Recently I gave a workshop about habit forming and how forming a routine in life can both give you more time and lessen the effects of decision fatigue. (Mental fatigue from having to make too many decisions). Now as this workshop progressed I noticed something. No matter how much I encouraged or suggested different ways of minimising decision fatigue (such as capsulizing your wardrobe or limiting your options, eg give yourself three options no more) they kept returning to the ides of food. Be it food shopping. Food preparation. Food planning.
Now, this could have been for three reasons.
One they were hungry. (Well it was a morning workshop so possible.)
Two they were unimaginative. (Considering that I was in one of the most prestigious creative companies in the country this is doubtful.)
Or three, that changing our approach to eating, to shopping and food preparation is actually one of the best and easiest ways to give us more time in an overwhelming busy day.
When you think about it. It makes sense one of our primary basic biological needs, (as described at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid of needs) is one of the easiest to create a system from. (I guess it’s a survival thing.) Now think about it.
How much time and energy do you use on food in your life?
There is the planning of the shopping list, the actual shopping, always harder and more expensive when you do it hungry. Then there is the choosing of what you want to eat, deciding how to make it, maybe having to shop for the thing you forgot for that recipe, the prepping, the cooking. Then, of course, the best part, the eating. And then the worst. The cleaning up. And this is something we do every day. At least 3 – 5 times a day.
How much time in your day is that?
What if you shop every day?
Cook something different every night?
Honestly, when you think about it, it’s a mental exhausting list. All those decisions you have to make, often on autopilot. And all the time that gets used. Now I am not saying you should eat less often to get more time. That would be dumb. If the body doesn’t refuel then you can’t do anything properly or well and the extra time would become useless. What I suggest is changing the way you approach your food making process, change your habits (a little or a lot depending on what works for you) and give yourself less mental fatigue and more time.
Sounds great! I can hear you asking how? Well, the honest answer is there is no one fix solution for everyone. However, here is a few suggestions on how you can condense your food habits based on my own and my client’s experience. I recommend try 1 or 2, and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t come back and try something else. And if you get a genius inspired idea that is not mentioned here please post it in the comments so we can all be inspired by you!
I cannot recommend this enough. I don’t have a meal plan for every meal of the day. (You will see why below) However, I do make a weekly meal plan for dinner. This is practical as Mr T is not vegetarian and I am so there is always 2 different versions of a dinner to cook. Having a meal plan means we can simplify that process. So we are having the same type of dinner on with meat and one without. One of the great thing about having a meal plan is that it makes your grocery shopping list easier to follow and you have fewer decisions to make in the supermarket, so your trip is quicker. Saves time, money and stress. How many things can you say that about in life!
Favourite Food/Meals list
This is a great idea. Especially for people who get caught up in projects or have a low appetite under stress and cannot think what they might like to eat. The basic idea is to write a suggested list of the meals you like to eat. You can do this for every meal time if you like. Then you use that list to help you decide what to eat. You can also use it conjunction with your meal plan. I have done this when I wanted to change my diet to be more healthy so I had suggestions for wiser choices but were still in the realms of food I liked. I also used this when I have to find diabetic friendly versions of the foods that I wanted to eat when I got diagnosed with type 1. It makes the whole process of decision making easier and gives you a chance to check in with your eating habits.
Cook bigger portions
Don’t just cook for one night cook for 2, or three or even the whole week. It depends really on your food storage facilities. Now, this does mean that you will eat the same meal at least twice a week. ( So make something you like) However, it means you save time and can enjoy life more it’s a fair trade. Reheating something often takes less than 10 mins. Think 10 mins food prep instead of an hour. Wow! The great part is that this works really well for healthy meals like soup, casseroles, curries even chilli and spaghetti bolognese. So this can actually improve your eating habits too! In our house, we eat pretty much the same thing each weekday and then have something different or special on the weekend.
Designate a serve yourself /leftovers night
If you make bigger portions chances are you may have leftovers in the fridge. A great way to use them up and minimise food prep time. One of my clients has a serve yourself dinner each week. Basically, everyone in the house eats whatever they can find in the fridge. A genius way of clearing the fridge, not wasting food and keep food prep to a minimum.
I would recommend trying these nights at the end of the week when you know you have low energy and need more time to recharge your batteries than you need to stand in the kitchen for 45 mins making food.
Minimise your shopping trips
Shopping less saves time. I shop once a week, many of my clients do the same. It frees up a massive amount of time. And if planned properly you can reduce your waiting time by avoiding the typically busier times in the supermarket. Make a list before you go so you know what you need. When it comes to grocery shopping I prefer the in and out attack plan, others prefer a more leisurely trip. Some prefer to shop twice a week. Or do a big shop and a quick top up shop.
Try one new recipe a month
I love this one. As we often eat a lot of the same meals I like to try something new to spice it up. I am an avid collector of recipes books that used to collect dust on the shelf and do little else. Now each month I try and find something new and introduce this to my menu plan. It breaks the same old, same old rhythm, and means that I get a boost of productive energy by trying something new and creative,
Systemize breakfast and lunch
Breakfast and lunch are meals that you can make habitual. Mr T changes his lunch menu 4 times a year, yet has the same thing for breakfast every day. I like more variety and tend to go through phases of eating the same type of meals for lunch and breakfast. So for example at the moment I have toast for breakfast and as often as possible avocado, tomato with olive oil, salt and pepper for lunch. A month or so ago I had omelettes for breakfast. On the weekend when I have more time I like to throw in something different and a little more time consuming but fun. The habit of systemising breakfast and lunch really reduces decision fatigue right at some of the busiest points of the day. Freeing your energy up to use in a more beneficial way.
Have a regular eat out day
Some of my clients have a regular eat out day. Either in the evening or at lunchtime. The same day every week at the times where they know their energy is low or their lives are busy. Eating out saves time as you don’t have to prep or wash up and gives you the opportunity to feel like you are spoiling yourself. A great energy booster.
It’s not always your job to cook
This one is really important. It really is not always your job to cook. Often when we live with other people we naturally fall into the role of who cooks and who doesn’t. In my childhood it was my Dad, these days it’s me. However, cooking 7 days a week is not fun. It’s work. (well for me it is). So we have made a fixed schedule in our house where we both know who is cooking and when. Now Mr T is not the most skilled cook in the world (he can seriously mess up egg ’n’ chips.) So to get around this challenge I taught him to make one dinner we both love. We have it every week on a Thursday. And the free time it gives me is a blessing. If scheduling who cooks when doesn’t work for you, you can share the cooking together. If I have to make a big portion of food on a Sunday Mr T will do the chopping, peeling and prep of the veg. We are both involved and it saves us both time and energy.
Now if you live alone it can be challenging to not be the one to cook. So I suggest finding someone to visit on a regular basis for dinner. Mr T goes to his Dad for dinner once a week. They have a great time catching up together and it’s one less dinner to cook. (I also get the house to myself – bliss!) If you don’t have parents you can or want to connect with what about making the arrangement with a friend. You could take it in turns each week. Freeing time and getting some social contact at the same time. And it is completely ok to get take away once in a while!
When you put your mind to it there are many ways you can free up your time and mental energy by systemising and structuring your eating habits. The possibilities are endless and with a little effort, you will find a structure that fits your lifestyle. Take 15 mins this weekend to give your eating and food habits a quick overhaul and see how much time and energy you can gift to yourself in the coming week.
Remember to share your ideas in the comments below
Have an amazing weekend <3