Can I pay a human (or a very very smart computer) to plan my meals?
April 24, 2022 9:09 AM   Subscribe

It's become clear that my being overwhelmed by figuring out food is doing damage to me and likely me son. Can someone just tell me what to cook? But someone who will A) Take my picking eating into account B) Not make me make fancy recipes all the time C) Consider that if I buy a big bag of X, I need to use more than a spoonful before it goes bad.

Every day at 5pm it comes to my attention that my son and I will need to eat. I have no plan. I often do not have food that can be turned into a real meal. The results are not good for my health, they're not good for my son developing good dietary habits, and they're not good for my wallet. But honestly, I just find the work of figuring out what to eat and arranging to get it etc. etc. to be mentally overwhelming somehow. Since I can't just take my son to a dining hall each day (can I?), I need some help.

So I've done meal prep boxes before (Good Food Box is generally my favourite), but I'm something of a picky eater, so lots of times I'll like the main, but it comes with potatoes, or whatever, which I don't like.

So I've been looking at meal PLANNING services, instead, that just make you a menu and a shopping list. But it seems like they are either more of a database where you kind of plan your own food by picking from recipes, or they plan for you, but don't necessarily take important things into account. I would like a meal planning service that will do the following:

1) Take into account what I like and don't like. Not just "mediterannean diet" or pescatorian" but food by food/flavour by flavour and hell, ideally, general style (e.g. I like meat stir fried in sauce over rice, but not a very wet stew over rice). I understand that especially at first, this may require me to mark a whole bunch of recipes yay or nay.

1b.) I would like it if it took preferences into account both in it's selection of recipes, but also in knowing that you can just leave stuff out. Like I hate cilantro and celery, but most recipes with cilantro or celery, you can just leave those things out and it's fine. Don't just automatically rule out every recipe with cilantro or celery because I could just make it without those things. Obviously for some ingredients/recipes that doesn't work. This is one thing that makes me think maybe this requires a human.

2. Oh I'm making a salad with radishes and brocolli and kale today! Yay! Ok, but now i have a whole bunch of kale, radish and a head of brocolli and a bunch of radish greens. Do you think I and a four year old are going to eat all this at one meal or even one meal and leftovers? Ok, well figure this out. I'm going to have this stuff, give me a stir fry I can put the brocolli in and have me make a pesto with pasta out of the radish greens. Don't just list me 7 random meals without any regard for all the stuff you made me buy for each recipe.

2b. Leftovers for lunch or even another day.

3. I don't want to COOK cook every single day. Some days I just want it to tell me to cook up a frozen burger and some frozen fries with some frozen veggies. A frozen pizza (or assemble a pizza from a pita bread etc. etc.)

4. ideally I'd like to be able to mark what days/weeks I will have more time.
4b. I made a Rachael Ray 30 minute recipe once and it took me three hours and then another 2 to clean up the kitchen. Please, some realistic understanding of how long stuff takes. Like salad takes forever to make. Don't tell me to just make X Y Z and then throw together a salad like that's just an afterthought.

5. I have stuff I like to make. Can we add things I like to the list of stuff I might make sometimes?

So taking that into account...I want someone to tell me what to eat at each meal and give me a shopping list each week and tell me what to cook and when. Is there a service that does this? How do I find someone who I can pay to do this (and how much would it cost?).
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
There are ‚personal chefs‘ who will plan, buy and cook meals for you. I use inverted commas because they may not be professional chefs or they may do this as a side gig or whatever. Such a person may be willing to meal plan with you until you have a 3-4 week rota to keep cycling through.

Alternatively, getting them to cook for you for a couple of months would also give you a list of meals that meet your requirements and you can keep going with.

It’s not like people try 3 new recipes per week. Most people have a number of meals in rotation and that includes options to use up the surplus ingredients/leftovers from a meal earlier in the week.

Depending on where you live and how seasonal you are, you may want to revisit the plan once a season and rotate some things into/out of the plan.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:52 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]

If you don’t want to throw too much money at this, some one on the internet (perhaps someone else can jump in with a link) that has you set up meals you like in various categories (take out, beef, Indian , whatever) and then autogenerates a week of meals from that list. So it would tell you McDonalds, steak and rice and broccoli, chicken tikka, etc. It doesn’t totally solve the meal planning part, but I like that since you’re providing the info you can just include the things you can easily cook/ will actually eat. You could also likely use to it create more of a “main and 2 sides” generator if you’d like as well.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:08 AM on April 24

I agree with working on a one week plan you can rotate through, simplify this as much as you can! A friend could help with this but I'm sure you'll get great suggestions of how to get more expert support as well.

Also in terms of your son, don't underestimate the power of a snack plate meal. I scrounge up one protein (nuts, cheese cubes, edamame), one carb (toast, crackers), one fruit (apples, grapes, whatever) and one vegetable (sliced bell peppers, cucumber, frozen peas). Takes only a minute to assemble with whatever is on hand, it's balanced, and my kid loves it.
posted by Threeve at 10:11 AM on April 24 [8 favorites]

where do you shop? is there a Trader Joe's near you?
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:22 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]

Frankly growing up during the school year, we had specific meals on specific days and just ate the same stuff all the time. (Think spaghetti Mondays, chicken cutlets with broccoli (and ranch!) on Tuesdays... Etc.) Boring perhaps, but same shopping list each week and both parents could cook dinner within an hour or less. My mom loves to cook/experiment with cuisine, but frankly at some point it's about calories you and kid will eat.

Paying a personal chef to see you up with a 14day rotation of meals and shopping list is probably easiest the way to go. (I really like the idea of also getting a monthly delivery of chef cooked frozen meals to buy you some leeway)
posted by larthegreat at 10:52 AM on April 24 [12 favorites]

You might look at someone who could help you break down the problem, get some simpler meals in your repertoire and ingredients to keep on hand. Then you can make the call whether you're doing that or frozen pizza in the moment based on how busy you are, but knowing you have a reliable option for a healthier meal too.

One example, mains and sides can be decoupled. I keep broccoli for roasting and carrots for boiling and pre-washed spinach for salad in my fridge at all times so we always have a veggie side available (and when salad is "put spinach from clamshell to bowl, put dressing on it, maybe add nuts from a bag", it really does whip up fast). You could also buy frozen veg for boiling and sauteing, then it doesn't matter if you don't get through it for a long time.

Obviously we here are chomping at the bit to suggest specifics but if you want someone to run you through it directly and really address your specifics, a dietician or a personal assistant would both be places I'd start.
posted by Lady Li at 11:28 AM on April 24

I responded to a similar question some time ago, though the question was posted by someone who wanted to know how to feed himself/herself in a healthy way. Maybe some of the answers will help you. My own answer was voted one of the best answers, so take a look at those.
posted by Elsie at 11:35 AM on April 24

For a no-cost option as a temporary stopgap, Epicurious has a large archive of 5 day meal plans with shopping lists, prep-day instructions and realistic time tables. For two people, you'd have leftovers as their dinners are sized for a family of four. Some weeks are hit-or-miss, but if you can find a few that work for you that's an instant meal plan.

Ditto for Budget Bytes. The 14 Day Pantry Meal Plan is free, simple and cheap. If you like her style of cookery/recipes, she has more 4 week options for ~12USD.
posted by givennamesurname at 11:41 AM on April 24 [11 favorites]

This feels like something a friend or even a kind mefite can help you with better, as it requires some back-and-forth (I think). My method would be to work out a meal plan for one week. From there, figure out if you can live with that, or need more variety.
For the 1 week plan I would first determine roughly
- how many days are you able to cook at all? Let's say, Wednesday and Friday, you have no time at all. These are takeaway / frozen pizza days. Variety on those days is easy, just buy a different frozen meal.
Then, cooking days: build on what you already like (maybe you can comment). E.g. Meat in sauce over rice.
OK, do you like chicken and pork? Which sauces go well with these? Then that's your Monday done, you can rotate between weeks.

On Tuesday there may be food left over for lunch - awesome. Not sure if there would be any leftovers after that. Assuming no, clean slate. Anything else you like? I like salads, so for example you make pasta, drain it (keep some for Wednesday lunch), add a bag of leafy greens, some olives and mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes (you can halve the mozzarella and the tomatoes if you feel fancy).
Wednesday lunch: pasta with pesto.

So obviously I don't know you, and maybe you hate all these foods, but I think if you just talked it through with someone (feel free ot memail me! I actually enjoy this! ) you could have a meal plan for 1 week in no time.

Sorry if this answers your question only obliquely. Best of luck!
posted by any_name_in_a_storm at 12:12 PM on April 24 [7 favorites]

Whoever you end up working with (and I hope it's @any_name_in_a_storm), here is a questionnaire to get things started:

1. What do you make sure to always have on hand? (e.g. flour, sugar, eggs, milk, lemons, peanut butter, etc)
2. What are your regular grocery stores, how far are they, and how often do you go?
3. What do you use in your kitchen (e.g. oven, skillet, Instapot, toaster, rice cooker, etc)?
4. What do you order when you get take-out?
5. What are super-easy meals that you really enjoy and make regularly? (e.g. grilled cheese, ramen, eggs and rice, mac & cheese)
6. What do you really hate doing? (e.g. peeling potatoes)
7. What do you dislike, aside from celery, cilantro, and stews?
8. What proportion of meat, carb, and veggies, and oils do you aim for? (not everyone agrees on this!)
9. What are your strong opinions on what is healthy/unhealthy? (e.g. frozen, microwaved, parboiled, pre-diced, left-overs, fried, etc.)
posted by dum spiro spero at 12:32 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]

Maybe Metafilter Jobs would be a good place to look for someone to meal plan for you? One option to get your meal planner started....

"Pantry meals" are a great tactic, and lots of these recipes can easily absorb some extra produce if you have any.

Since it's the meal planning (and sorting through recipes) that is overwhelming, I would suggest asking help from a friend who is a decent home cook to get you started. Maybe on your lunch break (do this during the day, before you feel the dinner time crunch), you can have a 15 minute phone call or video chat in which they can walk you through some options for meals that can be made from shelf stable ingredients... which includes frozen foods in my book!

If you have two meals you enjoy that can be made quickly from pantry/freezer staples that you always have on hand, this will help you a lot! Even one meal* you can do on auto pilot is amazing. You will be able to come home and make something you like, without prior preparation and even if your brain is completely exhausted.

* Example: My auto pilot pantry meal is pasta (any kind, though I tend to go for spaghetti or capellini since those cook fast), canned tuna in olive oil plus capers (or olives if I have them) plus a splash of vinegar/acid (balsamic is the usual, sometimes I have a lemon on hand, sometimes I have those squeezey plastic lemons). I love garlic, so I keep a baggie of frozen minced garlic in the freezer and break off a chunk to add to the pan. If I have extra leafy greens, I'll toss some in as well! I usually have some kind of cheese in the fridge, so I'll add that as a topping if available.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:58 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]

Another thing for you and your meal planner to consider -- Indian and Korean frozen food as good back up options. Or really any cuisine that has a robust frozen food section in a grocery accessible to you. I stock up every three months or so at the Indian grocery and get 5 or 6 frozen entrees.

To add to the excellent questions from dum spiro spero, how much freezer space do you have? I am assuming you have a microwave....
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:03 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]

Consider the book Saving Dinner for a combination of meals and shopping lists. Author & nutritionist LeAnn Ely gives good instructions on how to plan your week's cooking, shop efficiently, and use favorite recipes & leftovers. The recipes and shopping lists in the Saving Dinner book are mostly main Courses, and she gives guidance on picking easy sides that work for your family's preferences. The recipes are generally easy, quick, and simple kid-friendly flavors - nothing too exotic. I swear this book helped me develop the very same "food management" skillset of planning meals, days to cook /days to have leftovers, and grocery shopping trips -- yielding better efficiency & improved sanity.
posted by Ardea alba at 1:31 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]

I will volunteer as well if you'd like to do a test run and see if we can come up with a couple of one-week plans you can re-use and modify as you get the feel for it.

I do this for myself with a combo of meal-planning AND a little meal-prepping (but not spending hours and hours on the weekends doing too much), cooking for leftovers, and quicker meals from freezer/pantry staples - I have found that if I have a plan I can actually spend a little more on helper items because they don't go to waste and this has really improved what I can do with my limited physical and mental resources in any given week.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:42 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]

Other people have covered the "find someone to help you put together a week or two of options", but once you've got a list of recipes that work for you, there are some tools I find really handy for managing the planning. (I used to be horrible at meal planning: I got good early in the pandemic when I had to figure out orders at longer intervals than I'd been doing.)

I live by myself (well, the cat does not require meal planning), but I've found that much as I actually often like cooking, I am not up for it that often. So I do one big batch cook (usually Sunday evening), figure out low-key lunches, and have a couple of days where it's pulling a Trader Joe's frozen meal out. My meal planning does change seasonally, especially over the summer (when I neither want the oven on, or want to eat much hot food, but also my tastes change a bit season to season) so I don't aim so much as a set of fixed meals as having a range I like and applying them.

Budget Bytes (already mentioned) is my go-to for "meals that cook up well, take about the amount of time indicated, make batches as appropriate, and are about the right degree of complicated (which is to say, usually not very) for my day in day out cooking."

I took a bunch of those recipes, and a bunch from other sources (in my case, mostly Mediterranean stuff I like), and I use a site called ($5 subscription per month, but it more than pays for itself in not wasting food for me.) It won't make the plan decisions for you, but it will build a shopping list for you. I plan every 10 days (a few days before I go grocery shopping), and move stuff around so I'm not buying stuff that won't get used up.

You can add recipes manually, by clipping from a website (mostly really smooth), or put in "frozen pizza" or whatever in as ingredients on days you don't want to cook, or notes like "takeout" for days you don't need to buy anything for until you go get that. And you can tag things however you like, so once you work out a plan with someone you could add "week 1" or whatever structure you want, and then adjust days for evenings you know you won't want to cook, or have other plans.

My lunch lists include a couple of variants of soup with quiche or some kind of sandwich, several kinds of chicken salad, hummus and cheese board lunch boxes (small plates stuff), and I can rotate one or two of those a week pretty happily. This turns out to provide reasonable variety without being hard to plan for me.
posted by jenettsilver at 2:16 PM on April 24

Not sure if the budget fits, but my wife and I use a combination of HelloFresh and CookUnity to reduce meal planning choice paralysis to "we are paying to get ingredients and prepared meals delivered, we just have to choose off this list."
posted by Alterscape at 4:00 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]

How much money would you like to throw at this problem? Memail me.
posted by Grandysaur at 4:39 PM on April 24

Along with volunteering to help you, I'll also recommend Hungry Root as a stopgap. You will have to curate it to get what you like unfortunately, as they do have a preferences matrix but I'm going to guess your palate is not as forgiving as their algorithm, but depending on what you choose it is low-to-no actual cooking.

They offer "recipes" that you cook/assemble from 2-5 ingredients, where many of those "ingredients" are really just...twoish servings of food? Like ready-to-heat grain blend or rice pouches, 2 servings of salad mix (that stuff shows up a lot in recipes used raw, slawed, stir-fried, steamed, and microwaved), a sweet potato, brussels sprouts or broccoli in various forms. Their protein selections come in uncooked, cooked, vegan alternatives, just-need-heating (sausages, cooked meatballs, etc). And then the magic comes from the array of sauces they offer - these are the hardest part to replicate from regular grocery shops for me.

So an example of choices you might pick on an order could be:

Green Chile Chicken + Brussels Bowl - they send you a packet of seasoned grilled chicken breast, lentil quinoa rice mix, shaved brussels sprouts, green chile sauce. In one pan you heat up the rice mix with a little water, add in the chicken to heat through, add the brussels and turn up the heat a little, stir for 5 minutes, put in a bowl and put sauce on. They offer this combo in multiple options (swapping the sauce for peanut, sesame ginger, tomato, alfredo, Italian-y dressing), multiple proteins (swap uncooked chicken shrimp or fish, cooked meatballs, vegan meat), and with broccoli or sweet potato instead of the brussels.

Sweet Italian Sausage + Spinach Flatbread - The sausage just needs heating (they tell you to slice it and saute it in a pan but no, I throw mine in the air fryer or toaster oven and then slice after), you put some flatbreads on a sheet pan and put spinach-artichoke sauce on it to warm up while you cook the sausage, you finish with some pieces of spinach and can use the rest another night or make a side salad.

So like I was saying, you CAN replicate this more or less from grocery store supplies, and for a bit cheaper, but their quality and options are extremely good for the cost, and in most cases the "two servings" recipes will have at least one component if not more that can carry over to another meal, or make leftovers. I just think it's a useful way to sort of train yourself down from trying to make full-on cooked recipes all the time and know that you can throw stuff together and still have decent quality and nutrition. Pretty much any of their "recipes" that use cooked or vegan proteins will take no more than 15 minutes to prepare, and that's for pasta - rice and flatbready stuff can be done in 5.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:53 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]

I hope you find someone who can help you in a way that makes sense for you.

If you can't, here's another vote for rotating a small number of simple but delicious dishes until you feel completely confident with them, then add one more at a time. Don't stress yourself. Kids love repetition.
You are not a restaurant, you are a person with a life and also a parent of a four year old who wants your attention in other ways than from your back while you are chopping veg.

Frozen vegetables are a good thing, see them as an everyday staple, not a day off from chores. They are easy to prepare and nutritious and often taste better than fresh, for different reasons I won't go into right now. You can cook and eat them every day for the next ten years and be healthy and a good parent. My kids had a bowl of frozen peas nearly every day as a snack while I was cooking, because peas are tiny nutrition bombs and also sweet and fun.
posted by mumimor at 5:02 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]

I used to use The Fresh 20. You keep pantry basics on hand and buy 20 fresh ingredients per week to make 5 meals. They put out new weekly plans, but I would comb the archives for ones that sounded good and repeat those weeks. It’s only 5 meals, so you could make your favorites the other nights.
posted by fluffymag at 5:56 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]

Just FYI: Eat This Much. No relation except as a customer. If you decide to go this way maybe there's a referral program, I can check if you want. But it sounds like what you're looking for.
posted by MollyRealized at 7:03 PM on April 24

If you want this done efficiently and well, you're looking at a live-in professional chef/ major domo, like the Paul butler character in the Brosnan and Russo 'The Thomas Crown Affair.'

If you're doing your own shopping, and actively trying to cut costs, the grocery trip becomes the specifications for the week's meals - what's cheap/ fresh/ good/ rare that's available on shopping day.

Many sympathies; cooking for two is a pain, even if you're cooking for two for both dinner and the next day's lunch. Produce in particular, especially depending on your location.

I'm not a fan of pre-set meal plans; what if the asparagus was not on sale this week, or the pears are the wrong ripeness, or the pork belly was only available skinless.

I miss the privilege of being able to get off the bus a stop before home, peruse a couple of butchers, a couple of fishmongers (and the supermarket), and a couple of produce stores, turning around and collecting the pieces for one or a couple of servings for one or two people, then walking home to put it together.

If you have enough freezer space;

Frozen vegetables (various - carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas), better than nothing. Steaming is boring; thaw required portions of frozen veg in a covered bowl in the fridge before leaving for work. Should be defrosted by dinnertime. Dry if damp, saute with garlic (chopped garlic, or garlic in oil from a jar, in cold pan, add cooking oil, bring to temp - ready to add the veg when the garlic starts frying/ bubbling; this way [instead of adding garlic to hot oil], the garlic doesn't burn), sprinkle of salt or wait for everything to start heating up while stirring/ mixing and do a hybrid steam and splash chinese/shoaoxing cooking wine/ sherry (continue mixing).

Frozen corn, peas, carrots from frozen - pour into an appropriately sized microwave safe container, butter, salt, pepper(, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, whatever) reheat (with loose cover). Mix. Done.

If slow cookers can work for you, that can be the base for a couple days of meals, you can rotate sides, and maybe freeze a couple of portions for later. Prep them Sunday, turn it on before leaving for work Monday. Pork shoulder (or beef chuck roast) w/ onion soup mix and a can of mushroom soup condensate. Or beef shank steaks for osso bucco (tomato paste, a couple of quartered tomatoes, crushed garlic, [pearl, if you're fancy] onion, bouquet garni, beef stock/ concentrate). Works for whole lamb shanks too (or turkey drumsticks on sale for ridiculously cheap around the holidays). Add a little flour and/ or cornstarch. Tapioca starch if you want your gravy to be more translucent than cloudy.

For tomato-based shank liquids, sometimes I end up with too much and will freeze (ziplock bags, tupperware) it to use as an impromptu pasta sauce. Brown some protein and combine with cooked drained pasta and these liquids. Add some vegetables (or a side salad).

Side could be microwaved frozen corn, or microwaved baked potato w/ sour cream (if you have leftovers, sour cream is good for soups - or for the leftovers suggestion below) + saute-ed frozen veg. Add some cooked drained pasta to either the liquid from the pork pot roast or shanks. And/ or frozen peas/ carrots (directly into the slow cooker frozen when you get home, set the temperature to High, mix, ready in 15-20 minutes, mix, serve).

Leftover slow cooker roasts shred down good for wraps/ "tacos." Hot sauce/ taco seasoning is compatible with the onion and mushroom soups. I've frozen tortillas flat; need to put a wax/ parchment paper spacer, but those can be reused. Save an old tortilla bag with a zip closure to save the spacers - make sure the spacers are dry and at ambient temperature before bagging. Microwave on reheat for, like, 10 seconds just before use. Time depends on your microwave. Or stack them, put a damp clean paper towel over them, and do them in a batch.

Prawns freeze very well, and frozen prawns are quickly defrosted in a bowl with some lukewarm tap water. Replace the water/ continuous dribble from the tap. LOTs of things can be done with this protein.

I freeze meats (chicken thighs - various, ground turkey thigh, chicken breasts - various, steaks - various and not restricted to beef) in clingwrap/ presswrap individually and transfer from freezer to fridge (on a plate/ bowl) in the morning and it's ready when I get back from work.

This gives me a lot of flexibility, and if I get a neat idea during the day based on what's thawing, and know I don't have it in my pantry, I can pick that/ those up on the way home.

If you want your fresh produce to last a little longer, make sure that they're dry. If you buy something and it's been misted and a bit soggy, run them through a salad spinner, put in clean dry plastic bag, store in fridge's crisper.
posted by porpoise at 11:26 PM on April 24

Since I can't just take my son to a dining hall each day (can I?)

You have gotten a ton of great suggestions about meal planning, but I wanted to address this—because the answer is YES. We have so much cultural baggage associated with “home cooked meals,” even though cooking individual meals at home for our own families is just about the most inefficient way possible to eat. But if eating out is feasible for your budget, your health, and your food preferences, then you should do it without guilt!

Every once in a while my house will consider a new meal kit service (we actually really like to cook, but don’t have much time or energy for it during the week), but we crunch the numbers and every time we realize that the price per meal works out to be the same as take-out except with the additional burden of also having to cook it. (Meal planning services are cheaper, but with the added burden of also having to shop and prep.) Honestly, if it works for you to outsource the cooking of meals for your family, please give yourself permission to do it without guilt. The food will be delicious, you won’t have to do the labor of shopping, cooking, and cleaning, and the daily cognitive and emotional burden of “Oh god, what’s for dinner, I’m a bad mom for not knowing how to cook for my child” will be lifted. I mean, cook if you want to, or if takeout doesn’t work for other reasons, but there is absolutely zero moral virtue in preparing food at home. It’s just one way of getting food to eat, no better or worse than the rest.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 9:44 AM on April 25 [7 favorites]

I've just come home from Rome. In Ancient Rome, most families didn't even have a kitchen, they ate out three times a day. Wild. But OK.
posted by mumimor at 10:34 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]

First of all, breathe. You're not fucking up. You're not ruining your child's health (or life). You're not a bad parent. You're not a pathetic person. You have nothing to be ashamed of, because anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of. I promise you that the way you're judging yourself right now, as if you're committing war crimes, is NOT how any objective third party would see the situation you're in.

Secondly, your problem isn't unique (let alone uniquely bad). Nobody here is reading your post and thinking, "Wow what a terrible failure of a person." We're thinking, "Oh no, this person would like to meal plan and their anxiety is stopping them. That's just like when I was frozen up about [doing my taxes / catching mice in my basement / looking at my debt & finances / making that phone call / starting therapy / etc]. It must be so hard!" We ALL know what it's like to be "irrationally" overwhelmed with anxiety over a simple, stupid thing that should be simple and stupidly easy to do but we can't bring ourselves to face it. You are not alone. Breathe.

Thirdly, hold on to (most of) your money. It's easy to make terrible money decisions from inside the anxiety spiral. Your problem, like my mouse problem and my tax problem and my junk drawer problem etc., can be fixed either for free with a friend's help, or for a moderate one-time cost. Breathe.

I am someone who enjoys cooking and meal planning. If I were in charge of helping you, I would go at it like this:

- You would give me a list of you & your kid's favorite meals & preferred effort level (ranging from cooking from scratch ---> using some pre-prepped ingredients ---> cooking from box mixes --> heating up frozen meals). At least 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners. Based on your list I might suggest a few more meals, trying to bring up the total to 10 distinct options for every meal of the day.

- I would give you a list of equipment to own and pantry staples to keep stocked all the time based on this list.

- Then I would write up your two-week meal plan and shopping list designed to give you 5 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 5 dinners per week (the rest of the meals could be filled in with leftovers or eating out). You'd stick to this one plan eating a menu that rotates every two weeks, shopping once every two weeks, until you're sick of it.

This is a highly solvable and easy and even FUN problem for many, many people. You just need to find them and ask for their help. They'll work with you for a few hours this weekend and you will be good to go. It's really that easy for those of us whose anxiety lies elsewhere. So once again, breathe. You've got (easy access to people who've got) this.
posted by MiraK at 12:49 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]

For the decision fatigue: I just read a reddit post in which someone keeps a list of their go-to recipes and rolls a D20 die to decide. For family participation, let your son roll or veto :)

You could put together the list yourself with recipes you already like or have someone do it with new recipes. It doesn't have to be stressful. Just go through the process once of putting this list together and you'll be pretty much set. Include a "lazy day/ frozen day" as one of the choices if you'd like. If there's a new recipe you want to try, simply add it on a day you feel like trying it and are going grocery shopping.

For the use-up-ingredients issue: Your list could have multi-day blocks of recipes that together will use up the ingredients. E.g., Day 1 has kale salad, Day 2 has kale chips (toss kale in olive oil and salt/pepper, bake on a rack until crisp)...
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 8:32 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]

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