This week we’ll each consume approximately 21 meals. That’s 21 times in one week we’ll need to plan, shop, cook and clean up.
But what if it was only, say, 10? Or maybe even 4?
As someone who loves to cook but also loves the idea of reducing the number of options I have, this is an intriguing question.
Who wouldn’t want to eliminate time dedicated to planning meals? Because with each meal, comes a ton of other little decisions too (Chicken or steak? Spicy or sweet?). Not to mention the leftover ingredients that end up going unused, because you’re not quite sure what to do when you only have half of the ingredients left that the recipe called for.
Meal planning can throw even the into savviest of planners into a spiral of anxiety.
What would it look like to wrap up a long day and not have to worry about stopping at the store last minute or wondering what’s for dinner? Is it just me, or is doing the Trader Joe’s shuffle when you’re tired and hungry at rush hour the stuff nightmares are made of? Okay technically there is no rush hour at Trader Joe’s since I don’t live in New York anymore, but I remember those lines stretching around the perimeter of the store all too well.
The magic of automating meals
The simple practice of eating the same few meals every week can help you save time and money.
Oh, and one other major benefit: weight loss.
As Tim Ferriss, who developed the Slow Carb Diet, writes in The 4-Hour Body:
“There are 47,000 products in the average U.S. grocery store, but only a handful of them won’t make you fat.”
Btw, rule #2 of The Slow Carb Diet is to eat the same few meals over and over again.
When you rotate between a handful of high-quality, healthy meals, your attempts to lose weight will be significantly more successful. You’ll eliminate those times when you want to reach for something convenient or simple. Usually those things aren’t exactly salads are they?
Since I’ve been up against a few health challenges lately, I’ve adjusted my diet in the past few weeks. I cut out gluten, dairy, grains, sugar, soy, processed foods and alcohol to limit inflammatory foods that can affect my thyroid and gut health. It’s been a little over 2 weeks (feeling great!) and to be honest it really hasn’t been that difficult. Automating meals and giving myself boundaries has truly made all the difference, since it’s so easy to maintain. Which has me thinking, why don’t I do this all the time?
So here’s where I’m at. I eat the same breakfast nearly every day, usually one of two typical lunches, and rotate between three or four dinner options every week.
The big key is that you have to thoroughly enjoy the meals. This is really important, don’t write it off. Otherwise you simply won’t stick to it. Think about it: when you’re dieting, all you want to do is get off the g-dang diet, right? When you’re choosing the few meals you want to rotate through, you get to eat the same few meals you WANT to eat. There are certain things like chili and eggs I could eat every day and never get sick of. What do those foods look like for you?
The other thing that has been helpful is shifting my mindset about the whole thing. Instead of thinking of the meals as repetitive and boring, I think of them as part of a strategic productivity method (less decision fatigue around food = getting more done throughout the day), while reaching my health goals and feeling awesome.
Here’s a sample day.
Breakfast: Coffee + 2 hard-boiled eggs with half an avocado and chopped sweet potatoes. I usually roast a pan of sweet potatoes once or twice a week. During warmer months I often swap this breakfast for a green smoothie.
Lunch: Depends on the weather and how I’m feeling, but usually either soup or chili (usually make once a week and have all week), or salad with greens, vegetables, chicken, oil + vinegar and spices.
Dinner: If at home (most nights), it’s some type of lean protein like fish, steak or chicken with roasted vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower, or zucchini/squash noodles. A lot of grocery stores like Whole Foods and Stop & Shop now sell pre-spiralized vegetable noodles or vegetable rice in the produce section, which cuts down on prep time and can make meals more interesting. A regular meal of mine with zucchini noodles with ground turkey or beef in marinara sauce (Victoria is a great brand!).
Not so bad right? That’s at the most a total of 10 times you need to think about what to eat: 1 breakfast, 1 or 2 lunches, and dinner every night for a week (7). Probably more often, it could be as few as 6-7 if you eat leftovers for dinner every couple of nights. Maybe you go out for dinner at least once and you’re down to 4 or 5 meals to plan.
At this point you might be thinking, that sounds great in theory but where’s the variety? I would get bored of eating the same foods all the time.
To which I’d ask, how much are you mixing it up right now? Do you really have a different breakfast every single day? If you were to track every meal you eat for a month, I guarantee you’ll find a few repeat variations. It’s likely that you’re already automating a lot of meals, just not in a systematic approach.
When you’re deliberate about automating meals, you can decrease the amount of decisions you need to think about, which will prevent you from picking up whatever is convenient or the simplest option available (regardless of nutritional value).
Plus, you can always dedicate one day or a weekend for experimenting with different foods or going out to eat. Go nuts.
I love to try new foods and eat great meals, and that hasn’t changed. I still get to experiment in the kitchen and enjoy the cooking process. But by putting a system in place to reach my health goals, I’ve been able to do it easily without a lot of stress or angst that I think are present with a lot of diets and restricted eating plans out there.
If you’re interested in giving this approach a shot, you can download The Simple Cleanse to get started. Not only do we lay out a 3-day meal plan so you can test out the whole automating meals concept, but you’ll also eat like a rock star and feel awesome by the end of it.
Have you tried automating meals? I’d love to hear about your experience! Tell me in the comments below.
Also published on Medium.