One of the secrets that makes me happier in retirement is the ability to cook at home.
Cooking at home and then enjoying the result is an easy way to ramp up the ‘enjoyment quotient’ of life. The bonus is eating nutritious food that improves health.Many people make cooking at home a part of their lifestyle. Preparing food is ‘tonic’ for both body and soul as it is a concrete way to express love and caring. Eating good food with my husband as well as others who share our table from time to time provides time to talk and relax. Mealtime becomes quality time and happy time.
Once I learned kitchen basics as a young bride, I grew to enjoy cooking and now almost considerate it a hobby.
Cooking at Home Got Sacrificed
Unfortunately, I sacrificed cooking at home when I was in full career mode. There was simply no time to buy ingredients, wash, chop, simmer, bake, or stew when faced with 60 or 70 hour work weeks plus commuting. Like many households, we ate out, bought take out food, and used many processed foods that could be quickly prepared in the microwave oven.
When I worked, most days meant lunch in the board room during a meeting with thick tasty sandwiches and caffeine/energy drinks — coffee, tea, cans of juice or diet pop. Dinner usually happened at a restaurant while having another meeting or, dinner may have consisted of lunch leftovers from the office refrigerator as I cleaned up emails and wrote reports. On many days there was also a breakfast meeting with trays of bagels, muffins, cream cheese and more sugary juices.
The food I consumed had too much sodium, was too rich or was laden with sugar and carbohydrates. Sometimes I felt that I bulged like a muffin by the end of the week!
At home, meal times were unpredictable. I started my day with fruit and coffee as I hurried out the door. I usually did not return home from the office until 8 or 9 pm. At that hour I was too tired to do any meal preparation and usually did not want to leave the house again to go out for another restaurant meal.
We relied on what my husband may have cooked. This was unpredictable as, though he has many skills, he is not competent in the kitchen and dislikes cooking. We depended on leftovers from the weekend or processed food from the grocery store that took little time and energy to prepare and often involved microwaving something that came wrapped in plastic or in a cardboard container.
Both of us struggled with an extra 10 pounds that we kept trying to lose despite dieting and exercise routines.
In retrospect, the extra weight was most likely the result of the food we were consuming.
There was no time for dinner ambience as we rushed through meals and often ate too much of the wrong type of food. I felt a certain amount of angst because this was not how I wanted to care for myself nor for my husband.
Reclaiming the Kitchen
When I retired, I reclaimed my kitchen and found that cooking at home increased my retirement happiness.
I threw out the packages of processed ‘easy’ foods that were in the freezer — frozen pizza, frozen desserts, frozen ‘all-in-one’ meals.
Anything that was pre-cooked or processed went in the garbage along with the preservatives, additives, fats, and other ingredients listed on the packages I that I can neither spell nor pronounce.
I started buying basic, healthy foods — whole grains, pulses, vegetables, fruits and lots of different seasonings.
Immediately, I felt happier. I knew that controlling the ingredients in food eaten at home would have a healing effect through improved nutrition and improved health.
I planted a herb garden and I planted a vegetable garden and with a few seasons of practise, there is good produce for 6 months of the year. I don’t grow anything fancy — basil, chives, tarragon, sage, parsley, thyme, garlic, and rosemary make up the herbs; the veggies vary but usually include heirloom tomatoes, green and yellow beans, snow peas, beets, carrots and cucumbers. When in season, fruit from the plum, apple and pear trees in our back garden that produce abundantly every year supplements what we get in the market.
In the Canadian winter I can’t depend on my gardens for produce but I do have access to many ethnic markets — South Asian, East Asian, West Indian, and European — all of which offer a variety of fresh ingredients for more types of cooking than I’ll ever do.
Retirement and Time to Cook
Cooking at home involves a small tradeoff. Time to organize your life so that you shop for groceries and cook regularly against the benefit of food that is tasty and enjoyable.
I am happy to spend time in my kitchen. Retirement has gives the luxury of that time.
Just about every day I spend one or two hours putting together various foods — interesting salads for lunch, soups that warm a cold winter day, supper dishes, various breads, and, of course, various sweet temptations.
I know how to prepare food from scratch and consider it a privilege to cook at home. Starting with raw ingredients and not food from packages can and does save money but the biggest payoff is that our meals now have less salt and much less fat. The result has been easier weight maintenance!
After almost three years of retirement, I am never bored in my kitchen and only occasionally do I fret about what to make for dinner. I have collected a good library of cookbooks and use online recipes from dependable sources — especially if I have leftover items that I want to use.
Last year I focused on learning how to make pastry and now feel confident with various types of meat and dessert pies. During this past winter I’ve focused on baking bread and buns. Kneading dough and waiting for the rising process takes most of a day but the result usually brings three of four loaves of bread or a few dozen buns for the freezer.
I don’t get carried away with healthy eating — sometimes takeout English style fish and chips makes a meal when I’ve been out all day. As well as a stash of chocolate, there are taco chips and prepared salsa in my pantry for munchies.
I don’t plan to make postworksavvy into a blog about food. I wrote this post about cooking at home because cooking gives great pleasure and makes retirement happier for me.
My home cooking brings many compliments — but the greatest joy comes from knowing that this is a way to create retirement happiness while expressing love and caring for myself, my family and my friends. I’m interested in your thoughts — does cooking at home add to your happiness or is it one of those necessary chores? What pleasures do you get from cooking at home and eating well?