This Pandemic Is Changing How My Family Eats

kids cooking

The pace of cooking has slowed down because we suddenly have extra time.

A headline in my news feed caught my attention: 'How is COVID-19 changing the way you eat?' It was a call for essay contributions to a food website, and it sparked some serious introspection for me when I read the full query: "How has this ongoing public crisis affected you at mealtime, and how has your altered emotional, logistical, or financial landscape become visible through food?" This is an aspect of the pandemic I had not yet considered.

Well, now I have. I am nine days into self-imposed isolation, cooped up with my husband and three children in our home in rural Ontario, Canada. Our eating habits have changed noticeably over the past week, but in ways that I would say are positive overall. Let's call it a silver lining!

1. Everything has slowed down.

I'm fortunate to have a job that I've always done from home, so my professional life has not changed, but the days feel longer because all extracurriculars have been erased from our schedule. There's more time to make a leisurely breakfast in the morning because the kids don't have to cram in their music practice before walking to school. In the late afternoon, I do a workout in the garage, which frees up time spent going to the gym before dinner.

Because of this, I'm turning to longer, slower recipes, such as the ten-hour slow-roasted pork shoulder from Food52's A New Way to Dinner cookbook that I made last weekend and the buttery scones I whipped up for a weekday breakfast at my one child's request (Scones on a weekday? Unheard of!) I'm baking more, which could become a problem. One friend told me she's been "ordered to stop baking" by her family because they're too tempted by all the sweets.

2. We sit down for every meal.

Suddenly, the entire family sits down at the table three times a day. In the past, we always came together for dinner, but breakfast and lunch rarely happened in unison, so this feels strange. One day last week we took our bowls of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches out onto the deck and basked in the warm spring sunshine, and we all felt happier. (Another major benefit is that everyone gets hot lunches!)

I like how these communal meals mark the day's progress, in a way. I use breakfast as a time to outline a rough schedule, explain to the kids that Mom and Dad both have to work, and give them a checklist of chores, outdoor playtime, reading requirements, music practice, and quiet indoor activities that they can follow.

3. The kids are cooking more.

What else is there to do? They're branching out from their usual toys and games into the kitchen, asking to make Rice Krispie squares, ginger cookies, homemade oven fries, breakfast omelets, even an apple pie. And I let them because I think it's important for kids to muck around in the kitchen and experiment with cooking, as long as they're following a recipe to the best of their ability. I answer questions whenever they come up and the results have all been edible, even delicious, thus far.

homemade apple pie

© K Martinko

4. I'm digging out special equipment.

The yogurt maker, the ice cream maker, the pressure cooker, the tortilla press, the KitchenAid mixer, even the simple rolling pin ... all of these marvelous devices that I own and use sporadically are back in regular rotation. Again, it comes down to having that extra time, but also wanting to avoid the grocery store, which means I'm making stuff from scratch that I might usually pick up at a store. It's deeply satisfying, as if I'm once again getting in touch with my inner pioneer spirit.

5. We're eating less meat.

My family doesn't eat a lot of meat to begin with, but it's been even less in recent weeks. I think this is because I have more time in the morning to think about dinner and to pre-soak beans and chickpeas for vegetarian mains. It's when I'm in a hurry and running out of time at 6 PM that I turn to meat-based recipes to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible. I'm cooking more multi-dish vegetarian Indian dinners and long-simmered soups served with homemade bread and this heavenly coconut-chickpea-turmeric stew that everyone was talking about a year ago but somehow I missed.

pantry foods

© K Martinko – A few well-stocked pantry shelves

6. I've spent more money on food lately.

I wouldn't say I hoarded ingredients, but I certainly stocked up my pantry more thoroughly than I ever have before, e.g. several pounds of dried beans, big bags of frozen fruit and vegetables, plenty of basmati rice, extra spices, onions, garlic, a dozen cans of tomatoes. For two weeks in a row, I went to the store twice and did a big shop each time; I bought only ingredients that I know I'll use. It's something I've always wanted to do, but never wanted to spend the money; this gave me a good reason to do so. While it doubled the grocery bill for two weeks, I haven't noticed a huge difference in the household budget because of all the other things we're not paying for, like gas (for my husband's drive to work) and going out on weekends with friends and babysitters.

These are early days still, and it will be interesting to see what changes stick around for the long-term. Already, I'm wondering how I ever got away from making yogurt, when it's so simple and quick and plastic-free. I'm curious to hear from readers, too, about the changes they've noticed. Feel free to share in the comments below.