Decision fatigue + obesity x executive function issues  (no soylent)
November 22, 2019 4:39 PM   Subscribe

I need a simple meal plan (1200 calories) that's sustainable. I don't want to buy pre-made foods. I don't want to heat my lunch at work but I don't much like sandwiches. I have a salad jar thingy but I haven't tested it to see how many days a salad will last in it.

Sorry for the novella below.

If there's a website with suggested breakfast, lunches and dinners at around 400 calories each, that would be good, but if you have your own selection of equivalent meals that would also be good because I can mix and match.

I'm pretty good with a lack of variety. The cook in the house usually makes dinner with a protein (skinless chicken thighs, fish, one t-bone night, one vegetarian pizza night), baked potato wedges (spray oil but I suspect he serves me too many) and salad or veges, so I guess dinner is okay. I'm not fond of cereal (but eat special K with a tub of fruit on it once in a while). House cook often prepares eggs (poached or boiled) for breakfast. Lunch is the big issue. Also I hate cooking. But I want to prepare for my New Year fresh start of eating more healthily.

In terms of pre-prepared food, I don't like food bars (muesli etc), crisp breads, frozen meals. Someone famous said, if your grandma couldn't make it in her kitchen, then you probably shouldn't eat it. So that rules out diet drinks and the like.

Lunch is an issue because I'm too blargh in the morning to make it before I go to work. Frozen sandwiches (which I don't like) defrost in time for lunch, but other frozen food doesn't. So I don't eat lunch, but when I get home, I'm hungry, make poor choices and then eat a full dinner.

I don't usually snack but if I do, it's fruit in fruit juice tubs, or little packets of raisins and cranberries. On the other hand, I suspect that my multiple and fluid bowel movements might improve with 6 small meals a day.

I just don't want to have to decide every day anymore. Tell me what to eat that's easy.

I try to avoid pasta and rice because once I start eating it, I can't stop. Also, for the last couple of weeks, I've been working from home and having two small bowls of steamed dim sims with soy sauce every day, and I vaguely remember too much soy is not good because of the salt, or for people with underactive thyroid (me) or menopausal (me, but not sure what stage because of my hysterectomy).

I also have psoriasis and arthritis in one knee, so if you know foods that are good for those, that would be good. My gallbladder is gone and I've read that for some people, that makes it hard to break down oils and cause diarrhea (which I usually have 5 times a day, 3 times in the morning, and than often after each meal).

I have a savoury tooth rather than a sweet one.

And because I'm on the spectrum, I need my food plan to be perfect before I start.

I also go to trivia once a week (only social event I have), and nothing on the menu seems to be diet-friendly.

posted by b33j to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I make oatmeal with fruit (1 part oatmeal to 2 parts berries) for breakfast. No milk or sugar, the berries make it creamy and tasty. Easy and good for you. It's a low calorie density food but full of nutrients, I'm sure it's well under 400 calories but much more filling than cereal or toast or whatever.

can't help you with lunch- I bring from home and heat up at work myself. I do also bring a large container of bite sized veggies and fruit though for snacking on, that might be worth a try.
posted by fshgrl at 5:14 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

How do you feel about tuna? One of my favorite easy lunches is a mix of canned/pouch tuna, steamed broccoli, feta and capers tossed with a little olive oil, salt & pepper, and lemon juice. It's fine to make a bunch at the beginning of the week and lasts a few days. There's a ton of variation with tuna salad and it has a lot of potential variations.

The other option I like is Laughing Cow Cheese spread or hummus on Triscuits and some carrots and celery. That might be good for little meals.
posted by elvissa at 5:18 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

I like those little Baby-Bel cheeses with some dried figs and mixed nuts for a quick meal. When I was have issues remembering to eat at work for similar reasons (plus anxiety), I just kept all of that stuff there so I never had to plan ahead at all.
posted by Weeping_angel at 5:30 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

A really easy lunch (or breakfast) is cottage cheese. It comes in different levels of fat just like milk (I like 4% the best, fat-free the least, and compromise at 2%). I like it with either sliced fruit or diced tomatoes, or plain with a little cayenne pepper. You can bring it to work in a mason jar and add the fruit or whatever right before you eat.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:31 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

My best lunch solution has been to make extra dinner the night before and bring it the next day, supplemented if needed with chunks cut off a prepared rotisserie chicken I buy Sunday. This will take arranging with your personal chef ;-) but I find this especially easy with roasted Brussels sprouts, any kind of potatoes (might be hard with the calorie limit), carrot salad, things that don’t wilt easily like lettuce, combined with a protein you can cook extra of (pork loin, steak, chicken). This might make things easy for you because if you want dinner and lunch to equal the same amount of calories, you only have to plan once, multiply by two, and it gives you dinner one night and lunch the next day. You don’t get too bored because you’ll have a new dinner that night.
posted by sallybrown at 5:42 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

These days I make a lot of really large kale or cabbage salads on Sunday afternoon. You can load them up with nuts, apples, cranberries, feta, red onion, chopped red cabbage, chopped red pepper, garbanzo beans, etc. You can even dress it in advance, and you can keep eating it for several days, because the kale (or cabbage) doesn't get soggy and gross. (You can add avocado but prepare for it to go a bit brown and squishy after a day or two.) I make my own dressings, usually something with lemon & garlic, or something with tahini & cider vinegar. I usually get at least four lunches out of it, and they keep okay out of the fridge.
posted by suelac at 5:56 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Skinny Taste has weekly meal plans where every day comes in under ~1000 calories (leaving slight wiggle room for an additional piece of toast or snacks or whatever). Here's an example from this week. It also comes with a very clear grocery list too. From my experience, her recipes are really straightforward and tasty. Since you don't care about variety, it might be worth browsing through her meal plans to see which one is the most convenient for you to make and just stick with it for a while?
posted by thebots at 5:57 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

My go to lunch is half a package of a grocery store "salad kit" (there are a couple varieties I like from Trader Joe's ) with half a can of canned chicken breast. That's about 375-500 calories and it's easy-peasy.
posted by vespabelle at 6:01 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Here’s what I’m taking to work this week.

Ham and salad wrap: flat wrap bread with leg ham (the good quality stuff), grated cheese, sliced cherry tomatoes and cucumber, a handful of bagged salad leaves. Avocado maybe. Salt, pepper, roll up tightly in foil and slice in half.

Oats and berries: small container. Layer of plain rolled oats (dirt cheap and nutritious), frozen berries, a few chopped walnuts, a spoonful of chia, drizzle of vanilla extract maybe, plain Greek yoghurt (Mundella).

I assemble this the night before and it’s ready to grab in the morning. Wrap bread is key because I don’t like day-old sliced bread or frozen sandwiches. Wrap bread is really just a layer to keep all the fillings together.

This works for me because it is low effort (takes 5 mins the night before), takes out the element of choice, and is healthy and filling.
posted by Salamander at 6:05 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

An apple, a piece of cheese, and some nuts gets you to a 400 calorie, no refrigeration needed, no cooking lunch. You need to figure out portion sizes for the cheese and nuts to get to the calorie count you want, but once you’ve done that once or twice you can eyeball it, no work necessary.
posted by LizardBreath at 6:25 PM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

I like lunches with sandwich fixings on crackers instead of bread. So I might do sliced turkey, sliced cheese and a sliced apple piled on a Wasa cracker or similar. Or I might do lox and a bit of cream cheese and cucumber on Triscuits. Or prepped tuna salad with arugula or hummus with olives and sliced yellow bell peppers. I try to go heavy on the raw vegetables and have some on the side, but also have tasty nutrient dense other stuff. I will often do the same set of this meal a few days before I get sick of it. Not sure if this would work for you or not
posted by vunder at 7:34 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Let me be blunt and say that I think counting calories is a fool's errand. I think the only thing you should be counting is carbs. I know many people who have lost significant weight, and kept it off, by reducing carb intake. I've also done it myself. You can follow a strict keto diet, or you can just make a general effort to avoid/reduce starchy and sweet things like bread, rice, grains, fruit juices, and desserts. It changes your metabolism. Read the book "Always Hungry" if you want to understand the scientific principles behind this approach. I think the author's wife published a companion cookbook if you are interested. If you think counting calories works, just look around you wherever you go and you will see obese people everywhere. WW is a revolving door. Counting calories doesn't work.

More and more food industry people and consumers are discovering that. About a half year ago, Blaze Pizza introduced a keto crust pizza and it was so popular it sold out almost immediately and took weeks to restock (I kid you not). Almost all the carbs in a pizza are in the crust, so a keto crust makes a huge difference. Just today I discovered that El Pollo Loco now has a keto burrito, which means it has a keto tortilla. (I tried it and it was good.)

Obviously if you are making a drastic change in your diet, you should probably consult with your physician. But seriously, counting calories is so 20th century. I hope you and anybody else who reads this will give it some serious thought because it pains me to see so many people encumbered mentally and physically with obesity but barking up the wrong tree. For most people, a solution is within reach.
posted by Dansaman at 9:49 PM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

Keto may or may not be the latest fad, but it is easy.
Short answer: Stock up on eggs, cheese, bacon and other meats (ham, turkey, chicken, fish), avocados, green leafy vegetables, and olive oil. Read labels. I try to stick to a daily maximum of 50 total grams of carbs or less. In the early days it was 25 to 35 total grams of carbs per day, making my best guesses.
The average American diet is high in carbs, so total elimination is very difficult. IANYD (doctor or dietitian), but don't go too low with carbs, either.
Once you begin reading the labels, it's hard to stop.

Dairy: Any eggs that are prepared with minimum carbohydrates. Most milk-based products are processed, so read the labels and pick lower carb items. Cheese is often good. Also, check out alternative milks such as almond milk.

Meat: Any meat that is prepared with minimum sugar and sweeteners (smoked ham not honey-baked ham) or complex carbs (rotisserie chicken not extra crispy fried chicken). Read the labels and pick the options with fewer carbs. Pretty much an open season here.

Vegetables: Go for leafy green vegetables. Avocado is good, particularly to combat the first few days of "keto flu." Apparently sodium, potassium and magnesium are issues, and avocados and green veggies help with that.
Problem veggies: Vegetables on the reduce/eliminate list include potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn (including corn oil, corm meal and high fructose corn syrup). A good book on keto will help identify other vegetables that can sabotage a lower carb meal plan.

Fruits: Oops. Fruits lean into the sugar bomb territory. When I first started keto, I said my weakness would probably be an apple.
Nevertheless, some small amounts of fruit as a garnish can be added, usually berries (raspberries, cranberries, blackberries, blueberries). Again, read a bit about the role of fruits in a lower carb diet.

Grains: Oops. This is where we opine about using lettuce leaves as sandwich filler wraps.
The "Cs" just ain't gonna cut it on a keto diet -- candy, cookies, cakes, cereal, chips, crackers. Lots of carbohydrates hiding in those ingredient listings.
And then there are the major easy carb dinners, such as pasta, rice, stuffing mix, oatmeal, and potato-based meals. Very easy, very filling, but high in carbohydrates. I haven't had mac and cheese in years. Occasionally I'll have some chicken noodle soup. Pasta was my go-to dinner for decades, and now it isn't.
There are a few lower-carb flour-ish tortilla wraps that I have used, but pretty much I've decided that I can just have a cup of tuna or egg salad.

Oils: Olive oil is good. I still use canola oil in cooking, in spite of what I've read.
Other condiments are based on reading the labels and picking what fits your needs.

There's a big thing now about grain-alternative processed foods. Zucchini spaghetti. Cauliflower rice. Again, read the labels for carb content.
posted by TrishaU at 11:04 PM on November 22, 2019

[Quick reminder: OP is asking for your ideas or web sites offering easy "suggested breakfast, lunches and dinners at around 400 calories each," not for a type of diet. (Also please note details: no gallbladder and hypothyroid means something like a keto diet would typically be contraindicated unless for some reason OP's doctors recommend otherwise.) Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:13 AM on November 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

You want You will need to pay for the features you want, but there is a 30 day free trial. I am using it right now and it is SO SO SO worth it. I'm on the spectrum too and the sheer calm of having all of my meals planned out a week or more in advance and knowing exactly what I need to do... it's bliss.

You can put in your own recipes (I've added heaps) and give it specifics of which foods you can/can't eat, and you can also tell it you don't like certain recipes. You can tell it how long you have to spend preparing food, and how complicated to let the recipes be. You can put in the macros you want to hit. I recommend trying the 'leftovers' option; for me, I pretty much just eat leftovers for lunch and have a specific pattern I've given it so that I prepare two lunches and a dinner every other evening. It will also allow you to put together a grocery list, which helped me tremendously.

Oh and I've just thought! If you want a referral link, memail me because that should give you a free month if you chose to stick with it after the trial.
posted by Acheman at 1:24 AM on November 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

The subreddit 1200 is plenty is fantastic. Lots of recipes, lots of support.
posted by the webmistress at 6:15 AM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

An easy no-cook lunch:
hard-boiled egg: 80-100 calories
banana: 100-110 calories
1/8 cup almonds: 100 calories
posted by xo at 6:55 AM on November 23, 2019

I have a salad jar thingy but I haven't tested it to see how many days a salad will last in it.

My advice, from experience: you don't need a fancy jar thingy, you need paper towels. I meal prep my salads on the weekend, and I just pack them into snap-lid containers with a little rectangle of paper towel torn to fit the bottom of the container and stick the containers in the crisper drawer. Dressing goes into a separate mini container. I keep a big bowl at the office so I can mix them there.

My advice would be find a salad dressing you really, really like and you can make the same thing every day. The low calorie option is to make it with mostly greens and only a tablespoon or two of any add-ins.
posted by capricorn at 7:16 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Romaine lasts pretty well when not yet cut. Prep salad add-ins - hard-boiled egg, drained tuna, shredded carrot, garbanzos, radishes, cauliflower, whatever you like, and cut the lettuce in the morning, throw in some protein and extra veg. Keep a bottle of dressing at work. An apple with peanut butter is a tasty, healthy, easy lunch at work.

I like to prep stuff for wraps - breakfast wrap with scrambled egg, sausage, beans, salsa, maybe some rice, - lunch wrap of salad ingredients, takes a minute if the ingredients are cooked and ready.
posted by theora55 at 11:02 AM on November 23, 2019

If you want hot lunch, you could get a big thermos. That can open up lunch choices to almost anything hot or cold.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:37 PM on November 23, 2019

Yep, wide mouth thermos. I have the same lunch every day, a bowl of natural yoghurt or kefir or similar with a good shake of low net carb muesli or cereal. Am enjoying some sort of puffed quinoa and blueberry thing atm.
posted by J.R. Hartley at 2:55 PM on November 23, 2019

Thanks everyone for your helpful answers. I'll try to put a menu together for myself and let you know how it goes, plus best answers once I've tried it.
posted by b33j at 5:01 PM on November 23, 2019

Not for nothing but I have been eating the Starbucks pb&j protein box every day for lunch for the last couple months. Half a pb&j, one string cheese, half an apple (sliced), mix of baby carrots and cucumber with a ranch dipping sauce, and a small packet of chocolate covered raisins. Total calories 520, but I never eat the whole dipping thing so closer to 480. Costs a little less than 6 bucks. It has been wonderful for me, who has similar struggles w/r/t executive function and desire to limit calories.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:48 AM on November 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sorry, but are you having diarrhea every day, three to five times a day? If so, you should go to the doctor about that.

To actually answer your question, perhaps some hummus with veggies to dip in it would be a good lunch for you. With some whole grain crackers? There are many flavors of hummus these days and you could portion it all out ahead of time.
posted by purple_bird at 9:05 AM on November 25, 2019

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