At Bridging the Gaps, we have long believed in the transformative power of whole foods and healthy eating. But we have noticed a break in the chain where translating important ideas and concepts about a healthy diet into meals that they can prepare and enjoy on their own is difficult for some clients. They are often able to take hold of information about healthy food and believe in the concept in residence, but wrestle with finding a way to nourish themselves once they transition to living on their own. So we are working to help ‘bridge the gap’ for them by ensuring that – as they approach the later stages of our programming – clients feel comfortable and confident with all aspects of nourishing themselves. It’s not enough for them to know what to do. They need to know how to do it effectively day in and day out so they are able to own the process themselves.
To this end, we are now working with clients as they begin to transition into the more independent living phases of our program to teach them how to plan for meals, shop, and cook a variety of healthy dishes that appeal to them. As they go through this process, we see that it does more than just provide a practical and affordable way to nourish themselves. It brings in a sense of self confidence, appreciation for whole foods, and helps them to gain a better understanding of what it means to have their individual tastes nourished.
A sense of fun and inspiration are essential for clients to be open to receiving and integrating the information. To inspire someone to do something, a couple things must be true. You need to believe in it yourself. If your own passion doesn’t come through, everything else is going to fall flat. Second, those learning the new skill need to experience it in such a way that they feel empowered – like they can almost, if not completely, own the process. This can be simple yet incredibly fulfilling and inspiring for everyone involved! The last few cooking sessions with our clients show the power of full engagement and the empowering moments that often arise in response.
The power of being in the moment
Part of the joy of working creatively with clients in recovery is the unique opportunity to see them embrace new things with real curiosity, openness, and a spirit of exploration. Foods that they want to try can sometimes be surprising and reflect an in-the-moment freedom and whimsy. In a recent session, the class decided they wanted to learn how to cook Brussels sprouts. Who knew?! But as we began the preparation, I encouraged them to simply use their senses and trust their instincts to get the most out of the experience.
Cooking is such a sensory experience; it pulls us into the process, to help us live in the present moment. When we are cooking we let go, even if just temporarily, of some of the worries on our mind because we need to pay attention to the food. We don’t want it to burn. I encourage the clients to pay attention to what their senses and instincts are telling them and to use the recipe as a guide in order to make the experience appeal to them.
When we broke the Brussels sprouts off the stalk and peeled away the first layer of tough leaves, we tasted them. The clients thought they were so good they would have been happy to keep eating them raw. They had a rich, sweet-yet-bitter bite with an astringent crunch. We roasted most of them in a shallow pan, tossed with a little olive oil and salt. Roasting is wonderful because it brings out the natural sweetness of whatever you cook and adds a little crispy caramelization on the edges.
We imagined that the food was so good because it was so fresh; many of our clients had never worked with food that looked like it had just come out of the garden. But I would also add that the reason it tasted so good was because we had allowed ourselves the time and space to truly savor and appreciate what we were eating with a level of curiosity. This practice of creating space and savoring is so simple but it is not easy. It adds so much to our level of satisfaction and enjoyment with food and it is a part of the foundation for a good relationship with food and owning the process of nourishing ourselves. These are game changing moments, experiential and inspirational. They are moments when, as clients loose themselves in the creative task at hand, they have fun and learn it isn’t as complicated as they thought.
For example, later in his own cooking practice, one client took the idea of roasted Brussels sprouts and added pork chops to make a one-pan, convenient dinner using his own interpretation of the process during class. This is a rewarding example of what happens when inspiration collides with experience and they realize they can do it.
Unleashing creativity to make it your own
In another session, we started with the idea of making soup – because it is a versatile food and, once you have the basics down, many recipes are just variations on a core set of steps. As we were planning the meal, one client wanted to take the creativity up a notch. He suggested making bread bowls and, once he did, the idea caught on like wild fire with the rest of the class. Bread is such an interesting thing. We can purchase it relatively inexpensively, but we can create it for much less. And there is something about bread hot out of the oven that just cannot be replaced. It is nourishing on a creative level because there is a moment of pride knowing that they did this, and it is possible for them to replicate it. We use a recipe that is simple and eliminates a lot of the “what-if-I-did-something-wrong’s”! So the bread bowls held our clam chowder and French onion soup and tasted and looked great! We see the clients grow as they take part in these classes and reflect that it is not as complicated as they thought. It’s amazing and rewarding to see this part of them come alive.
When we work with the clients to help them learn the basics of planning, shopping for, and handling food, as well as chopping, tasting, seasoning, and trusting their instincts to prepare delicious meals, it doesn’t just make them better cooks in the kitchen. It inspires the skills and habits that help them appreciate a full and, yes, nourishing life in recovery. And as one client reflected to me recently, he is no longer afraid of how long the recipe is because the process is easier than it seems. Sometimes a single session of working creatively with foods that they might not otherwise tend to explore can open up a world of I-can-actually-do-this!