Spoiler alert: One is eating more dessert!

I try, whenever possible, to be a glass-half-full kind of person. But my deep-seated sense of optimism has certainly been heavily tested over this past year's COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and social distancing rules, especially when it comes to cooking and eating. And while I'm looking forward to certain returns to normal (like not getting everything delivered and being able to choose my own produce again), here are the 7 pandemic lockdown lessons I want to keep forever.

1. Bake frequently and fearlessly

I was already a sourdough girl when lockdown began, but I have baked more in the past year than I ever have in my life, and it has been a pleasure. I have found that baking has served as everything from a stress reliever to a creative outlet to even a source of entertainment. From tackling some of my bucket list "big bakes" like Swedish Princess Cake to trying some bakes I always wanted to attempt like Swiss roll, to just getting fundamentally better and faster at things like meringues and biscuits. I found that some of the baking projects that seem difficult or complicated are actually easier than I thought, and that gave me some serious cooking confidence. Making time to make it from scratch is something I fully intend to keep with me.

2. Keep a well-stocked larder, and keep it organized

While I look forward to not feeling like I have to have a pandemic-sized stash of all my goods, buying in bulk and storing properly has made my cooking easier and better, and I have saved money by not shopping as frequently, which cuts way down on impulse purchases. Buying meats and staples at scale and then repackaging for proper storage means that I will be able to focus my future in-person shopping on weekly acquisitions of produce and specialty items. Knowing that my goods are stored so I use the oldest items first, and that everything is labeled properly to prevent food waste, empowers me to do my best cooking.

3. Eat when you are hungry

This is a really hard lesson to learn, especially if you are someone like me with issues around eating. But with the pandemic, normal schedules went right out the window. With some days being a stay up late/wake up late sort of day to others that fell into a more normal schedule, our eating timings went completely catawampus. And then something weird happened. I began noticing when I was actually hungry, as opposed to knowing that a certain time of day was "mealtime." The result? Less snacking during the day and late-night scrounging for munchies.

Credit: Getty / Karl Tapales

4. Eat dessert

In the beginning, it felt like every day might be the day one of us would get sick, and we were not going to skip dessert if the end was nigh. But having something sweet after dinner (and sometimes lunch) became a habit, and as the habit stuck, we noticed that the scale of our treats decreased. When dessert became something that we did pretty much every day we didn't feel the need to indulge in excess. So now, it might be a small scoop of ice cream, one or two cookies, or a small piece or two of chocolate, just to end with a bit of something special.

5. Make time for friends in small groups

Having to see our pals all year one other couple at a time, often on FaceTime or Zoom has taught us that we really miss seeing people in person, but that we have much deeper connections when the numbers are contained. As much as we loved throwing big parties, the really important connections and conversations tend to happen in small groups of four to six. Of course, we look forward to some of the big occasions returning, like Thanksgiving and New Year's, but we both feel like our entertaining moving forward is going to shift to small dinners where there is only one conversation going on, and everyone can really feel cozy and connected.

6. Sometimes individual items are better than shared platters

We loaded in all sorts of individually wrapped snacks for safe, socially distanced cocktails last summer, and I'm pretty sure we are converts! Not having to plate a bunch of snacks and then either throw away or repack leftovers makes weeknight entertaining a dream, much less wasteful, and everyone can stay where they are and stay in conversation as opposed to stopping to get more snacks off the buffet or having to endlessly pass platters around. And especially as we move through this "bridge" time, where we will likely be socializing with folks where not everyone in their household has been fully vaccinated, we will be staying the course for the long haul with the personal nibbles.

7. Good enough is a goal, not a criticism

If all this time apart has taught me anything, it is that being gentle with yourself and your expectations, especially around cooking and eating, is one of the greatest forms of self-care. I have tried very hard not to judge myself or my choices this past year and I hope that continues. Perfection is not a goal anyone should impose on themselves, whether it is about what you are cooking for yourself or your friends. If something is good enough, then that is a win. As we begin to slowly re-engage with the outside world, I will remind myself that it will always be the people who are the important part and ultimately, as long as no one goes hungry, the rest is gilding.