Cooking: An Instrument of Comfort

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Welcoming our new monthly contributing writer, Emily Pastor.

“You probably need to eat something,” the baker said. “I hope you’ll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this,” he said.

~“A Small Good Thing,” by Raymond Carver

We are surrounded by hurting and weary people. Some are in our families, some are friends, some are strangers. We all face times when exhaustion and loss characterize our own seasons in life. During those times, it’s hard to overemphasize the important role that food plays in providing comfort and healing.

When I walk into my kitchen, I often consider the importance my cooking plays in physical health, but easily forget about it’s role in the emotional health and security of my family. As a health-conscious mama it’s easy to fixate on preparing frugal and healthy meals for family and forget about the comforting aspect of food. I can get so caught up in finding the healthiest ingredients, serving faultlessly rounded meals, and making sure we all get enough good fats that I forget about the hearts and souls finding refuge in these meals. Cooking can be an instrument of comfort through familiarity, routine, and provision.

Comfort of Routine

Routines revolving around meals provide security and comfort. Have you ever noticed that most families have dinner seating arrangements that never change? Whenever we go over to my parents house for dinner, my grown siblings and I still sit in the same spots. We each have a place and the comfort of knowing we belong.

Last year I took a trip to visit my sister-in-law and niece while my brother was deployed. My sister-in-law’s meal routines really impacted me. For each meal, she set the table, put out cloth napkins, prayed before the meal, and enjoyed the menu of the day. These simple routine acts surrounding meals provided a comforting and enjoyable routine three times a day.

While routines establish security and comfort, they also provide a safe stage for creativity and change. The routine of setting the table is a fun routine that can change with the seasons, the holidays, or with whatever inspires your creativity. Asking table questions provides a routine that opens up constantly different, meaningful, or fun conversations each night. Prayer centers the focus of the meal and provides an outlet for constant changing praises and requests.

Comfort of Familiarity

When I think of comfort food, random meals come to mind: bean burritos, chicken pad thai, deli sandwiches, cheap chinese food. Even though each of those meals differ greatly, they all share a thread in bringing back memories of familiar and happy times. Bean burritos remind me of leisurely lunches growing up at home. Pad Thai reminds me of the early days of marriage when my husband worked at a Thai restaurant. Deli sandwiches remind me of summer. Cheap chinese food was my family’s favorite meal to eat out growing up. Some of these meals are more “healthy” than the others, but the comfort is in the feelings and memories they bring back. Everyone’s comfort foods are different and they hold memories in the smells, tastes, and textures of those foods.

While I don’t want to downplay the importance of healthy food, I’ve realized that sometimes an “un-healthy” meal can be more “nourishing” than a Sally Fallon endorsed entree. Sometimes a bowl of macaroni and cheese feels more nourishing than a bowl of steamed vegetables. Sometimes cinnamon rolls bring more peace than soaked whole wheat bagels. While not all comfort food is “un-healthy,” my point is that we should take into account our friends and family’s comfort foods and cook in such a way that reflects our love for them and their tastes. Serving familiar foods to loved ones is a tangible way we can say, “I know you; your tastes are important to me.”

Comfort of Provision

When I’m having a hard day, I love being invited over for dinner. I really don’t care if that means driving 40 minutes away…if you invite us, we’re on our way! There is comfort in someone meeting your most basic needs. For me the comfort of that meal means more than just enjoying food with friends and family. I feel the comfort all through the day as it gives me time for a nap instead of meal prep, more time to sit and chat after dinner instead of dishes, and a little more breathing room in my food budget. Providing meals for others is a practical way we can help meet not only the physical needs of others, but social, emotional, and financial needs as well.

What foods do you and your family find comforting?

What are your family’s established mealtime routines?

Who in my life is in need of some comfort that a meal could help provide?

Whether it’s in a warm cinnamon roll or a steaming bowl of soup, my hope is that we realize the healing power of our cooking when we use it as an instrument of comfort.

In my opinion, that’s no small thing!

About EPastor

Emily Pastor is the wife of her high-school sweetheart and mama to their energetic one and a half year old daughter. They recently moved from the Pacific Northwest to the suburbs of Chicago and are expecting their second little one in the late fall. Emily is passionate about incorporating nourishing foods and holistic household management practices into everyday life as a full-time homemaker. You can find Emily’s latest musings at Sustainable Food for Thought.

15 Responses to Cooking: An Instrument of Comfort

  1. [email protected] July 21, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    If you look at all my recipes you will see that comfort food is very important too me! I try to make them as healthy as possible but many times comfort is key! ;) Great post!!!

  2. Maria July 9, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    The picture of the basket full of nourishing foods is enchanting! What a sweet idea to take to one of my tired, nauseated, pregnant sisters-in-law, or anyone else who needs some love.

    Actually, I think I’ll try to arrange a basket like that to keep in the fridge, just for me. I would be much more interested in eating my six Hobbit meals a day if they looked like that.

    Is there a story behind the picture?

  3. Courtney June 10, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    As I started reading your post I was reminded of all the people I see around town with signs for need of work or food. I feel compelled to carry some extra food with me as a way to give comfort and to open conversation. I don’t always feel giving money is the answer, even the good Samaritan offered bandages, food and a warm place to stay first. Thank you for your post.

  4. [email protected] Today June 10, 2011 at 4:13 am #

    Well said! Building healthy relationships, ministering those who are hurting, celebrating life…these are the things great food is made for :D

  5. Heather Anderson June 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    Great post! When I was younger and just getting into healthier eating, I was actually self-focused in this. I try to create healthy foods that are also comfort foods for my family, but if I am feeding others, I have learned to really consider them and their tastes as much as possible. I may not serve them a big old white cake, but there is always something that works for both of us.

  6. Lori June 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    THANK You! I am 11 weeks pregnant with our second child and have to eat to avoid nausea, but have little appetite and littler energy/focus for the usual healthy meal planning, longer cooking/prep times, etc. My mom today dropped off several frozen meals and that made my day, no, my week!
    I love your quote that sometimes more nourishing food is not Sally Fallon recipes. This post was a reminder that easy, comfort foods also have a place.
    Down the road as my energy returns, this inspires me to invite others over more for dinner.

  7. Rebecca June 9, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    I love this part….
    “Serving familiar foods to loved ones is a tangible way we can say, “I know you; your tastes are important to me.”

    Thanks for the gentle nudge and lovingly thought out post.

  8. Bethany June 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    We’ve just been going through this in our family. During a time of life when I’m exhausted and very pregnant with number 3, my husband is working a job he hates while also trying to generate income on the side so he can do something he loves, we live in a dim little apartment with the whole family in one bedroom, and life generally feels like it’s falling apart, we’ve discovered how a little inexpensive, easy comfort food can be the best thing for our flagging spirits.

    Thank you. Great first post!

  9. So Very Domestic June 9, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    I identify with this post a lot. I think mealtime traditions and routines are really important for both kids and adults too!

  10. Anna June 9, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    Great post! I hadn’t considered the legitimate aspects of “comfort food.” Since we live in a prosperous nation where food is idolized and abused, it’s hard to maintain a balanced perspective on healthy eating, which also involves enjoying God’s provision. I especially liked your discussion of the comforting aspects of the routines that accompany meals. I think healthy, tasty routine meals and snacks are extremely important for children, perhaps especially pre-verbal children who can’t ask for food in so many words but feel cared for knowing their daily routine of eating.

  11. Julieann June 9, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    This is such a great post! Everything in moderation, is my motto. There is nothing like a home that smells of wonderful comfort food.

    Happy Thursday!


  12. THolden June 9, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    Welcome, Emily! What a delightful debut. I am so refreshed and inspired by this perspective on the food we prepare and serve.

    “I’ve realized that sometimes an “un-healthy” meal can be more “nourishing” than a Sally Fallon endorsed entree” – this was my favorite line and a great reminder to me!

    Looking forward to seeing more from you!

  13. Ruth June 9, 2011 at 5:35 am #

    Thank you for the inspiration! I should cook for people more often. I absolutely love cooking and I’ve been told I am fairly good at it too. I will cook comfort food for my sister-in-law and her children tonight.

  14. Julie N. June 9, 2011 at 5:10 am #

    Totally agreed! Great article. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Anna June 9, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    Wow-I completely agree with this article! I am guilty of trying to be so overly health conscious that I don’t take into account the emotional comfort of the food I am serving. I don’t have a family of my own, but I live in a community of about 28 people, and I have the privilege of making such they are all fed. My passion is feeding people beautiful tasting food that will be beneficial to their health and make them feel valued and loved. Thank you for this beautiful reminder.