Healthy Beginnings

Christmas in the kitchen — a recipe for wellbeing

Cooking and baking have bountiful mental and physical health benefits. Courtesy photo

Full of tasty smells, treats and dishes, the kitchen becomes a hub for families and loved ones to gather during the holidays.

Often cooking is viewed as a chore, but it shouldn’t be. Cooking and baking have bountiful mental and physical health benefits.

This holiday season, take some time to truly appreciate the practice of cooking and baking and reap the benefits to your wellbeing.

Cooking as a meditation

Have you ever prepped vegetables, only to realize that an hour has passed? Cooking directs your focus to a singular task, and keeps your hands busy. It offers the perfect respite for an overactive and overstimulated brain by allowing you to focus on the task at hand, while blocking out unwanted distractions.

Cooking is also a fantastic creative outlet. Try a different blend of herbs and spices in a dish. Test out a new pie filling. Creating new dishes is a wonderful form of self-expression, and it helps to improve brain plasticity.

It also gives you bragging rights — a great confidence booster. When people ask for the recipe of your dish, you’ll undoubtedly get a major self-esteem boost.

Having trouble focusing? Work on cooking the way that you would a meditation practice. Imagine dicing carrots. Wash the carrots, examine the texture, observe the smell of the carrot, and dice it mindfully.

Notice the sound of the knife as it hits the cutting board, and appreciate how beautiful the bright vegetables look when they hit the pan. Yes, it can be a meditation.

Altruistic cooking

When you bond with others over cooking, you are expressing our mutual care and respect for each other. Handing your niece a spoon to mix the batter gives each person a feeling of importance and meaning, and forces you to work together — delegating and compromising as needed.

When you cook for others, you are providing them an essential need for life — food. Although you may not consciously perceive it as a survival tactic, subconsciously, this exchange is a meaningful gesture.

On a more conscious level, when you cook for someone, you are doing more than just helping them to survive-you are speaking a love language.

Healthy meals

When you cook rather than purchasing meals, you will inherently make them a bit healthier. Many restaurant or frozen meals have large amounts of sodium and fats.

Cooking your own food gives you the freedom to prepare dishes the way that you like, using healthier methods. You may think that you don’t like kale. Well, have you ever had it in a soup?

Have you tried kale chips? Ever tenderized it with some lemon juice? When you are able to manipulate ingredients to suit your personal palate, you may find yourself looking forward to eating those dark leafy greens that you used to avoid.

This winter, enjoy a healthy and happy holiday season. Take the time to appreciate the practice of cooking with and for your loved ones.

Annora McGarry is a lover of all things outdoors who has made her home in Tahoe City. She works for Granlibakken Tahoe, a resort, retreat center and lodge located in Tahoe City. Granlibakken Tahoe hosts twice yearly wellness retreats, under their Sierra Soul brand.