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Menu Planning at Capacity

I have a complicated history with food. I've spoken before about how I've swung between eating disorders and disordered eating most of my life. But the long and short of it is I balance food aversions, food allergies, binge eating, low energy, and physical capacity. This means that making meals absolutely sucks for me. If I'm not battling the physical chore of it, I'm mentally arguing with myself about:

  • What I have the bandwidth to make.

  • Foods that call lovingly to me but that make me feel like crap.

  • Foods I know I should eat to make me feel good, but that can sometimes turn me off.

  • Everyone else's food needs & wants.

In spite of all of this, my husband and I feed ourselves and five kids three times a day. (I feel like there should be applause happening right now? No, I don't think that's dramatic!) 👏💪 Today, I want to share a few tips that have made feeding myself and my family easier.

1. I am realistic about when I'll be at a lower capacity and aware that I can suddenly find myself at a lower capacity.

Can I be honest with you? The amount of times I have planned complex meals or guilted myself into buying a basket of fresh produce, only to have the fruits and veggies rot in the fridge, is astronomical. I am hyper-aware that the food I eat causes me to feel better or worse, especially with auto-immune diseases.

That knowledge has given me enormous stress as I've tried to plan approximately 21 healthy meals a week, all the while navigating gluten-free, dairy-free, and meat-free dietary needs, and energy that can plummet right when I need it the most. The pressure I pile on myself finally put me into a space where I'd fully plan and shop for 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners for 7 people, only to end up ordering fast food 50% of the time and feeling like a failure 100% of the time.

After years of this agonizing interaction with planning and executing meals (NO, I'M STILL NOT BEING DRAMATIC🫠), I finally decided to approach food adaptably, like I do my cleaning. I sat down and thought about when I was typically at a lower capacity. After some thinking, I realized that I'm far less able to make meals when I'm in a flare, exhausted, or when my husband works (nights). With that in mind, we needed to plan for 3-4 frozen or already prepared dinners a week.

2. I add as much nourishing food as I can and make everything as easy as possible when I'm at a lower capacity.

I can wish all day long that I had the bandwidth to wash and cut fresh produce multiple

times a day, lovingly make fresh bread from scratch, and fill my home with the smell of onions, garlic, and fresh herbs sautéing on the stove. When I'm at high capacity, I can sometimes swing those things, but since I'm mostly not, what do I do?

  • I buy a lot of fruit that doesn't require much prep work. Berries and grapes can be washed ahead of time and pulled out by the children. Cuties can be peeled by even the littlest of my kiddos, and bananas are a snap to eat.

  • I buy frozen fruit that can be pulled out and thawed on days when I can't do the grocery shopping on time, and there's no fresh fruit for all the fruitarians in my home.

  • I buy steamable veggies that can be microwaved, seasoned, and added to supplement our frozen meals in less than ten minutes.

  • I stock hearty, easy-to-make meals and snacks in the pantry, like oatmeal, beans, granola, peanut butter crackers, nuts, and cereals.

  • I have ingredients stocked for protein drinks because that's a quick way to get a ton of nutrients into our bodies.

  • I keep plenty of frozen meals stocked.

  • I used to order all my groceries and have them delivered (it's far more expensive to do in OR than it was in TX), which I highly suggest for anyone who can. I saved so much time and money by ordering everything online.

  • I keep ingredients on hand for simple meals I can make on days when I find I have more average capacity. I can use frozen meatballs, noodles from the pantry, and jarred sauce to make spaghetti in 15 minutes, for instance.

3. I remember that I am keeping everyone fed, and I don't need to make it harder than it has to be.

I can quickly devolve into thinking that our lives depend on the quality of food we eat. That's a tough one because the truth is that less processed food makes me feel better. But the other truth is that I can't push myself into cooking a meal every night, and if that's my expectation, then we will often find ourselves eating fast food. I'm not knocking fast food because it, too, serves a function, but it's more expensive and has less nutritional value than whatever we can throw together at home.

When I let all the noise, input, and pressure fall away, I know I'm doing the best I can with the tools and resources I have in this season of life. I hope to get to a place in the future where I can cook more, or better yet, have the money to hire someone to cook for us (manifestation, baby!!). But for now, I have to tackle this ongoing chore in the most realistic, loving, and logical way I can.

If you are pressuring yourself terribly to do more than you can in this season, I hope you hear me say that what you have to give right now is enough. I genuinely don't believe that there's an easy answer for many of us about food. Maybe depression, food issues, pain, limited mobility, or time restraints will always show up here and there, preventing us from a life of stress-free cookery. But insisting that we have an ideal relationship with food is what causes even more issues when it comes to feeding ourselves and our people. So maybe we should just applaud ourselves for what we can do and move on!

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