What 15 things, and nothing else, can I eat forever?
December 28, 2016 3:08 PM   Subscribe

I am bad at feeding myself. I've looked at a bunch of questions and responses here on MetaFilter and I know about Michael Pollen's books including Food Rules. And maybe it's my ADHD but it still seems too hard for me.

Food is not too hard for me because I eat lots of junk food. It's too hard for me because there are too many choices, and it overwhelms my twitchy, non-attentive brain. Also, I do not enjoy cooking so anything that makes it less overwhelming, such as a limited number of options, makes life vastly easier for me.

I want a list of 15 or so foods that are nutritious and delicious and that if I never eat anything not on that list I'll still be eating healthful, nutritious food. Is that even possible?

What I eat now: I love fat free cottage cheese and eat it all the time. Like, every day for either breakfast, lunch, or dinner (with various additives). Is that okay? (I know about the sodium thing; I do not have high blood pressure.)

I like nearly all veggies, especially sweet potatoes, onions, avocados, greens, tomatoes (and fruit, by season). Happy to eat tuna, chicken, other fish, beans, eggs, and, rarely, red meat. Drop the red meat, add the cottage cheese, and that's already 11 things.

Can I eat just those 11 things forever (plus olive oil, coconut oil, and spices) at home and be okay? Or 15 other things? Asking this makes me feel stupid but that's an improvement over feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, and stuck when it comes to feeding myself. Thanks, hive mind, for any help you can give me.
posted by Bella Donna to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I'd add walnuts and chard or spinach (a deep green not a salad green). I'd consider onions a spice and not a veggie since they don't do too much for your nutritionally AFAIK.
posted by rmless at 3:18 PM on December 28, 2016

So to clarify, you don't want 15 RECIPES, you want 15 individual food ingredients?

This list looks pretty good to me! I can't really see anything missing. Maybe add in a denser green vegetable than greens? You could also maybe add in something like pasta or bread, just because sometimes a sandwich or a bowl of pasta is a nice change. But I don't think it's nutritionally necessary.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:21 PM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think that sounds like a great list of foods! Given the mercury in tuna, I'd limit that to once a week. The only thing I might add would be whole grains and any nuts you like. So cooking up a batch of brown rice on the weekend and putting some in the freezer and reheating it when you want it. Or having some oatmeal (if you like that) or buckwheat for breakfast.

For nuts, sprinkling some on a salad or having a handful with an apple for a snack, that kind of thing would be nice. But you don't have to eat them every day--just something to keep in the pantry and add every now and then.

And given your list of ingredients, if you ever got bored, you could make a soup or a scramble or try a different spice and voila! variety!

Varying your fruits is a great practice too.
posted by purple_bird at 3:24 PM on December 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'd maybe just add some whole grains a few times a week (bread if cooking brown rice/quinoa is too much) but otherwise this looks like an exceptionally healthy diet.

One of the healthiest people I know (a yoga/fitness instructor) told me when she goes shopping, she pretty much just buys sweet potatoes, greens, eggs, and chicken thighs (plus pantry staples). She eats more interestingly when she goes out, but those four things are the building blocks of her everyday diet and they give her a lot of nutritional value.
posted by lunasol at 3:28 PM on December 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry to thread sit, forgot to mention that I do eat rice, other grains, bread, crackers, and lots of nuts. Could cut back on the bread to make room for more nutritious stuff as needed. :-) Yes, I'm looking for a list of ingredients rather than recipes. Thanks for the answers so far, kindly keep 'em coming.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:29 PM on December 28, 2016

Best answer: Just yesterday listened to Ezra Klein's podcast episode featuring José Andrés and in it, Andrés discusses his "One Pot to Feed the World". Basically, it's a simple, but easily variable, stew composed of easy to find healthy ingredients including: legumes, carrots, potatoes, leeks, celery, salt pork, chicken, eggs, and a few others. The list of ingredients he mentions on the show would be a great starting place for a constrained but nutritious and delicious menu.
posted by AaRdVarK at 3:39 PM on December 28, 2016

Best answer: Aside from being careful with your fish sources (Brisling sardines are - currently - probably the safest/most sustainable canned/preserved fish, but that could change), yes.

I would agree with the assessment to add in a small amount of nuts (almonds or walnuts), and you should consider sweet potato/winter squash a starch that should be accompanied by a green and not considered a freestanding vegetable, even though sweet potatoes are a nutritionally rich starch.

I feel like there's probably a place for cabbage here, though you could probably get most of those nutrients from fruit and dark green veg.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:04 PM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is technically possible to survive on three ingredients: potatoes, oatmeal and milk. I would add potatoes and increase eggs over chicken as a protein source. Cottage cheese is happy milk, so you're good there. That sounds like a great pantry already.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:35 PM on December 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I also think your list is good and it jibes reasonably well with other lists of "healthiest foods" - in additions to nuts, I'd probably add some form of natural probiotic. Yogurt/kefir/saurkraut/miso/pickled something or other.

What an interesting question - I think this would be a great cookbook idea, by the way.
posted by vunder at 4:59 PM on December 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: You might be interested in this cookbook which is all about how to throw together a few pantry items into a meal. I think the only staples the author uses other than what you list are pasta and canned beans. It might give you some more ideas for what you do with your 15 things.
posted by cabingirl at 5:04 PM on December 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a very similar list, with greek yogurt replacing cottage cheese. I do have pork occasionally, usually as sausage (maybe 2-3 X a month, so not too often). Dill pickels are my favorite snack food after fresh fruit, if sodium isn't a concern.

Generally my blood work is good, the exception being I need to take a vitamin D supplement, but that's probably more lack of sun than just diet (I've lived in the Midwest or PNW my whole life and use sunscreen when it is sunny).
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:37 PM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would suggest including either broccoli or cauliflower - cruciferous vegetables contain cancer-fighting micro-nutrients that other veges don't.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 7:14 PM on December 28, 2016

Best answer: I'd add something fermented. Pickles of all types are great and can vary the taste of a dish in so many ways, yogurt is good protein and can go from sweet to savory, miso adds tons of flavor and can be used with every veggie you list to great effect. Fermented things in general provide flexibility in terms of shelf life and seasonality, and also contribute to digestive health in a lot of ways we don't really fully understand yet but can see clear benefits from.

In terms of narrowing down the choices you have to make about them, you could either just have one type of pickle at a time until you run out and then get something else, or figure out which fermented thing will go nicely with the most things in your pantry and just stick with it. For me, miso, cabbage kimchi, and half-sour dill pickles are always in my fridge. For you I could see plain yogurt being a good standard ingredient. It can be used for marinades on chicken, mixed with cottage cheese to vary texture, made into different dipping sauces for vegetables, as a topping for fruit and cereals or mixed with sweeteners for desserts, and used in place of/to add a twist to mayo in things like tuna salad. You might also find comfort in the familiarity of a pickle on the side of lunch every day, and they provide a variety of small amounts of different nutrients that are sometimes harder to get, like vitamin K.
posted by Mizu at 7:21 PM on December 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would lay off the tuna, because of the mercury, replacing it with wild caught salmon.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 7:30 PM on December 28, 2016

I'd consider onions a spice and not a veggie since they don't do too much for your nutritionally AFAIK.

Water is a macronutrient and onions have lots of water in them!
posted by aniola at 7:49 PM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not an ingredient suggestion, but a "make acquiring food more ADHD friendly" suggestion: you can set up a weekly grocery order and have it delivered to avoid all grocery shopping overwhelm. Where I live, I like Instacart, but I know there are others. Have the same food magically appear on your doorstep every week!

(I also choose to shop at Trader Joe's as much as I can, because the limited choices are so much less overwhelming.)
posted by instamatic at 8:33 PM on December 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would add dark greens, oily fish specifically (e.g. mackerel), and liver.
posted by bluebird at 11:48 PM on December 28, 2016

Best answer: Onions

nthing, both that your list already seems very good and that something fermented would be a good addition.

I think a lot of people live like that, for instance families with small children and elderly people who can't eat a lot and need to restrict their diet in order to use up the products in the fridge. I had a roomy with ADHD, who had a very narrow diet — not nearly as healthy as yours.
posted by mumimor at 4:43 AM on December 29, 2016

Chicken is hard to argue with as a protein source. The above commenter warning about mercury levels in tuna is correct, for the next decade at least.

Avocado has good fats. Can't argue, again.

I'd also second cruciferous vegetables - they do some helpful things hormonally AFAICT.

I might also put in berries and lentils - though be sure you cook the latter appropriately to ensure nutrient absorption and lack of excessive farting.
posted by iffthen at 5:54 AM on December 29, 2016

Best answer: To make it even simpler I would add in a bag of rainbow salad/broccoli slaw/baby kale/baby spinach/fresh coleslaw (the kind not in dressing) salad each week and drizzle balsamic vinegar + olive oil over it. Done, no cooking - goes great with cottage cheese. If you vary the type of salad you'll vary the micro nutrients but your shopping will remain pull one bag/bin out of the salad area".
posted by warriorqueen at 6:00 AM on December 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

To your 11 I'd add quinoa (lots of amino acids), yogurt (probiotics are good for gut flora), tofu (protein) and a dark green (spinach, broccoli or chard) and I think yo're good to go.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:27 AM on December 29, 2016

Best answer: To your 11 I'd add quinoa (lots of amino acids), yogurt (probiotics are good for gut flora), tofu (protein) and a dark green (spinach, broccoli or chard) and I think yo're good to go.

All protein is broken down into amino acids (they are the building blocks of protein, much like sugars are the building blocks of carbohydrates, and glycerol and fatty acids are the building blocks of lipids). Quinoa does have a relatively high protein content per gram for a non-meat source, but it wouldn't necessarily be my go-to food simply on the basis of its protein content.

Research unfortunately hasn't shown much of an advantage to taking probiotics (which are supposed to introduce new bacteria to your gut), but there is research that indicates there may be some benefit to taking prebiotics (which feed your existing bacteria). What is becoming more and more apparent is how important our gut microbiome (and fibre) is to our health and to our ability to prevent/fight disease.

(IAADS--I am a dietetics student, but not yours, obviously.)
posted by Defying Gravity at 7:09 AM on December 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I agree that your list of foods looks great. I'd also recommend adding some nuts. It might be cheating (I consider my nutmix to be 1 thing), but I make a mix of equal parts almonds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds and I'll take spoonfuls of this mix throughout the day. They're a great mix for some of the metals needed (copper, manganese, magnesium and some zinc) which don't show up well in a lot of other foods.
posted by nobeagle at 8:13 AM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can just about live on potatoes alone, though you need to add buttermilk or cheese or similar to cover the areas where they are nutritionally deficient.

I eat lots of potatoes. When in doubt, eat potatoes. Add other stuff for flavor/variety. :-)
posted by Michele in California at 5:36 PM on December 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

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