Learning to feed myself—again

One late night when I was in college, my roommate Cedar walked into the kitchen and found me eating cold refried beans out of the can.

He was mortified. I was mortified.

“At least heat them up,” he said. Oh, the shame.

I had a few semi-legit explanations for my sorry excuse for a meal. I was operating on an average of five hours of sleep a night, was the editor-in-chief of the journalism school’s magazine, tutored other college students 20 hours a week and maintained a 4.0 GPA. Cooking was not exactly at the top of my priorities.

The truth is, though, when things get tough on the home front, I’m terrible at that most basic skill: feeding myself. Worse, I have a very fast metabolism and burn through food like a hummingbird. I’m also the world’s most indecisive person if I haven’t eaten in a while.

Take, for example, one time (or, ah, multiple times) when I was pregnant with Peeper. I came home from work, sat down in the middle of the kitchen and bawled because I was so hungry but didn’t know what to eat.

Thank goodness for cereal, amirite?

Anyway, the notorious night of the refried beans popped into my head this week when I was ravenous and had stuck my head in the fridge for the fourth time only to see that, disappointingly, no fully prepared meals had mysteriously appeared. I ended up microwaving some refrieds and eating them with cheese on a tortilla. Not quite as pitiful as that college snack, but still.

Anyhow. This is all to say that especially because I’m growing another tiny life inside me, I need to be a little more conscientious about feeding myself (and the rest of my family).

You and I already know the reasons to meal plan. It reduces food waste—a huge problem in the US, where we throw out 133 billion pounds of food every year. It saves money. And it saves the stress of having zero clues or inspiration on what to put on your plate each night.

I’ve been utterly crap at my previous attempts to plan our meals ahead of time. But we should never let the past define our futures! (Ok, I’m getting a little ridiculous, but you know what I mean!)

So help me, Internet world: What is your best advice for planning meals? Or are you like me and find yourself settling for canned refrieds for lunch?

0 thoughts on “Learning to feed myself—again

  • April 14, 2015 at 9:08 am
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    I’m terrible at traditional meal planning (but I also don’t like following rules, so they go hand in hand), but what works for our family is I have a list of 20-25 dishes that we love, along with a shopping list, and make sure our pantry is stocked with items to make those dishes. I also have substitutions in mind for the fresh items that we might not have on hand when inspiration strikes and I do want to make a certain thing that calls for, say, arugula but we don’t have that on hand. The list of favorite dishes helps. That way I can just stare at it and at least get inspired. But breakfast for dinner is always a fun option for us too! 🙂

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    • April 14, 2015 at 1:29 pm
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      The list is a great idea. That’d help me from getting stuck on the same 4-5 meals!

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  • April 14, 2015 at 10:41 am
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    I’ll be there on Thursday and once I’m there we can have meal planning date. Chris and I use standing shopping lists, a meal planning worksheet, and a shared app with all of our store lists. Get ready for meal planning fun times!!! See you soon!!

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  • April 14, 2015 at 10:45 am
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    Can’t deny that I have looked to a can of refried beans for comfort in the depths of my indecision and hunger. When my husband and I are most successful with meal planning, we sit down together Sunday night before we start our busy week’s responsibilities and look at our budget for eating out, plan the best night to get the most out of date night (i.e. not a night where we have previous commitments). Having a night planned to look forward to, we proceed by checking what groceries we have in order to organize dinners, leftovers (for lunches, etc.) and necessary grocery shopping. We pre-plan who is responsible for making the meal each night and if we need to eat later or earlier depending on our respective commitments. Taking the ambiguity out of meals helps keep us on track and not needlessly eat out as much.

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    • April 14, 2015 at 1:30 pm
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      Glad I’m not the only one, haha! And that’s a good idea to work in sharing the cooking. That’s probably been part of my downfall in the past: planning on doing it all myself.

      Reply
  • April 14, 2015 at 10:54 am
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    I plan out our dinners for the week on Sunday and go shopping for what we need. Lunches are much more hit or miss (I eat a lot of almonds and chocolate for lunch, it’s not ideal) and breakfasts we usually just rely on cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, etc. Every few weeks I’ll go to Trader Joe’s and buy a lot of frozen fish and frozen veggies. We do fish and rice/quinoa and veggies a lot when I’m feeling uninspired. We’ll also do a breakfast for dinner almost every week – usually eggs. It’s tough though when your kids really just want to eat egg noodles and quesadillas every night!

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  • April 14, 2015 at 11:00 am
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    I’m not really good with rules and things written in pen, so I’ve always been a “flexible planner” and basically work much like Marlynn outlined in her comments. We have a pretty extensive list of meals that we like, but even those get tweaked one time to the next to keep them fresh, and I’m always cruising Pinterest for new inspiration. (And honestly, there is nothing wrong with cold refried beans now and then.)

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    • April 14, 2015 at 1:32 pm
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      I’ve been looking through my Pinterest boards lately for inspiration and new recipes. It helps with new meals—and feeling accomplished for actually making something I pinned a year ago!

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      • April 14, 2015 at 1:40 pm
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        I wish everyone on Pinterest would create a board called “Recipes I Have Actually Tried and Loved.” It would be so helpful!

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  • April 14, 2015 at 12:11 pm
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    I plan my meals every week. It helped me a lot! Definitely less food waste and more money saved. I will leave the link for you.

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  • April 14, 2015 at 12:36 pm
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    I’m just like you lol. I wish I planned better for me and my child. I usually am just worried about feeding her instead of feeding myself. I usually eat what she doesn’t eat at night. I know…pitiful lol. I have to get better at planning my meals as well so I’m curious what your other readers will say as far as planning.

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  • April 14, 2015 at 12:40 pm
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    My problem with meal planning is the unknowns of life, like last week when I meal-planned and then got the flu, or on the happier side, if you plan out meals and then get invited out to a fun dinner with friends! Should you pass that up just because you planned on making chicken casserole that night?! That being said, I’ve found I cook a lot more if I have the ingredients in my kitchen, rather than having to go grocery shopping frequently. I have liked flipping through cooking magazines or recipes I’ve pinned for inspiration, coming up with 2-3 recipes and shopping for those items on Sundays, so there is flexibility in scheduling but also enough to keep me eating for a few days! Good luck!

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  • April 14, 2015 at 2:56 pm
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    I could write a blog post on this, and I am sure that I will at some point so I apologize for the book below! 🙂

    My family and I love using eMeals, the online meal planning service. We have been using it since October and highly recommend it. Each week, they email me our menu plan. I print it off and file it in a notebook. The menu plan comes with the recipes for each day and a shopping list. They also have an app where you can view everything on your phone or tablet, but we prefer the paper option so that we can easily come back to recipes we enjoyed later.

    We realized early on that since our kids are still little and don’t eat much, we generally don’t get through an entire week’s worth of meals so we shop about twice a week and buy for 3 or so meals at a time. If we try to stock up too far in advance, the produce will go bad before we can use it.

    As you know, I’m all for cutting costs where we can so that we can get out of debt faster, but this service was worth it because it relieved the stress I had over knowing I should be taking the time to plan our meals for the week but I had a hard time finding time to do it consistently. The one-time annual fee breaks down to less than $5 per month so when I think of the time it has saved me, it’s totally worth it.

    They have numerous dinner menu options that you can choose from, and you can switch at any time if you want to try something new. We started with the clean eating slow cooker menu and switched to the Paleo menu in January. You can also add breakfast and lunch menus, but we haven’t tried those.

    I have to say that we have LOVED 95% of the meals — no exaggeration. We look forward to dinner each night because we know we’ll be trying a new, delicious recipe. We have committed to trying each meal and found that we end up loving the meals even when we expect not to. For example, I wouldn’t normally search for Brussels sprouts dishes, but the braised Brussels sprouts with bacon side dish was super delicious! It has definitely provided for more variety with our meals to say the least.

    You can get two weeks of meal plans for free to try out the service. If you’d like to try it out and wouldn’t mind going through my affiliate link, just let me know.

    Outside of eMeals for planning dinner, we generally use dinner leftovers for lunch and might make something else that’s quick for the kids. For breakfast, the kids love having oatmeal so that’s quick, easy, and healthy, and I enjoy some kind of egg casserole that is easy to heat up in the mornings. We’ll make that on the weekend, and it generally lasts through the week.

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    • April 15, 2015 at 7:20 am
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      Wow, THANK YOU Monica! I’ve tried Fresh20 before (I included it in a story I wrote) and liked the vegetarian option and menus, though it ended up making too much for us—I had to plan on just 3 of the meals per week, usually. I’m curious about eMeals and I’ll have to try it out. Thanks for the rec! And I definitely think a meal planning blog post is in order. 🙂

      Reply
  • April 14, 2015 at 6:56 pm
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    Eating Paleo has made this easy for me, because every meal is a palm-sized serving of protein, a thumb-sized portion of fat and a bunch of veggies. I try cooking everything Sunday evenings, then supplement with a Friday evening store trip if needed. (It’s always needed!)

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    • April 15, 2015 at 7:21 am
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      Nice! Even if you weren’t doing Paleo, you could plan like that, but just add in/substitute a small portion of grains. But I think planning will help us avoid the every-other-day trip to the grocery store (and the cupcake I usually buy for myself when I go! HA!).

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      • April 15, 2015 at 7:40 am
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        I only had a moment to type my first comment yesterday, so I should clarify: no grains, no added sugar of any kind, dairy, nightshades, eggs or nuts. This means a few enormous dishes all whipped up with minimal hassle one evening, and then apportioning them out over the week while trying to avoid two of the same thing any one day. We are about to start adding new recipes so Li’l D doesn’t get bored silly, so I’m about to expand my abilities on the planning-and-implementing front. Yes!

        I hiiiighly recommend batch cooking, tho’ I only know how to implement it this particular way. Moving from “ugh! What can I even eat?” to “Which of these six choices best hits the spot?!” feels great … unless it’s all cupcakes ALL the time, which would be ideal for my mouth! 🙂

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  • April 14, 2015 at 7:15 pm
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    I basically learned to cook and plan meals less than 2.5 years ago, when we switched to a paleo diet from my raw vegan, salads-and-fruit-only diet. Now I cook balanced meals almost every night, and always make extra so we have leftovers for lunches.

    Back in college I would eat lots of meals of cereal! Sometimes dry from the box because it’s so addictive, as a processed, slightly sweet, crunch carb! But, I felt like crap most of the time and didn’t digest my food well and had anxiety, so the ease and convenience in the moment had serious side effects. Cooking is well worth the time! Good luck!

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    • April 15, 2015 at 7:26 am
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      I feel better when I eat actual meals, too—not to mention the self-accomplishment glow! Haha!

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  • April 14, 2015 at 11:08 pm
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    I thought we talked about this in moms group, but if not, here is what I see working for many families. Buy the stuff you like, whatever is on sale, or just stuff you know you will eat. Bring it home and make a list of potential meals you can make with it (flexible to switch around days). Before you put it in the fridge, chop, slice and dice what is needed for the next 2-3 days. Then in the morning, put some of it in the crock pot and just let it cook. You can eat it all day that way, because goodness knows when you will get a chance to sit down and eat with a toddler and newborn (or pregnant belly). I have several easy crock pot meals on my ABC Doula blog that clients love, but what I think they mostly love is that it is just THERE, waiting to be eaten. No prep, no thinking, just food available before you get Hangry, overwhelmed, and start eating cold canned items. Hope this helps you too! 🙂

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    • April 15, 2015 at 7:35 pm
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      Thank you Kimberly! We definitely keep the fridge and freezer stocked with staples, but that’s a better idea to chop all the whole veggies ahead of time. So much less hassle to, say, add peppers to spaghetti sauce or burritos if they’re already sliced.

      Reply
  • April 15, 2015 at 5:41 pm
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    Meal planning can be difficult. I think everyone struggles with it at some point. Since I have some food sensitivities, our meals tend to be simple – protein with veggies and another starch. At the beginning of the week, I pull out meat from the freezer that we will use and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. That helps me plan ahead somewhat. But more than once, frozen vegetables and previously-frozen leftovers have been my lifesaver on busy days. They don’t take much effort or thought to prepare.

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    • April 15, 2015 at 7:34 pm
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      Thanks Tracy! As a matter of fact, I’ve been trying to freeze a portion or two of the meals I do make so I can use them in a pinch! Sounds like it works for you, too!

      Reply
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