Every fall/winter I start thinking about cold-weather recipes. Soups, casseroles, spiced cider, the whole shebang. These are all comfort foods for me. And this year, with so much stress in every direction, comfort foods are needed.
The question is, of course, how can I make comfort food with an absolute minimum of stress/planning/effort, since there are so many other things that need my attention? The answer has several steps, but I can guarantee this will make your kitchen more of a place of comfort than a place of tension.
Stock your kitchen with STAPLES. One of the most stressful parts of cooking, I think, is that you're in a position where you're already tired or distracted or hungry and you need to put something together to eat. Cooking might usually be fun, but nothing is very fun when you're at the end of the day and starving. To make sure this isn't an issue, stock your pantry and fridge with items you know you can prepare and/or eat even when anxiety or distraction get in the way. Things like apples, peanut butter, bread, spaghetti, and canned sauce. So no matter how bad your day is, there's always something in the house that you can eat.
Make a list of the meals you want to eat in the near future. Maybe lists aren't your thing. That's fine. But before you get to the point where you can make meals, you need to know what you're making. So if this "list" is exactly one meal long, that's great. It's a place to start. Sometimes the meal you choose is based on what you already have in the house - like you have some leftover ground beef, so you decide to make burgers. Other times, you just really want some grilled chicken salad like Mom use to make. In either case, chances are very good that you're going to need some things before you can make that meal, and you can't be sure you have all the ingredients until you know what you want to eat.
Put ingredients for those meals on your grocery list. Those ingredients that you don't have on hand should go on the list. The list of Things You Need to Buy eliminates a lot of the anxiety that might crop up while you're in the store, looking at rows and rows and shelves and shelves and wondering what you came inside for anyway. Grab the things on your list and get home. Bonus Tip: If you're on a budget, but can't remember how much things cost, take your grocery money out in cash, stick the money in your pocket, and leave the rest in the car or at home. When the cash runs out, everything left over goes back on the shelf, and you can try again next week.
Do not buy anything during that grocery trip that isn't going into one of your planned dishes. This is the part that stresses my grandma, and I'm sure it stresses other people, too. You've got food in your fridge that you bought because it looks good, but it's going to go bad soon and you haven't had a chance to use it yet. You can skip this whole mess (and the actual mess of cleaning up celery that's gone slimy and sad in the drawer) by only buying food you already have plans for. I know those sweet potatoes are on sale but you don't have sweet potatoes on your list, so skip it. That canned hash was really good, but it doesn't belong in your spaghetti, so skip it. Put it on next week's list, if that's something you really want. Without the "extras," you'll find that you spend less money on groceries and less of the food you bring home ends up in the trash.
So the last question I have to ask is this: comfort food is all well and good, but are you comfortable with the way you do food?