Coping With Cooking After a Death

It just seems unfair that when you lose a spouse you are left with the unbearable pain of grief and yet you still have to navigate daily tasks like getting up, showering, and feeding yourself.  When you are functioning at your worst you are left to figure out how to feed yourself and, worse, feed your kids.  I mean, it is one thing to starve yourself and subsist on Big Macs (not that we recommend that!) but it is even worse when you have kids at your table. People may flood you with food for a while, but eventually everyone who has lost the chef in their family faces the day that the casseroles stop coming and 14 nights in a row of carry out seems excessive. You can barely drag yourself out of bed, and suddenly you have to face planning, grocery shopping, and preparing meals, or else accept a life of carry-out.

Let’s get one thing out of the way – if you have the money to eat out or carry out every night and you don’t miss home-cooked meals, that might be the answer for you. There is nothing that says a home-cooked meal is the only way or the right way. But the reality is that eating out gets pricey, and the more cost-effective carry out options are typically not the healthiest of options.  When you’re grieving you already feel like crap; adding to that by not eating well can just make you feel worse.  So before you give up on the idea of cooking, consider some of the tips below to get in the kitchen and cooking after a death.

Grocery Shopping

The Challenge: I don’t know what I even need!

Determine what you will be making this week, go through each recipe to determine what you need to buy, and create your list.  If you are grieving and grocery shopping is new for you, walking aimlessly around the grocery store with no list is not your best game plan – I promise.  There are websites and that will build your shopping list for you once you have picked or entered your recipes.  A great one is ziplist.com, which will allow you to find and save recipes and easily create your own shopping list.   If you are looking for a good standard, printable grocery list check out grocerylist.com which has a great pre-made grocery list for traditional households and vegetarian households.

The Challenge: I don’t understand coupons, when to by generic vs name brand, or how to be a thrifty shopper.

This one is tricky, and I am going to start with my personal opinion: master getting what you need to start.  Worry about being a master-shopper later.  A google search will bring up explanations on all of the above concerns by people who spend way more time than I could ever hope mastering the art of shopping. That being said, finances can be difficult after a death, so if this is at the top of your list of concerns, check out couponmom.com for tips on couponing.  For some great inspiration and if you are interested in gardening, check out onehundreddollarsamonth.com where Mavis Butterfield shows how she went from spending nearly $10,000/year on groceries to less than $1200/year.   It is filled with amazing inspiration, detailed tips, and coupons 

The Challenge: I HATE the grocery store.

Ugh, I know. I’m with you. Some people love the grocery store, they find grocery shopping therapeutic, they love couponing, etc. The good news is you may discover that you are one of those people.  If you find you are not, fear not.  The wonders of modern technology provides some great solutions for grocery shopping.

  1. Grocery Delivery. This is a brilliant solution, if you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks. You create your order on line, you can save a standing shopping list, you pick the delivery time, and your items appear at your house. Like magic. Even if you don’t use this all the time, it is great for when life is feeling especially busy, when you are coming back from vacation and know your fridge is totally empty, or when you just deserve a break.
  2. Order online and pick up. This is the carry-out version of grocery shopping. You can go online, build your order, and then pick it up. Not all grocery stores offer this service, so you will have to check your local store.
  3. Go with a friend. I know, this sounds weird. We usually think of going to the grocery store alone, but no one says you have to. Grab a good friend and go do your grocery shopping together.
  4. Grab your ipod. I have never tested this one, but every time I see the too-cool-for-school hipsters in my local Safeway with their earbuds in I think about all the music or podcasts I could be listening to. I can only imagine that might make the whole experience a lot more tolerable.
  5. Shop at off hours.  If part of what you hate are the crowds, lines, and running in to people you know, try shopping on off hours if you can.  Depending on your work schedule, shopping on the weekdays may be tough, but consider shopping very early or late to avoid the masses.

Okay, I know, all that intro had nothing to do with cooking. But you have to have the food before you can cook it, so I felt like we needed to start there.  Once you have the groceries you need to know what to do with them, so on to cooking . . .

Cooking

The Challenge: I don’t have time to cook.

After a death you may suddenly be trying to keep up with singling parenting, assuming all household responsibilities, working extra hours or second job if finances have become tight, etc. Time to cook can seem impossible to fit in. Planning and preparing in advance can go a long way.

  1.  Once a month cooking. If you can find one day a month to spare, you can prep all your meals for the month and freeze them. If you have kids you can make a day of this for the whole family – have fun, teach your kids some cooking skills, and enjoy the process. Though you may think of casseroles when you think of freezer meals, open your mind!! As you look on line you will see that there are hundreds of freezable meals and you are not limited to casseroles. For tips on how to plan for once a month cooking there is a great website, onceamonthmeals.com. This site will provide you a ton of recipes, tips, printable grocery lists, labels, and tools for this type of cooking. There are more great resources for getting started on moneysavingmom.com. Enjoy!
  2. Cook double. If once a month isn’t right for you, make every meal turn into two meals. When you do have time to cook, cook twice what you need and freeze the extras. This often is a minimal increase to your prep and cooking time and will allow you a stock of food in the fridge for when you are in a pinch. Keep in mind that some meals freeze better than others, so take a look at the onceamonthmeals.com site or moneysavingmom.com for ingredient and recipe ideas.
  3. Plan a meal exchange. At work each winter we do a soup exchange that provides my lunches for a month. How does it work? Everyone makes a HUGE batch of a soup of their choice (a sign up list is a good idea so you don’t end up with duplicates). Buy pint or quart soup containers and each person will fill one or two containers for each person (whatever the group decides). So if 10 people sign up for your exchange and you agree on one quart as the exchange size, you will make 10 quarts of soup but end up with your own plus 9 other types of homemade soups for your freezer. You get variety without having to cook ten types of soups and you often discover new and delicious recipes. So start recruiting family, friends, or co-workers and get an exchange going.
  4. Prepared meals. Cooking isn’t all or nothing. You may find that some days are carry out and some days are home cooked meals. But carry out can make for unhealthy, greasy options that leave you feeling like crap. Consider options for purchasing prepared meals that are healthy. Grocery stores like Wegmans, Harris Teeter, and Whole Foods often have healthy options for premade dinners that are a more reasonable. Let’s Dish is a great middle ground where you can go and prepare your meals without having to grocery shop, prep, or plan. They also have options for purchasing prepared meals or even having them delivered (more details below about Let’s Dish). Many cities also offer home delivery of premade meals, from basic to gourmet (with prices ranging from basic to gourmet!).

The Challenge: I can’t cook for one.

Cooking for one can be tough, for many reasons. Even if you were the cook in your household, you may find that you’ve lost your motivation. No surprise there – you are grieving, you no longer have the person you love to cook for, it is no surprise that it is tough to pull out the pots and pans. Some of the tips above for freezing meals may translate well. When you are motivated to cook, make a big batch and freeze in single servings for the days when the motivation just isn’t there. If you are looking for tips for cooking for one there are tons of great cooking for one cookbooks out there. An especially appropriate cookbook that you may want to check out is The Pleasures of Cooking for One, written by Judith Jones who lost her husband and was left cooking for one.

The Challenge: I don’t know how to cook.

Cooking can seem daunting, but cooking really can be a pretty enjoyable (even therapeutic) once you get the hang of it (don’t believe me? Check out our post on grief and baking a cake). If you don’t know how to cook at all, don’t panic. Here are some tips for getting started.

    1. Take a class. No I am not joking. Cooking class can be a lot of fun and many of them are offered at very low cost at community centers, senior centers, and community colleges. You can take anything from cooking 101 to very specific advanced courses.
    2. Let’s Dish (or a similar service). Let’s Dish is a great way to get the hang of the basics of cooking even if you have no idea what you’re doing. They have everything ready for you to prep and all the instructions for cooking. You go to their store and put everything together, take it home and put it in the freezer until you are ready to use it. The offer options for fully prepared and delivery of meals as well.

  1. YouTube. Yes, seriously! Want to know how to boil an egg? Youtube. How to make fried chicken? Youtube. How to make pasta? Pancakes? Lasagna? Enchiladas? Youtube. Recipes are great, but seeing someone cooking can be just what you need to make it click. There are more videos than you can ever imagine on youtube with everything from ‘how to boil water’ to ‘how to make a classic French soufflé.  There are other cooking sites with videos, but youtube is your best source for a huge variety.
  2. Phone a friend. You have probably had people asking what they can do to help and people who brought by meals right after the loss. Ask someone you know who likes to cook to come over and give you some lessons and provide some recipes. Keep in mind, this is NOT asking them to make you dinner. They may offer that instead, but be clear with them that what would be most helpful is them teaching you – you, that whole give a man a fish, teach a man to fish thing.

A final work of caution: Cliché as it is, be gentle with yourself. Sometimes you will burn things or ruin meals if you are just learning to cook. You may try to make meals that your loved one made and they may be a big fat failure. It’s okay. One day at a time. And on the bad days, don’t feel bad about ordering a pizza!

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March 28, 2017

7 responses on "Coping With Cooking After a Death"

  1. I am a Cambridge University trained biologist. I have just made a video on Recipes for the Broken H earths, written as a biologist’s view on choosing foods and ingredients able to help restore emotional equilibrium. It’s based on the biochemistry of food, but written for the lay reader. You can obtain a free download shortly at leavegriefbehind.com.

  2. Hey — I’m a reporter with the New York Times working on a story about cooking after loss. If you’re in the New York area and want to share your story with me, please write: [email protected]. Thanks — Amelia

    • Thank you for a very insightful article. As I posted I teach a graduate art therapy course on grief and loss and will be including your article on the reading list.

  3. Lots of good ideas here but:
    I loathe defrosted, reheated meals.
    As a veggie I often cooked stuffed vegetables. How do you freeze half a stuffed aubergine? Re heated it’s disgusting.
    Salads, I used to love salad but can’t eat the salad stuff quick enough before it goes ‘off’ and I can’t afford to constantly be throwing away 3/4 of a lettuce or bag of leaves, cucumber, pepper etc.
    Soup, another thing we used to cook often. How can you make enough soup for just one. I don’t work in a situation where we could share it and reheated frozen soup is tasteless.

    Lots of negatives I know so HELP me out hear PLEASE

  4. great article. 6th stage of grief, eh? i have been cooking for one and seeing the noticeable smaller amount of whatever gets made is more than what i can actually eat.

  5. My husband passed 3 years ago and it’s hard for me to cook. Well not because I don’t know how to cook but because Ive forgotten how to. Silly and strange as it may sound it’s true. I get flashes f meals and me cooking. It’s strange cause I’m a good cook and now I’m lost in the kitchen.
    Anyone relate or gone thru this too?
    Please advise.

  6. Packed with useful information, Litsa, and well worth sharing! I’ve added a link to your piece at the foot of my own post on this topic, “In Grief, The Challenge of Cooking for One,” here: http://www.griefhealingblog.com/2013/05/in-grief-challenge-of-cooking-for-one.html

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