When I moved out of the dorms, I also moved away from the dining halls. Once a place of great anxiety for me, the dining halls and my unlimited meal plan have now become a fond memory of when I could walk in, grab a sugar cookie and a slice of pizza, and leave. In the last 6 months, I have learned the full deficit of my cooking skills so this month I’m going to try meal planning.
Turns Out I Can’t Cook
When I moved off campus, I didn’t consider how having to cook would affect my life. As quite the Sunday morning pancake flipper, I figured my breakfast prowess would translate to just about any other meal. It doesn’t.
I’ve discovered there is nothing fun about making food for one person. If I have friends or family over and cooking is an event, I can get excited about trying a recipe. Other than those rare occasions, however, I find I don’t think about food until I’m hungry. I have a fleeting fantasy of cooking a delicious, healthy meal for myself like the grown-up I pretend to be.
This is complicated by the irregularity with which I purchase real groceries. I may not buy many things, but I always have breakfast food. Reliably, my kitchen is stocked with some combination of greek yogurt, instant oatmeal or cereal, eggs, and milk. However, after 12 PM my heart yearns for those meals I used to watch Ina Garten making on the Food Network in high school. I open the fridge and that grilled chicken breast I was imagining is actually in the freezer. Hours of defrosting is not an attractive prospect given my hunger level, so I have two options: takeout or something that will be done in less than 3 minutes (Ina would be so disappointed).
If I’m lucky, I might have some popcorn in the pantry to satisfy my craving. Otherwise, I only have breakfast food to fend off the call of Grubhub. Often, it fails.
So I spend too much on takeout, don’t grocery shop regularly, and almost never eat protein.
So I started making some changes to improve my diet. I purchased a dinning hall meal plan. This made sense for me because my apartment is pretty far from campus and I often don’t have time to go home for lunch (I also lack the forethought and grocery shopping habits necessary to pack lunch). This way, since breakfast is the only meal I both can and enjoy making, it is the only meal I have to make because I can eat dinner on campus as well. This makes my life much easier during the week.
Additionally, I started making regular trips to the grocery store with lists! I found that if I keep a running list in my phone of the products I don’t usually purchase, I’m much better about my spending and I actually have what I need in the fridge when I need it. Plus, since I’m not starving when I go to the store, I only buy the items on the list rather than anything in sight that looks good (cookie dough).
I even tried limiting the amount of delivery I was ordering. This was ineffective for two reasons: I didn’t have a system of accountability in place and I didn’t really want to stop ordering delicious food I don’t have to cook.
This month, I’ve been researching ways to improve my eating habits and my spending on food because those strategies weren’t really working for me. I’ve settled on an adapted version of meal planning.
Meal Planning usually consists of creating a master recipe list and then scheduling a recipe (or its leftovers) for each meal. This full force approach doesn’t match my needs because I eat at the dinning hall for lunch every weekday and sometimes dinner and the occasional meal on the weekend depending on what my schedule looks like for the day. Also, my breakfast foods aren’t full blown meals that require recipes.
Additionally, having to budget time to both cook and eat is a serious commitment. This is especially since almost every healthy recipe is a new one for me, and I learned that the process of learning new recipes is stressful for me.
Without some kind of accountability in place for me, I also will not stick to any kind of plan.
I am going to plan all of my breakfasts and my afternoon/evening meals on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in my bullet journal. Over the next month, I will be experimenting with various layouts for the system (which you’ll be able to see on my Instagram @xoxorosana.blog).
The plan will also include meals that I am ordering in or having with friends. I find that depriving myself of anything usually ends in a binge (whether it is candy or tv). This way, if I know that on Thursday I will pick up a burger on my way home, then I won’t punish myself for caving.
I’m going to try to be realistic. On weekdays, if I have a big lunch I generally don’t remember to have dinner until I get home (whether that is at 6pm or at 11pm), so scheduling cooking every night won’t work for me. This will be easier because I generally know how long I will be on campus on any given day.
On the other hand, I’m going to try to push myself to try new recipes on weekends. If I make it so that my options are either cooking and studying near home or eating at the dinning hall and studying on campus, it will force me to be more deliberate in my studying or eating habits that day.
To create some measure of accountability, I am writing this post and sometime next month an update on how the system is going for me, as well as at least one Instagram post along the way. I found that talking about my half marathon training and exercise plan made me even more committed to succeeding, so I’m hoping this will have the same effect.
If you’ve tried meal planning and have any tips or tricks, I’d love to hear them! This is a new project for me, but I am excited to make a meaningful change so that I can eat healthier, spend more wisely, and learn how to cook.