In SELF’s new franchise, The Meal I Eat When I’m Feeling…, we talk with chefs, celebs, athletes, and people in the culinary space about the specific foods or meals they turn to amid certain emotions—and how eating their favorites plays a vital role in their self-care.
Chef and recipe developer Meredith Hayden, 26, has no problem creating uniquely satisfying menus for her clients, whether she’s planning a seafood-themed dinner for the family she cooks for in the Hamptons or preparing a lunch spread highlighted by her famous pink pasta for a corporate catering job. In fact, she’s amassed more than 800,000 TikTok followers who tune in to find out what she’s going to put together next.
But after a long day of creating meals for other people, thinking about what to make herself for dinner can be daunting.
“When I’m by myself, alone, and I’m burned out from work, the last thing I want to do is find a new recipe, make a grocery list, and go to the grocery store, and then read that recipe and cook,” Hayden, who posts under the handle @WishboneKitchen, tells SELF. “When you’re feeling anxious and overstimulated, the last thing you want to do—especially in New York City—is leave your apartment and go to the store.”
So on days when her stress is at max point, Hayden keeps a dish that’s low on effort and high on reward at the ready: spaghetti pomodoro.
The dish, which goes from conception to bowl in about 15 minutes, calls up memories from Hayden’s childhood, when a bowl of spaghetti with red sauce served as her go-to comfort food. This grown-up version brings all the satisfaction of the original but kicks up the umami thanks to the garlic, butter, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese that complement the acidity of the cooked-down cherry tomatoes.
“It’s really just a savory bomb,” says Hayden.
There’s enjoyment in the garlic-forward, creamy dish itself, but there’s also comfort in the routine-ness of it. Hayden, who was diagnosed with ADHD at 12, says that ever since she was a kid, making decisions—even on small things, like what shirt she’d wear to school or what she’d have for breakfast—could feel overwhelming during times of high stress. So now as an adult, taking the question of what to eat for dinner off the table can give her the time she needs to decompress and let her mind quiet down from the chaos of the day.
And her days can get hectic: Hayden works as a private chef—she cooks for the same family in the city during the fall to the spring, then travels out to the Hamptons every weekend with them during the summer—and a caterer for New York–based events and dinner parties, all while producing content for TikTok and Instagram, developing brand partnerships, and self-publishing two cookbooks.
Before she turns 30, she tells SELF, she hopes to turn all of this experience into a cookbook produced by a traditional publisher, one where her expertise in home-cooking—versus “overly fussy fancy food” focused more on appearance over taste—can really shine.