Thomas B. Efird, LCSW, LCDC, EMDR Approved Consultant, San Antonio, Texas and Telehealth

So why on earth would a counselor promote cooking on a mental health website? Shouldn’t I promote “don’t’ eat your feelings?” Well, yes. I like to cook. More importantly, I like to eat what I make. Even under shelter in place, I like to do both of these things. Why wouldn’t I want to promote family fun time in the kitchen? There is a wonderful line from the Avengers Endgame movie said between a father and son “No amount of money ever bought a second of time.” Over the few months our world has radically changed-for better and for worse. As we shelter in place, we are all experiencing emotional upheavals and trying to find our way through this. I promote cooking together as a way to build families, homes and communities. It is an act of love to take the time to create something that others will hopefully enjoy. There is nothing like family bonding over a meal. So pretty please, with sugar on it, get in the kitchen, start cooking and have fun! Helpful hint: start with a scrambled egg. In real butter. You’ll thank me later…. but I digest….

In my experience, there is one thing that unites us all. Every part of the world we have one common bond, our love of food. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like food, especially good food. If it’s not good, you won’t eat it. Ever try brussels sprouts? Those things are little green balls of death that smell like feet! No amount of cheese, salt or garlic will cover that! At a religious or family event where someone has brought homemade dishes, did you say “No thanks, I ate a hot dog at the gas station.” Hopefully you didn’t. (If you did, please, make an appointment with us as soon as possible!). What I hope happened was you dug into the good stuff. The stuff that was homemade. The food that was gone in seconds. The stuff that made your tummy the happiest place on earth. Again…I digest…. (see what I’m doing there?).

What do we do while sheltered in place with some time on your hands? Get yourself and your family into the kitchen. Don’t know where to start? If you are fortunate to have a family member who can help, call them and ask for help. Ask them to walk you through how they made your favorite meal. I still call my mom and ask her how she did “that thing, that time, you know… it was when dad said this and you said…” And she can tell me, then we argue about which way to do it best. If you don’t have that, check out Youtube. There are many things that can be made with a couple of ingredients. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Like me, you will make mistakes. You will burn things; it won’t taste good (no matter how much cheese you add). I promise it won’t looked like that photoshopped picture. It just has to taste good. If you have kids, learning to cook instills life lessons, enhances family connections and creates a home. Kids love putting their hands on everything, why not put that curiosity to good use- start with canned biscuits and work your way up to real dough. Cooking teaches them a life skill and invaluable memories. Their significant others will thank you in the future.

Lonely? Learn to cook. It takes practice and many, many mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes will be quite delicious. When you get good at it, people will start coming around. My mom taught me the value of sharing food from a sense of love and compassion. Everyone was welcomed in her home at dinner time. There was never a stranger in our home, if you were there you were family. All were welcome. If you weren’t hungry, you got something to take with you. I’ve been in the kitchen since I can remember. Food was the bond between our family and neighbors. Cooking helped me survive when I left home. When I went to college, my culinary skills certainly helped to procure many a date and the gratitude of various roommates, friends and co-workers. Being able to cook can also help you land a spouse. True story. Like I said, people know where to go for a good meal- it will help you not be lonely.

Last thing- I watch Food Network and cooking shows. Those folks are professionals. They have the best gadgets, ingredients and kitchens money can buy. I’m not rich. What I own are a couple of stock pots, now a few quality knives and three cast iron skillets that I have acquired over the course of 30 years. When I moved out on my own, I had one stock pot (still in use), one cast iron skillet (still in use) and the rest were added over the years. A few years ago, I was bequeathed my grandmother’s cast iron skillet. It has a place of honor in my kitchen. Please don’t be intimidated because you don’t have a whatchadoohickey that turn apples inside out. When I was a kid, I watched my mom cook a full meal with one burner until we could get a new stove. It took about six months. She did it. Always remember, it is all about having fun putting meals together and having a lifetime of great memories.

That said-please be mindful of social distancing. Don’t put yourself in a position to get sick or expose others. Be safe- if you can’t share a meal face to face, use technology to eat together. When we can join our families and friends, we will and in person.