Lessons from a Week of Independent Eating

These next three months are going to be my first experience living on my own and having complete autonomy over my food choices. There is no guardian cooking for me, no one else with food preferences to accommodate, no groceries bought by someone else, and no college dining plan encouraging me to buy my meals rather than cook them. I am abroad for the semester with my own apartment, which means my own kitchen, my own cooking, and my own grocery shopping.

smoked salmon hashWhile some people would find this kind of autonomy daunting, I was excited the moment I realized that I would be in full control of deciding what I ate. Finally, I could really dive into the 300+ recipes that I have bookmarked on my computer! Of course I’m going to go out to sample the local cuisine, but I also envisioned cooking glorious dishes for myself and learning to make things that I’ve been itching to try.

As you might have guessed from my use of the past tense, I have been slightly disillusioned. Having been in Berlin for just over a week, I have already come to realize how non-conducive to cooking my new schedule is. After all, my weekdays involve working until 5:30pm and then going to either the gym or to lessons. For gym nights, I cook in advance so I have leftovers ready immediately after my workout – but my lack of microwave makes reheating less convenient than I would like. Also, I am lacking a great many cooking supplies but am too stingy to buy new ones, since my time here is so brief.

Constrained culinary creativity aside, my new food autonomy presents me with an overwhelming amount of choice: where to buy groceries, what groceries to buy, when to bring food vs. eat out, how to plan my meals to use my groceries, etc. While planning is good for the sake of preventing waste and making healthy choices, I have been stressing myself out a little by neurotically planning how I eat. So, I’m sharing some advice for fellow self-determination newbies (and building on my previous post about my food-buying habits):berlin grocery

  • Don’t over-plan! Yes, use a grocery list when you shop to avoid impulse purchases and have an idea of how you’re going to use what you buy – but don’t let food become a source of stress. Leave one or two ‘uncertain’ days in your week’s schedule. After all, life happens, plans change, and you might be invited out to dinner on the night that you were planning to make lasagna. Allow yourself room for flexibility.
  • Assemble a pantry early on. Buy things like cereal, pasta, canned soup, and yogurt that are generally useful to have on-hand (and aren’t in your week’s plan).
  • Don’t let fresh produce become a burden. You don’t want to have to worry about using the fruits or vegetables before they go bad. If your schedule is still up in the air when you grocery shop, choose produce that keeps well or can be refrigerated, or just buy frozen or preserved goods. The same goes for other perishables like meat and dairy products.

I’m sure that I’ll learn many more lessons during my Berlin time, and I’ll be happy to share them. Having already seen a package of chicken livers in my grocery store, I might even finally try my hand at semi-nose-to-tail cooking. Being independent is all about adventure and self-discovery, right?


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