointment and self-criticism. Instead, foster an attitude of good enough.

For example, you might aim to eat a mostly whole foods diet or include as much fresh (or frozen / tinned) fruit & veg as reasonably possible given inevitable constraints, or perhaps try to include some sort of protein in at least two meals of the day. Pick a few things that matter to you – that you know help you to feel good and let go of the rest. Drink enough water, as hydration is important and it’s free. Don’t, however, worry about the details, or not doing things exactly as you normally would. This time shall pass.

2. get creative

Rest assured that most recipes can handle a few ingredient swaps (or omissions), perhaps with the exception of baking, where culinary alchemy is often a little more precise. Although even that I’ve found recently is more forgiving than we might be led to believe. Limitation, afterall, often encourages creativity and originality. Some of the best dishes ever created were happy accidents. So rather than worrying about not having the exact list of ingredients that a recipe suggests, be confident to use what you do have and you may well be pleasantly surprised. Make notes on your recipe books (yes, it’s ok to write on the pages!). It’s really helpful when you’ve tried a successful adaptation of a recipe to record what worked for future reference.

3. use sensible substitutions

If you already have a copy, there is a comprehensive section of ingredient substitutions in Simply Good For You but here is a synopsis of a few commonly asked-about swaps. Obviously, the quantity and appropriateness of each swap will depend on the recipe you’re trying to make, so you’ll need to be a bit creative and use your intuition.

  • Flour: It’s been really hard to get hold of flour recently, so try buckwheat flour, ground almonds, oat flour (whizz oats until fine), gram flour, fine polenta, GF flour or even ground linseeds instead of standard flour. Cornflour works well if you’re making a white sauce. You’ll need to be inventive according to the recipe, as proportions and other ingredients may also change – especially when baking. Add 1 sifted teaspoon of baking powder per 120g plain flour to make self-raising.
  • Nuts: Different nuts, seeds, nut butters, ground nuts, or even chickpeas / other pulses can work in savoury recipes. You may also be able to omit the nuts altogether in many recipes.
    Tip: For cost-effective bulk nuts and seeds, I’ve used Real Food Source (available through Amazon) a few times recently and have been impressed with their speedy delivery and value for money, especially when it can be a bit harder to get to the shops.
  • Fruits: Many fruits can be substituted for each other in recipes, although it’s a good idea to stick within texture / taste categories where possible. i.e. Apples & pears / Lemon, oranges or limes / Stone fruits or berries / Bananas, mango & pineapple etc. Check out frozen fruit / tinned (in juice not syrup) as an alternative source.
  • Vegetables: The same general taste / texture category guidelines also apply to vegetables. I.e. Broccoli & cauliflower / Aubergines & courgettes / green leaves / carrot, squash & beetroot / Peas, beans, broad beans, soya beans). Again, the frozen section might be a good hunting ground.
  • Fresh herbs: Use roughly ½ teaspoon dried herb per tbsp. fresh. You can also substitute basil, parsley, coriander, rocket for each other according to taste.
  • Onions: Leeks, shallots, spring onions, red onions (or get a couple of packets of frozen chopped onions to make things even easier)

4. batch cook

I am a big advocate for batch cooking at the best of times, but I’ll recommend it again here. Lots of us are juggling like mad at the moment, so knowing you’ve cooked enough for two meals at once is both efficient and reassuring. And that moment when you remember you’ve already got lunch / supper sorted is definitely worth the little extra effort! You can either eat leftovers for lunch the next day (as we do most days) or freeze for another week. You’ll find lots and lots of ideas for batch cooking recipes here and in my books.

I love these sort of clip-top Pyrex (heat and freezer safe) containers – I use them to safely store all my leftovers in the fridge. As they’re clear, it’s really easy to see / remember what you have, too. And they can go in the dishwasher. Ikea also does a similar version. Highly recommended if you haven’t invested already.

5. comfort food

Eating well is, of course, important for our physical health, but is also important for our emotional health. There is nothing wrong with cooking meals that are specifically for comfort or joy. What we eat occasionally is far less important than what we eat everyday, so embrace a weekly baking session, or Saturday night homemade pizza party, or Sunday morning pancake feast if that would bring you or your family real happiness. Sensible moderation, as always, is key. And do remember that sometimes, comfort food can also be wonderfully healthy. I love a big bowl of dahl, for example, when I am feeling particularly overwhelmed or low.

One idea that a member of my team has been enjoying, is to pick a recipe book (one you already own, or perhaps one you’ve had your eye on for a while), and choose one night each week to try out a few of the recipes. She chooses Friday evenings for this, as a way to mark the transition into the weekend. It’s been a great way to try new dishes and to have a little event to look forward to each week. It’s a lovely idea and I might start doing the same.

6. meal planning

Especially at a time when access to food supplies is erratic, meal planning can be a really useful tool. It means we only buy what we need (and what we know we’ll use up), reduces food waste (now more important than ever), and helps us ‘budget’ ingredients so we don’t end up eating everything in the first few days after a shopping trip to find we’re scraping the proverbial barrel at the end. There’s lots of advice on how to do this, and a free printable meal planner, here.

Sending courage, strength and culinary magic to you all.

 

Amelia x

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