Sometimes, throwing together a meal from scratch is the last thing you want to do after a long day. The contents of the fridge feel uninspiring and you’re hungry. Really hungry. The urge to reach for your phone and order a delivery or head to the shop for a ready meal is like an itch that won’t subside. Finally, you give in and settle on the sofa to await a moped-riding waiter or the ping of the microwave.
While sometimes a takeaway or a few supermarket-bought shortcuts for the kitchen are the only option, there are many slow living-inspired benefits of cooking from scratch that aren’t limited to the savings for your back pocket.
Slow Food: Reasons to Cook More Meals from Scratch
1. Reduce Packaging
Ready meals are often plastic packaging intensive. But, it can be recycled, right? In the UK, around 1.3 billion black CPET trays are used in packaging each year, but despite being recyclable, most still end up in landfill or being incinerated. Why? The black pigment doesn’t allow light to pass through, meaning that the trays are often not detected by waste sorting equipment. This is a great example of why we should be striving to reduce our overall plastic consumption, rather than just relying on recycling.
By cooking from scratch you have more control over the plastic waste you produce, for example by opting for loose vegetables or buying dry goods at a zero waste shop.
2. Mindful Cooking
Cooking from scratch is a great way to practise slow living and mindfulness, whether you’re living in the city or countryside. The slow food movement focuses on preserving culinary traditions and understanding how our ingredients have been produced. However, in the digital era, the concept of slow food can also be taken a step further to incorporate how we use those ingredients in the kitchen.
Preparing a meal offers the opportunity to switch off from digital notifications and distractions and focus on the repetitive rituals of cooking techniques. Many see cooking as a mindful experience, especially when you make a conscious effort to be present and engage with the senses as you chop and stir. Therapists have even begun practising ‘culinary arts therapy’, using cooking as a way for patients to experience therapeutic expression.
3. Know What’s in your Food
The mindful aspect of cooking introduces this next reason to don your apron. By connecting with the food you are preparing, you’re more aware of what’s going into your body and are more likely to eat fresher, higher quality food, versus ready meals and other food options that may cut corners on quality to be able to be produced on a mass scale.
But, being more conscious about your ingredients isn’t just about knowing what’s going into your body. It’s also about being informed about where your food has come from. Just like the plastic packaging point above, you often have more freedom to make sustainable choices at an ingredient level.
4. Meaningful Meal Times
Of course, cooking from scratch doesn’t automatically mean your dinnertime conversation is going to be riveting, but the effort put in to prepare the meal can encourage a slower, more mindful approach to eating.
Keeping regular meal times is important psychologically, socially and biologically, according to mentalhealth.org. Rather than rushing through meals on-the-go or accompanied by a smartphone, sharing meal times with others can “provide a sense of rhythm and regularity” and a chance to connect.
In our fast-paced world, cooking from scratch and being creative in the kitchen is one of the easiest ways to slow down while doing something positive for mind, body and planet.
In the 1980s, the founder of the slow food movement, Carlo Petrini, began to notice how “the umbilical cord that had once connected the worlds of farmer and consumer was cut.” Petrini, from Bra in Northern Italy, lamented the loss of connection between consumers and producers with the introduction of large-scale supermarkets and fast food.
In 1986, two significant events took place which encouraged Petrini to found Slow Food, a not-for-profit grassroots organisation which champions traditional food preparation techniques and locally sourced ingredients.
The first event, which is often associated with the birth of the movement, was the planned opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in the Piazza di Spagna in the centre of Rome. While many protested outside the planned McDonald’s site, Petrini disagreed with this solution. Instead, he set about defending Italian culinary traditions by showing how they were at risk.
The second event was the selling of cheap wine made with methanol which led to the deaths of 19 people, in addition to multiple poisonings. According to The Independent, the cheap wine incident also supported Petrini’s drive to raise awareness. Italian wine exports fell by more than a third and demonstrated that protecting the country’s culinary heritage was not only important culturally, but also economically.
The Slow Food Manifesto and Beliefs
In 1989 Slow Food came to life when delegates from 15 countries from around the globe signed the initial manifesto. The manifesto promoted living a “better quality lifestyle”, finding pleasure in food and protecting local traditions:
“First of all, we can begin by cultivating taste, rather than impoverishing it, by stimulating progress, by encouraging international exchange programs, by endorsing worthwhile projects, by advocating historical food culture and by defending old-fashioned food traditions.” – Slow Food Manifesto, 1989
Over time, the beliefs of the Slow Food organisation have been developed and refined. Today, Slow Food is guided by the principle that food systems should produce “good, clean and fair food for everyone”.
GOOD: quality, nourishing food that is full of flavour
CLEAN: food production that is not harmful to the environment
FAIR: prices that are affordable for consumers and fair conditions and income for producers
The time and potential cost implications of cooking from scratch using local ingredients have been contested in an opinion piece by Karla Fernandez for Feminist Wire. Fernandez suggests that the slow food movement can vilify all processed foods which have allowed both working women and men to spend less time in the kitchen. She alludes to the difference in processing, for example between frozen vegetables and a ready-meal.
While a trip to the farmers’ market may not be feasible or affordable for every weekly shop and some elements of processed food may be unavoidable (or even desirable), it’s still possible to make more sustainable and conscious decisions in supermarkets with some research.
Slow Food in the Digital Era
Since Petrini first shared his concerns over our accelerated pace of life in the 1980s, referencing industrialisation and the creation of the ‘machine’, our speed of living has arguably only increased.
In 2018, the conversation around the environmental costs of our food consumption habits peaked with the release of new research from the University of Oxford. The study advised that two seemingly similar food products in the same supermarket could have wildly different environmental impacts and as consumers, we’re not informed about the consequences of our purchasing choices due to lack of clear labelling. The research also increased discussion around the impact of reducing animal products in our diets as one of the most beneficial ways to support the planet on an individual level.
2018 also saw Collins Dictionary select ‘single-use’ as the word of the year, reflecting the increase in public discussion around plastic pollution. The plastic bag tax has seen a shift in consumer behaviour, encouraging shoppers to bring their own. This suggests that a similar effect could be possible for food packaging and levies on high environmental impact foods.
While we’re clearly at an environmental tipping point on the discussion around sustainability and how we make food purchases, we can also consider how the act of preparing and eating food has changed in the digital era.
The significance of meal times has arguably been devalued as we eat at our desks or accompanied by our smartphones, the latter breaking down conversations and distracting us from what’s on our plates.
Today, Slow Food deserves a further point in its list of GOOD, CLEAN and FAIR principles. A focus not just on selecting ingredients, but also how we use them – on slowing down to find joy in the meditative and creative process of cooking from scratch, and re-assigning value to the importance of connecting with and over the food we consume.
Ingrid Opstad is the founder of popular lifestyle and interiors blog That Scandinavian Feeling. Originally from Norway, she shares inspiration for living a Scandinavian lifestyle outside of the Nordic countries.
In the following interview, Ingrid tells us what hygge really means, explains her own understanding of slow living and shares other intriguing Norwegian words. This is a valuable insight into why the Scandinavian countries continue to be rated among the happiest in the world.
That Scandinavian Feeling is a great name for a blog and clearly emotive for you. How would you describe that feeling?
“Thank you, the name came to me after moving to Italy when I started focusing on my heritage and wanted an outlet where I could share more. As I am a Norwegian living abroad and trying to find a Scandinavian feeling from my surroundings, I created the blog that Scandinavian feeling with the intention for it to represent the feeling of cosiness and calm with a Nordic simplistic and minimalistic style. The blog is a place where I share my knowledge and love for Scandinavia; it touches upon everything from interiors, design, lifestyle and hygge.
That Scandinavian feeling is a feeling that is very dear to me. It is a lot of things but at the same time also hard to explain, and I guess that’s why it is so fascinating and deep in my heart. It is not about location or origin but simply a mix of cosiness and calm. It is a warm atmosphere that invites you in and makes you feel welcome, but at the same time a cool freshness that hits you like a winter breeze. It is wrapping yourself up in a nice comfy blanket with a hot drink and a cinnamon bun. It is simplicity and minimalism, focusing on the little things in life. It is wooden houses, reindeers, knitted jumpers, fjords and mountains, hygge… all the things that remind me of Scandinavia and help me feel close to my home even though I am far away.”
Hygge has been huge in the UK over the past few years, but it’s arguably become slightly commercialised over here. If we take it back to its roots, what does it really mean?
“The concept of hygge is a way of life in Scandinavia that focuses on cosiness, comfort, warmth and togetherness. It is about enjoying those little moments that make us happy and relaxed, either on our own or with people we love. Hygge is without a doubt one of the reasons the Scandinavian countries consistently top the polls as the happiest people on earth each year.”
Does Norway have its own equivalent for hygge or Sweden’s lagom?
“What many people might not know is that hygge actually also is a Norwegian word, and we use it the same as the Danish do, just not as much. But for us Norwegians, I think the word koselig would be our own equivalent. It describes the warm feeling you get from simple pleasures in life. It can be meeting up with a good friend, cosying up under a blanket on a cold winter day with a book, a smile… Basically anything you enjoy can be referred to as koselig. We also say that if a space has a cosy atmosphere, it is koselig.”
What would be your tips for embracing that Scandinavian feeling, wherever we live?
“First of all, making sure I create a cosy atmosphere in my own home is key for me to embracing that Scandinavian feeling no matter where I am. I’ve been focusing on adding little personal elements to my house to make it more homely, little details like photos and decorative items reminding me of where I’m from. I enjoy creating my own little Scandinavian nest here in Italy; when I’m in my apartment it makes me feel like I am back home in Norway, but when I step outside I am yet again in Italy.
Another way to find that Scandinavian feeling is to discover places you feel welcomed, for me that means cafés where I can escape and relax. One of those places is the Hygge Café in Milano, it reminds me of a café you would find in Scandinavian countries with the Nordic sense of tranquil. In London I used to visit places like the Nordic Bakery or Scandinavian Kitchen regularly for cinnamon buns and hygge. Now, on my blog I regularly post about cafés or restaurants I discover with a Scandinavian feeling to help people find a place as it is always something I am on the hunt for myself when visiting new cities or countries.
Another part of that Scandinavian feeling is being close to nature, as this is a biggie for us. Friluftsliv is a Norwegian word describing the Nordic philosophy of outdoor life and encouraging you to enjoy nature, appreciate the outdoors and be active. A direct translation to English would be ‘fresh-air life’. When I go hiking in the mountains near the Alps or visit one of the many lakes here in Italy it reminds me of Scandinavia and gives me that feeling.
For me, a balance of hygge and slow living together with an active friluftsliv enjoying nature is key to a happy and healthy life and to embracing that Scandinavian feeling.”
Where’s your favourite place to shop for Scandi design?
“I am quite conscious about spending money and owning less, so I guess I browse stores more than I actually purchase items. There are a lot of great online stores I check out regularly, like for instance Finnish Design Shop, Utility Design, Cloudberry Living etc.
In London, Skandium is my favourite place to go. Last time I visited London I stopped by the Marylebone High Street store and wanted to buy everything but my suitcase was just too small… In Milano, near where I live, I tend to visit either Design Republic or the department store La Rinascente which both have an excellent selection of Nordic brands. I do also go to IKEA probably once a week, so most of my furnitures is from there since it is so affordable.
But the best places for me are always when I go back home to Norway and can visit all my favourite stores which all have great selections of Scandinavian design. So I highly recommend taking a trip to any of the Scandinavian countries.”
Do you have any morning or bedtime rituals that you follow everyday?
“I love a slow start to the day, so my morning ritual usually starts with a cuddle in bed with my dog Bowie (who is a big hygge lover), before we both get outside for some fresh air. After a walk and a long breakfast I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
Both me and my boyfriend are night owls so we love staying up way too late. I have been trying to go to bed earlier lately to see if it will help me sleep better, while also making sure I drink plenty of water and wash my face before bed. I try to read and have downloaded the app Headspace (after your recommendation) which I am planning to start using as my new bedtime ritual.”
What does slow living mean to you?
“Slow living to me is about taking time in your daily life to focus on your own well-being and happiness. It is a different way to face the day and appreciate everything that surrounds us. The importance of taking our time, to chat, to spend time with people who make us feel good, all without rushing. It is closely linked to hygge I would say. Sometimes our everyday life can feel so busy, but I believe taking a slower approach and focusing on the small joys is essential.
When I lived in London and worked in a busy office I used to feel quite stressed. When it comes to slow living I have learned a lot from the Italians, they can be quite relaxed and easy going on many aspects of life which is something I discovered while living here. When it comes to food for instance, Italians always sit at the dinner table and slow down for as long as possible. Something I am now happily adopting in my everyday life.”
Do you have a favourite quote or motto that inspires you?
“My favourite sentence that always stays in my head is “remember to enjoy the little things” – simple but so true. It relates both to hygge and that Scandinavian feeling, a reminder to make sure we focus on those little everyday things that might otherwise be forgotten. For me, the little things like stroking my dog, taking five minutes to enjoy a coffee or going for a walk are the things that makes me feel happy and inspired.”
Thank you to Ingrid for sharing so much insight on the way she lives and how we can each embrace that Scandinavian feeling in London and beyond. What she herself has learnt about slow living since moving to Italy shows us that we have something to gain from the traditions of each and every culture around the world.
You can follow That Scandinavian Feeling on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more Scandi insights and images like those she shared for this post.
Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual is a useful way to optimise your sleep, alongside other methods, such as switching off from technology an hour before bed. Designing a nighttime routine that helps us to unwind can ease stress and quell those racing thoughts we experience when our head hits the pillow.
Dr. Cheri Mah, a physician at the University of California, San Francisco in the US, advises sports professionals on how to get a better night’s sleep. She claims that having a bedtime ritual is key for the athletes she helps. “Having that routine mentally prepares them to prioritize sleep”, she says. They begin to prepare for sleep and recovery as they would other parts of their training routine. And it pays off. She has seen that creating a wind-down ritual and consistent bedtime can improve the performance of her clients on the field.
There is arguably no one-size-fits-all bedtime ritual for adults. But athlete or not, there are plenty of relaxing (and enjoyable) elements to experiment with to find what helps you to nod off.
Designing Your Bedtime Ritual
Using a pillow spray is a simple way to start building a bedtime ritual. The relaxing aromas may help to ease stress and over time, it could become a signal to the mind that it’s time to wind down.
This Works’ deep sleep pillow spray is particularly popular and the brand’s research suggests that it’s been proven to help people sleep better. It contains lavender, vetivert and chamomile. The second, if you’re not familiar, being an essential oil extracted from a type of grass which is said to help relieve anger and irritability. Lavender and chamomile are well-known for their relaxing properties. This Works calls their spray a “ready-made evening ritual”. Coming in many different sizes, it’s a good solution for frequent travellers, or those who find it difficult to fall asleep while away from their own bed.
Tea for Sleep
A cooler core body temperature is associated with sleep. This explains why baths can also be a great way to relax and unwind before bed. They raise your temperature due to the warm water and afterwards, when your body temperature drops again, it signals to the mind that it’s time for sleep. Some believe that a hot cup of tea can have a similar effect.
Of course, drinking caffeine in the evening is likely to have the opposite outcome. However, there are many “sleepy” teas packed with natural and relaxing ingredients that can help you create an easy pre-bed ritual. Among them, Pukka’s Night Time Tea includes 100% organically grown and ethically sourced ingredients. It contains lavender, oat flower, lime flower and valerian.
Mindfulness apps have boomed in recent years, allowing all of us to learn how to meditate for a better night’s sleep, how to ease stress and how to switch off from daily pressures using (perhaps, ironically) the smartphones in our pockets.
Why is meditation useful for sleep? By helping you manage your reactions to stressful thoughts and worries, it allows you to let them go, so you can fall asleep. One of the most popular apps on the market, Headspace, affirms that “research shows mindfulness training can improve the quality of sleep for individuals with sleeping difficulties.” The app’s sleep single meditation helps you to ‘switch off’ each part of your body and at the same time, your mind.
These are just some easy ways to start building a bedtime routine that works for you. Other popular choices include journalling, creating a gratitude diary, stretching and writing a to-do list for the following day.
You snooze, you lose. A phrase used to describe missing out on something if you don’t act. Or, more literally, something used by smug people who think getting by on just a few hours sleep a night is an accomplishment. Even though we know that sleep is as important to our well-being as diet and exercise, Calm app’s founder Michael Acton Smith says it’s the most disrespected, claiming, “it’s almost a badge of honour to talk about how little sleep you get”.
Regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep a night can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. On the other hand, getting enough sleep of a high quality brings a range of benefits, including reducing stress levels and looking after your immune system. Not to mention, feeling more ready to take on the day and being less likely to fall asleep at your desk at 3pm.
It’s time to take sleep seriously. From creating the optimum sleep space to switching off from technology at least an hour before bed, there are many ways to optimise your sleep. Sleep advocates, such as Arianna Huffington, founder of Thrive Global, also praise the importance of a consistent and relaxing bedtime ritual. When creating a nighttime routine, meditation can become a useful tool to help you drift off. In an era where millenia-old mindfulness techniques have become digitally accessible for all through apps, we explore how to meditate in bed for a better night’s sleep.
How to Meditate in Bed
1. Understanding When to Meditate
Meditating before you fall asleep can help relax your mind and make you more aware of any tension. That said, Headspace, one of the leading meditation apps, reminds us that, “good quality Zzzzzzzs require much more than doing a simple meditation in bed.” Restful sleep can depend on our mindset during the entire day, not just the period before we switch off the lights. For this reason, Headspace designed a 30-day sleep course with exercises to do during the day which team up with a specific sleep meditation to do before bed. So, meditating during the day could also pay off at night, when you’re hitting the sack.
2. Preparing to Meditate
We all know that trying to force sleep when we feel we need it most, rarely helps us fall asleep – instead, we’re left frustrated. It’s recommended that you try to maintain a relaxed focus and ensure you won’t be disturbed. After you’ve done everything you need to do before going to sleep, lie comfortably on your back. Take a few deep breaths to begin calming the body.
3. Choose your Guided Meditation Technique for Sleep
There are both guided and unguided meditation exercises. If you’re just starting out, trying guided meditations via one of the popular apps, can be a great way to dip your toe into meditation for sleep. Guided sleep meditations can involve different techniques, including:
Body Scan: notice different body parts and any contact they have with the bed. What feels heavy? Slowly scan through the body to ‘switch off’ each area ready for sleep, starting with the toes before moving up.
Day Review: remember and relive each event in your day in detail, starting with getting ready and having your breakfast. Spend around 20 seconds on each event.
Silence: after a particularly busy day, lie in silence to try to find focus.
Mindful Breathing: this focuses on slowing your breathing a little and easing anxiety, sometimes by counting breaths. For example, count one on the inhale and two on the exhale, until you reach ten. Then, start again from one.
Visualisation: imagining a scene can help you focus. Popular spiritual teacher Sonia Choquette suggests using colour as a visual aid. Each time you inhale and exhale, imagine a colour, then, switch to another colour on the next breath, and so on.
Still wondering if meditation apps are worth a try? A 2018 trial compared 35 adults who completed ten introductory Headspace sessions over the course of a month with another 35 adults who listened to excerpts from founder Puddicombe’s audiobook. After just 100 minutes of meditation, the first group of adults found themselves experiencing more positive emotions and felt less pressured by their responsibilities, compared to the audiobook group. With meditation apps making the practice more accessible than ever before, it’s a great time to try using mindfulness in your bedtime routine for better sleep.