Comfort Food

Toasted cheese sandwiches on white bread. Chocolate ice cream.

Celery stuffed with peanut butter or cream cheese.

Scrambled eggs.

Corn flakes with bananas.

Potato chips and French onion dip.

These have been my menu items of choice for the past week.  Comfort food items, none of which are particularly healthy or even flavorful. But they were all favorites when I was a child, so when I’m under stress I find myself craving these simple concoctions.

It’s been a stressful week, as I hinted in my last post. We had a huge, nasty surprise with our tax bill late Monday evening, giving us just a few hours to muster up a rather large sum of money. All this occurred after spending the weekend caring for my mom, who suddenly developed severe, intractable pain resulting from a herniated cervical disc which necessitated more than one trip to the ER. To add insult to injury, Monday evening we sank onto the sofa to relax with some mindless television only to discover our TiVo had died, taking our entire stock of recorded programs with it.

And just in case you don’t think I deserve those comfort foods I listed at the start, all this has happened on the eve of our travel to Florida to pack up and close on the sale of our home there.

So hand over those chips, would ya?

Truthfully, when I’m stressed out I generally lose my appetite completely. Over the years I’ve enjoyed some major weight loss on the “stress diet.” Many people eat more when they’re anxious, but the very thought of food these days really turns my stomach. And the semi-healthy diet I’ve been attempting to follow for the past few years - more vegetables, whole grains, and fish - hold absolutely no appeal whatsoever. About the only thing that sounds palatable are the simple dishes I mentioned above - nursery food, you might call it. Food that demands little of the taste buds or the digestive tract. Food that’s easy to prepare and can be consumed while standing at the counter or perched in front of the computer screen.

I hinted at another of the reasons these foods are so appealing when I’m stressed - they were childhood favorites. During stressful times, I think it’s common to yearn for one's childhood days, when someone else handled the big worries (like taxes!) and all we had to do was memorize spelling words and remember to take out the trash. When I was little, potato chips and dip was the snack of choice for TV time with my grandparents.  On Sunday nights, I’d snuggle between them on the big old sofa in our basement “rec room” and watch Bonanza. My grandmother would put a big bowl of Lays potato chips on my lap, and set the Borden’s French Onion dip beside me. (Right about now my son and daughter in law are probably cringing at the thought of me giving Connor food like that!) Still, more than 40 years later, one salty bite takes me back to a time when I felt content and safe. These days, that’s what I need to feel more than anything.

And if I can get it from something as simple as a bag of Lay’s Potato chips, it’s worth a try.

How about you? What are your eating habits in times of stress? What foods comfort you?