Motivate me to make meals at home!
July 23, 2023 6:28 PM   Subscribe

How do you motivate yourself to make meals at home? What motivates you? Whether it's cooking something or putting some ingredients together to make a sandwich or salad? How do you stay on top of fresh produce without it going to waste? How do you keep your fridge and freezer easy to use?

Did you ever feel so overwhelmed that you didn't cook anything that was in the fridge or freezer and so it went to waste?

Did you ever feel that the fridge and/or freezer was so disorganized that you simply stopped getting food out of it leading to wasted food?

I need help. I don't know if this is something that points to an issue that I need medical interventions for (ie do I need to get diagnosed for adhd, autism, etc or adjust my meds for depression?

I'm so overwhelmed by the refrigerator I don't cook, which is actually normal for me. I hardly cook these days. But it's gotten to the point where I will see some tortillas in there but I'm so annoyed that it's hard to reach and then other stuff is gonna fall out that I don't make the quesadilla.

The cheese is sorta running out and not fresh so that too makes me not want to make it. I don't want to go to the grocery store.

I have fresh produce in abundance that is wasted weekly.

Things that work: I will make one vegetable, roasted in the table top oven.
I have a weekly cleaner.

But now I'm too overwhelmed by a stuffed refrigerator.

Also. This is similar to the dishes. I don't do them. I have a dishwasher.

There are so many things that I need to do in order to make me feel ok being in my kitchen. I hate my kitchen right now.

I end up taking food out or eat at my parents house. when I'm finally so desperate and hungry, I'll eat cheese with toast. If I have sliced cheese.
Some previous asks has some tips like this that don't work for me:
*things that don't work for me: I don't like frozen veggies. And they sit there.
I dont like the taste of precut veggies. I don't like canned veggies.

I need to eat veggies and the only way I eat them is roasted.

I don't like raw veggies.

What's going on? Am I too depressed? Is it time to get adhd handled?

I'm a parent and I need to make food. I'm also having health issues and want to eat more vegetables. My kid eats better than me since he gets meals from my parents a lot and he loves veggies.

I know how to cook. I'm actually a good cook. I love food and I used to love cooking shows. I love fresh food. I want to reduce my sodium intake. But that alone isn't overwhelming my overwhelm with my fridge. And whatever is making me stuck.

I think the pandemic did one in for me. As it did for everyone. I'm still reeling from it psychologically.

Advice and also your own stories if you have or are dealing with this!!!
posted by AnyUsernameWillDo to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I think the first thing you need to do to take charge and get a fresh start is to clean out your refrigerator. If something looks unappetizing to you, throw it out. If it's a condiment jar that's been opened but you weren't too crazy about it and haven't used it in forever, throw it out. If you have leftovers that are past their freshness and they're unappealing, throw them out. Deal with the guilt you feel because you're wasting food. Wipe down the shelves and put everything left in some sort of order that makes sense to you. Repeat these steps for your freezer. And your pantry/cabinets. This will bring your food-on-hand down to a manageable level. If all goes well, the process up to this point will only need occasionally repeats.

On an ongoing basis: check your refrigerator/freezer before grocery shopping. What do you have on hand that should be used up before your next shopping trip? What dishes/meals can you plan around those ingredients? What other ingredients will you need for those dishes/meals? If you won't use all of the ingredient in the planned dish/meal, what else can you do with it and what ingredients will you need for that? These all go on your shopping list. Are there any dishes/meals you just have a hankering for? Put the needed ingredients for those on your list too. Keep your plans on the lean side; you don't want every potential meal accounted for in advance because you'll want to cobble some meals together based on your whims at the time or your kid's request. That will keep perishable food from building up in your kitchen.

The above is what has worked for me when things get out of control in the fridge/freezer/pantry. In fact, Mr. DrGail and I are in the process of thinning the herd right now. Our freezer has been especially full lately and it's too cluttered to see what we have.
posted by DrGail at 7:15 PM on July 23, 2023 [9 favorites]

If I were in your position right now, I wouldn’t try to cook. I also love cooking but get easily overwhelmed by it. I solve this by only cooking for enjoyment. When it comes to feeding myself, I eat things that require zero to minimal cooking like seeds, nuts, yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit, veggies and hummus, cheese on a bagel, coldcuts… someone just recommended a whole rotisserie chicken to me today, so I’ll try that next.

It sounds like it is important to you to roast veggies so I would keep doing that, but you sound so stressed and overwhelmed. I wouldn’t want to associate cooking with that, and if I forced myself to, I would.
posted by wheatlets at 7:27 PM on July 23, 2023 [9 favorites]

If you're still in therapy, it might be more helpful to print this out and take it in because your meds might need to be adjusted.

While you're taking care of that, you could ask your cleaner if you could schedule them for a one-time fridge cleaning. Until you're feeling less overwhelmed, don't buy vegetables. They're going to rot and you'll have to clean the fridge again.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:38 PM on July 23, 2023 [10 favorites]

This sounds like a combo of ADHD and being resentful / overwhelmed by gendered labour and caregiver burnout - some things I know VERY INTIMATELY. Some tips that help me:

- Buy smaller amounts of groceries a couple times a week instead of trying to cram your fridge once per week.

- Do more things to help yourself like the taste of precut veggies - more salt? more oil? better dips?

- Interrogate your precut veggie feelings. Are you trying to eat a veggie you don't actually like? For me it was broccoli and spring mix salad- I don't like those that much so I was letting them rot. I do like cauliflower, carrot, caesar salad mix, and coleslaw, so I buy those instead.

- Follow ADHD channels on social - there's some very good ADHD kitchen content out there. ADHD Moms are absolutely having a starring moment on TikTok, Youtube, and Insta right now.

- Put the condiments into the crisper drawer (when you want a specific condiment you will dig for it, so it's ok to have them jumbled out of view) and put the produce into the door of the fridge, nicely, so you can see it and it looks good.

- Store eggs and canned / bottled drinks at the very back of the fridge (again you'll dig for eggs or specific drinks when needed, and in the meantime, they last forever) and make sure produce and perishables stay at the front.

- Get rid of crappy tupperware, get nice clear tupperware, to make leftovers more appealing

- Put a small whiteboard on the fridge door. Label it EAT ME BEFORE I SPOIL. Anything spoilable in the fridge (including leftovers), write it legibly on the whiteboard to remind you to look for it.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:52 PM on July 23, 2023 [8 favorites]

Learn a few 15-minute recipes you can do easily in an air fryer, a toaster oven, or a microwave. Something like this:

15 minute air fryer recipes, 15 minute dinners, and 5 ingredient meals you can make for the week by Pro Home Cooks. His channel has a ton more content like this.

You may need to stock up on a few standard staples like sauces (Ssamjang and Gochujang Korean sauces, for example), and maybe some cooking tools (air fryer, rice cooker, etc.), but after that, it becomes easy.
posted by kschang at 7:59 PM on July 23, 2023 [3 favorites]

Prep is a huge time suck that discourages me from cooking. I find it takes me more time to clean and chop up produce than to use it in cooking. Two solutions I have found to help: 1) doing things in larger batches; and, 2) buy ready-to-use produce.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 8:07 PM on July 23, 2023 [2 favorites]

I too, for health reasons, have lost most of my interest in eating, and certainly in cooking. And before this happened, I was really into it, perfecting my chicken curry spices, making shashuka, and whatnot.

My family are all vegetarians, and I'm not, so if I want some meat, I have to do it myself. And it's just easier to go to the hot bar at the grocery and slap together something, with their mashed potatoes and gravy, and move on.

Don't know what veggies you like, but a pan on the stove, some olive oil, frozen green beans/broccoli/fresh green pepper is pretty easy. Ms. Windo does a lot of roasting, but that seems like a bigger hassle than what I do. Just made this a couple of nights ago, along with the noodles she made, for the first time in months, and it felt like a step forward.

But yes, clean out your fridge. Microwave frozen veggies. Eggs! Don't buy too much produce. Fresh fruit is easy and healthy, just don't buy too much. Breathe...

One step at a time. You can do this!
posted by Windopaene at 8:14 PM on July 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

I don’t have adhd but my partner does, so we’ve made a bunch of adhd-friendly adaptations to our life and home that have benefited me immensely, too. One of those is getting a meal service (HelloFresh in our case) when we are struggling to make meals regularly.

We don’t have to plan, or decide what to eat, or go to the shops, the food is there in the correct combination and portions for us to make dinner. I was annoyed at the cost and packaging waste at first, before realising we were spending and wasting a lot more by filling our fridge with stuff we wouldn’t eat.

We stopped getting it when one of us was laid off work and had a lot more free time. I’ve kept all the recipe cards and sometimes we make those recipes, especially when we’re sliding back into a lull.
posted by third word on a random page at 8:46 PM on July 23, 2023 [2 favorites]

Have you considered getting a weekly meal delivery service like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh? (There are many others, too.) You choose which recipes you want, and if you want the meal to be for two or four people. They deliver meals to you with all the ingredients you'll need. It takes the stress out of menu planning and eliminates overbuying. I'm motivated to cook what's shipped to me, because everything is all ready to go. Also, I have to cook them, because I know more meals will be on their way the following week. I often have leftovers for lunch.
posted by Leontine at 9:31 PM on July 23, 2023 [2 favorites]

That kind of executive function fail / overwhelm can just be a symptom of tiredness, so it's worth considering whether you need more rest and/or more vitamins. Vitamin D deficiency for example can absolutely lead to How-do-I-even-fridge-itis.
posted by quacks like a duck at 12:11 AM on July 24, 2023 [2 favorites]

Firstly, be kind to yourself - you are not alone! I have no children, a short commute, no diagnosable executive function issues and a flexible work schedule, and I still find it extremely challenging to cook myself and my partner three healthy meals a day. It’s just a lot of planning and relentless domestic labour. Every. Single. Week. Especially if you like fresh vegetables in most of your meals- there’s washing, peeling, chopping, etc. And I also love cooking, love eating, and know how to cook a variety of things.

Things that have helped me:
* To accept that motivation to care and feed oneself has its own rhythm and if you “give up” for a little while and eat ready meals, trust yourself and don’t despair, it doesn’t need to be forever;
* In fact that’s what I do at various times, go through phases of eating ready meals from the fresh food section, or meal delivery boxes, and sooner or later I realise I can do cheaper and nicer food myself, and feel like cooking again - but in the meantime, I’m fed;
* Keep a list on my phone of all the meals I like to cook, and choose only 2 for the week. Preferably one-pot wonders, like a huge, hearty soup or a slow-cooked casserole, where veggies can be whizzed chunkily in the blender and everything just simmered for hours, and then the pot lives in the fridge for a week;
* Be more relaxed about your nutrition for a while. If you and the kids have cheese on toast, plus a cup of homemade soup, followed by a yoghurt and some tinned fruit, well that’s a fine dinner!
* Do you like lists? Make a simple, easy meal plan that makes you feel good. Aim for 2 big one-pot meals, alternated with take-away, a rotisserie chicken dinner, and something at your parents house.
* Browsing Reddit’s mealprepsunday might help, there’s also lots of blogs about once-a-month cooking, batch cooking and meal prepping.
* I don’t know if you have time to read, but Ellyn Satter is an incredibly wise and sensible authority on feeding and eating who has developed some really kind, helpful guidelines for Mastering Mealtimes for the benefit of both yourself and children;
* Finally, the vegetable graveyard at the bottom of the fridge. Yes it is depressing. I have radically reduced the number of different vegetables I try to cook and it really helps! So if I have a salad, that might just be chopped cucumber and tomato with a homemade dressing, if I’m making a soup I might buy a bag of pre-chopped soup veggies, with a casserole I might roast just one vegetable on the side, and then another day I don’t have any fresh veg but I have a piece of fruit and give myself a pass. Maybe experiment with just trusting that if you like vegetables and make it easy for yourself, you’ll get the nutrition that you need overall.

Good luck!
posted by Weng at 1:17 AM on July 24, 2023 [4 favorites]

Oh, I forgot another one which is really critical:
* This might be a luxury of having more time, but I separate “making meals” into several distinct tasks: reviewing food we already have; deciding what to cook; making a shopping list; doing the shopping; doing the cooking. If I can possibly help it, I never do all of those things on the same day. Leads to burnout and overwhelm.
posted by Weng at 1:19 AM on July 24, 2023 [4 favorites]

The internet loves to diagnose people with autism, ADHD, and whatever else. I'm not qualified to do that. If you think it might help, by all means see somebody, but I also think there are steps you can take that don't require a diagnosis.

First: clean out your refrigerator. I'm not saying this in the make-your-bed-every-day sense because I think there's something virtuous about cleanliness or organization. That's BS. But the messiness of your fridge is clearly impacting your ability to think about food. Throw everything out. Don't stand there with the door opening asking yourself if you think you'll ever use that jar of mustard again. Everything goes. If you can't do this yourself, have someone else do it for you. I am an "will I ever use this mustard again" person, and my wife is all too happy to just toss it for me.

Then, make a plan. Buy a seven-day dry-erase calendar, and designate one day (probably Sunday) as grocery day. On that day, before you go to the grocery, write what you plan to make for dinner that day on the calendar. Monday is hamburgers, Tuesday is spaghetti, etc. Then when you go to the grocery, only buy what you need to make those meals. Don't buy a bottle of ketchup just because it's a staple and you'll probably use it sooner or later. Don't buy some new hot sauce just because it sounds interesting. (More on this in a second.) By buying only what you need, you're preventing the mess from growing in the first place. You'll still have some leftovers (you probably won't use all the American cheese you buy on one night of hamburgers), but they'll be manageable. And you'll have a plan. This is one of those motivation-hack things - supposedly you're more likely to do something if you write it down or tell somebody or whatever. So when you go in your kitchen and you see "Tuesday - Spaghetti" on the dry-erase board, you'll be more likely to actually make spaghetti on Tuesday. If, on Tuesday night, you get home and you decide you're not in the mood for spaghetti, no worries. Just erase "spaghetti" from Tuesday and move Wednesday's meal to Tuesday, and write in "spaghetti" on Wednesday. It's still somewhat flexible.

Once you've gotten good at sticking to your schedule with basic meals, it's time to experiment a little. This is really what motivates me to cook. Remember before when I said not to buy a new hot sauce because it looks interesting? I take that back. I just said that in step 2 because I want you to get back in the habit of cooking before your fridge mess starts growing again. Once you're back in the habit, trying new things is probably the single biggest motivator to me for cooking. Oh look, here's a new marinade - I'll get it and grill some chicken this week. A jar of tikka masala simmer sauce? Let's see if it's any good. New spice blend? Let's make some rice and taste it on that. I'm talking specifically about ingredients here, but this also applies to equipment and technique. I got a Blackstone griddle at the beginning of summer, and so a lot of my meals the past few weeks have been "let's see what ____ tastes like if I make it on the Blackstone". Or a couple weeks ago, I tried smoking pork chops instead of grilling them. Buy an Instant Pot, if you haven't already, or a ceramic skillet, or whatever sounds interesting. Once you reach a certain level of proficiency, cooking becomes a bit predictable. You know what spaghetti tastes like; cooking is just the labor to get to that point. But when the element of uncertainty is present, the goal you're working toward isn't so blase. Will the chicken tikka masala I make with this new simmer sauce actually taste good? I don't know, only one way to find out. (If you're wondering, it was Maya Kaimal, and it was just OK.) Here's the key thing, though. After you've tried a new ingredient, you immediately have to give it an up or down vote. If it wasn't good the first time you made it, it probably won't be good the second time you make it, either, so there's no point in leaving it to clutter up your fridge. And even if you like it, ask if you'll actually use it again before it goes bad. I made something Japanese a couple months ago, and my wife really liked it, so I kept the bottle of mirin I bought. But now it's just sitting there taking up space in the fridge because I don't make a lot of Japanese food. I should've just thrown it out.

One really easy way to combine both those steps, which I actually did to get me out of my own pandemic cooking malaise, is it subscribe to meal kit services. I used HelloFresh. These take care of step one by planning your meal calendar for you, and step two because it's an easy way to try new things. As a bonus, they only send the ingredients you need - no leftovers cluttering your fridge. You also cut your own veggies most of the time. They're not cheap, but neither is letting a bunch of stuff rot.

The other thing I'd suggest to you is to have a bunch of frozen heat-and-serve meals on hand for when you just don't feel like cooking. Pull them out of the freezer, throw them in a pot with some water or into the toaster oven, and twenty minutes later you're eating. Trader Joe's frozen aisle has innumerable options like this. In non-TJ's grocery stores, I can vouch for this skillet meal from Birds Eye, and this sheet pan meal from Foster Farms. Both are veggie-heavy and require no skill or thought to prepare. Dump and go. Again, are these the best meals you'll ever eat? No, but they're healthier and cheaper than takeout, and even if you're not capital-c, fancy-meal Cooking, you're still cooking, and that's making progress toward getting in the habit of cooking.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:06 AM on July 24, 2023 [3 favorites]

Things that work: I will make one vegetable, roasted in the table top oven.
when I'm finally so desperate and hungry, I'll eat cheese with toast. If I have sliced cheese.

One small thing: fed is best. There is nothing wrong with cheese toast and roasted veg a couple three days a week if it gets food into your system and helps you feel better. (Good carbs, a little protein and fat, some vegetables... that's freaking fantastic, you're doing great!)
posted by joycehealy at 7:57 AM on July 24, 2023 [5 favorites]

Yes, it sounds like your exec function has bottomed out and you need help addressing why and what can be done. Is it burnout, is it undiagnosed neurodivergence that has intersected with burnout or depression so your ability to function is extra-fried, is it one or more of the above plus thyroid or vitamin trouble? Maybe it is just meds, but you'll need to talk to someone to work that out.

I move every 6-8 weeks and while I do generally pack up a couple cold bags with condiments and a few viable freezer items, I am working toward being almost brutally simple and efficient in meal-planning and grocery-obtaining. I agree you should declare Fridge Zero (or at least down to only Actually Viable Condiments) and reboot.

And maybe instead of immediately relaunching some new fridge scheme, start with a week of pretty close to Just In Time shopping and eating. My only proposed change is to put your condiments in the drawers for everything that'll fit (because stuff like mayo and jam and hot sauce don't tend to be as forgettable - you'll know where to look for them) and use your door shelves for fast-expiring produce and fresh foods and tortillas and other quick-grab foods.

As you ease back into a simplified meal planning routine, use a bin to assemble kits - quesadilla kit (tortillas, cheese, whatever else you use), breakfast kit (yogurts, boiled eggs, I usually eat two turkey cheddar sausages for breakfast myself), sandwich kit, pick one or two - as in do a quesadilla kit this week and sandwich next week. You pull the whole bin out, use whatever you need from it and put stuff back in it as you go, and then put the whole bin away.

Do you have the ability to use either curbside pickup or grocery delivery (just tip very, very well if you do that - this is an expense that is worth it to me because of time and agitation it saves)?

Where are you willing to compromise? Realistically? Are your parents really only cooking you roasted vegetables straight from the farm truck or can you eat other food even if it's not perfect, or is it possible you could learn to tolerate working through produce-department bags of fresh broccoli florets or brussels sprouts? Especially if they're in the door in front of your eyes so you go through them quickly? Are there any foods you like to eat that could just incidentally have vegetables semi-hidden in them, like pasta or curry or casserole?

On meal planning: it sounds like you are okay with simple meals, so that's an asset. Hopefully you're willing to live with some repetition/lack of novelty, which allows you to simplify. I really suggest sitting down and considering the food-meal needs of the life you're currently living rather than your magazine-perfect life. This gets me a lot, if unrestrained I will wish-plan instead of functional-plan. I have to draw a grid of the week and enumerate the meals I need to arrange and let that flow backward into what I actually buy. Don't plan dinner parties, plan mostly basic weeknight assembly meals, which can be quesadillas that you construct while a broccoli crown roasts as a side dish. Plan one pasta with one jar sauce to be made while you roast some zucchini.

Eventually you can tiptoe into Sheet Pan Meals where you roast vegetables and proteins at the same time. Use helper foods where you can - if the veg needs to be fresh that's fine, but could you use frozen meatballs or meatless crumbles or precooked frozen grilled chicken strips sometimes? Jar sauces for pasta, curry, or braising? Can or deli soup, deli sides, a couple pounds of BBQ or falafel or grilled chicken from a restaurant or your grocery deli.

I think a whole week is too much to start, or restart, from. This week, do what you normally do but clean out the fridge. Toward the end of the week plan to mostly do what you normally do next week except add two basic weeknight assembly meals to make at home. Only buy the supplies for those things, plus any critical condiments you need to replace after the purge, and your Daily Maintenance Groceries (milk, drinks, cereal, snacks/treats). Buy paper plates*. See if all this feels more manageable.

*Just do it, everyone gets a turn and now is your time. But I also recommend editing your available washable stock down to two of each thing you actually need plus maybe an extra coffee cup for you, and then you can wash them as you need them. Put the rest of your dishes in a box or linen closet and stop using them.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:46 AM on July 24, 2023 [1 favorite]

I just moved into a new place and last week I almost starved because I am trying to reset my habits from my previous place that exactly mirrors yours, so that's been very fun lol. I also am a diagnosed ADHD-autistic. The meds and ongoing support from mental health professionals help in terms of reducing inertia and rebuilding your self-esteem, but sleep and proper eating and being kind to yourself does the most in this scenario, along with a few strategies.

- Let yourself buy convenience food! It's okay to buy take-out or deli foods from the supermarket, or convenience foods in packs so that you don't have to buy everything from scratch. When I first started college, I used to get a giant box of fried rice and popcorn chicken and supplement that with steamed veggies for 3-4 meals. Post-pandemic, those deals aren't as good anymore, so now I settle for buying the fried chicken special at my local grocery store and a couple of $5 sandwiches.

- Eat first, cook later. Because I'm always near the edge of being pre-diabetic and blood sugar crashes completely kill my executive function, I can't really cook without eating first, which means having to plan ahead for snacks and meals. Find foods that you can always eat and don't require prep, I like making my own DIY lunchables from Trader Joe's cheddar squares, deli meat and golden crackers.

- Clean out your fridge. Bring your trash can next to you and just dump everything that you don't want to eat this week. I know that sounds horrible, but in reality because of our coping mechanisms with undiagnosed ADHD-autism, we can be too good at forcing ourselves to do things we don't really want to do, which includes eating food we don't want. Sunk cost fallacy is a big thing here, so just let yourself be kind and let it go.

- Budget in for takeout as you are resetting and buying groceries, and choose two simple meals you can make in bulk that you can eat for at least 2 days. Also, when it comes to veggies, steaming in a microwave is your best friend and prevents it from overcooking and it is easy to do at the same time.

As for easy meal options, I've been concentrating on ceviche and eating it with my friend chicken and tortilla chips, and I steamed some chicken so I could have it for either Chinese steamed chicken with ginger scallion oil and rice, or for spring rolls. I try to think about foods that I always would love to eat whenever it is at a restaurant, but don't tend to buy because I find it really expensive, but I know I can make at home. Usually the stuff with the most fresh ingredients are the most expensive things on the menu, so that helps me a lot. Sending lots of good vibes your way!
posted by yueliang at 10:40 AM on July 24, 2023 [5 favorites]

I have come to the realization that if I don't have a very precise meal plan, I won't cook because of the mild feeling of indecisiveness. I just won't. I look at how many days I think I will realistically cook that week, subtract one, and plan that many meals.

If it's too healthy or ambitious, I won't end up cooking it. I have to plan meals for the person I am when I am tired after work, not the person who is cheerfully meal planning on the weekend.

If I buy any extra produce, I won't use it. I don't buy in bulk for anything if I can help it, even though it costs more, because the extra items take an emotional toll on me as they clutter up the pantry or freezer.

I second the comment above, that I need to have a snack right after work or I will be too cranky to cook.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:45 AM on July 24, 2023 [3 favorites]

To be clear, I mean spoiled or nearly going off food that you won't eat this week. If you have other stuff like veggies you don't really want to eat, condiments or prepared foods that you don't want to eat this week, I would recommend posting on Buy Nothing and giving it away and giving yourself room to start fresh, or give it to a friend. If that isn't financially possible, try to see if there are meals you can make with it either this week or next week. If you aren't ready for that, then just put it to a corner of the fridge while you make space and use the rest of the fridge to focus on preparing food you will eat.
posted by yueliang at 10:55 AM on July 24, 2023 [3 favorites]

Do you have a kind nonjudgmental friend who loves to cook? If so, can you get this person to walk you through what you need to do? Ideally, this can be done in person, but a video chat / phone call can also work.

I would suggest for the time being only buy fresh produce that you find particularly tasty and not too troublesome to prepare. Otherwise hit Trader Joe’s and your local grocery store for frozen veggies.

Brainstorm which sauces / dressings / accompaniments that you enjoy with fresh vegetables.
Also which sources of protein?

Most veggies can be consumed cooked when they are a bit past their prime to enjoy fresh. Recall that leafy green vegetables cook down to almost nothing. Cooked veggies can be added to many shelf stable pantry items (tomato sauce, soup, curries; etc).

Consider roping in your child to help in age appropriate ways.

Would it work better for you if your “large” meal of the day was breakfast or lunch instead of dinner?
posted by oceano at 12:57 PM on July 24, 2023 [2 favorites]

Nth clean out your fridge and start fresh. That thing of not wanting to reach for the cheese? That's no good. Just dump it all out -- with the exception perhaps of eggs, if you still have them they're probably fine, they last a really long time in the fridge; and they're so easy. Everything else goes. Don't wait until you can organize a food giveaway. If you do that you'll never get it done.

Now assuming that you're in the Northern hemisphere, it is summer, so you really don't have to push yourself to cook. Honestly, a couple of scrambled eggs and some fruit is a nutritionally complete meal, and tasty too.

You asked how I do it and while my circs are different from yours, the answer is the same: LOW BARRIERS TO ENTRY. Low, low, low. And nothing that is going to pressure me. I don't buy greens because they're gonna rot in there and get slimy. Instead, I buy ready-to serve produce like cherry tomatoes that just need to be rinsed and served. Roasting vegetables is great but I don't do that in the summer; I look for faster and easier stuff like zucchini that can be rinsed and sliced super quick and cooked in a pan with nothing but oil and some garlic salt; or bell peppers, ditto. I don't buy larger quantities than I'm going to be able to use before the next grocery run.

Eggs are beautiful because they stay patiently in the fridge for a long time and then can be turned into a delicious protein in 2 minutes or less. Add cheese and a chopped up pepper or don't -- either way, it's healthy, tasty, relatively cheap and FAST.

The pantry can be your friend if you know the easy ways. Quinoa or rice are trivial in the rice cooker and don't even need to be monitored. Throw an egg over that, and/or mix in some canned black beans and salsa, and it's a meal! That's about the amount of "cooking" I'm prepared to do in the summer, and it's plenty.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:34 PM on July 24, 2023 [3 favorites]

Oh dear, I know exactly how you feel, because I've been through this, and even though I write "through", the reason I didn't post a reply yesterday was that I was having a day of not-cooking. I ended up having popcorn for dinner. Which isn't that unhealthy, if you don't pour stuff over them.
I was diagnosed with PTSD before the lockdown, and the treatment didn't start till after, and in those months I was very isolated and not very motivated to cook just for myself. Though like you, I really wanted to eat more vegetables for health reasons. And I also don't like most frozen vegetables or prepared vegetables.

Today, I am almost back to normal, though I do still get bad days, and I try to be prepared for them. So there is hope.

First of all, I don't think I could haven't gotten through without therapy. We rarely talked about food or cooking directly, more about how to handle feelings of despair and depression. For me, chaos of any form or shape is a strong trigger, and the fridge situation you describe is something I would find overwhelming, too. So I agree with everyone who says clean out the fridge, and probably the freezer and the pantry too. Could your parents or a friend help with this?

Next, be kind to yourself. If you fail at cooking one day, accept that you are struggling and that it is ok to not be able to handle everything all the time. Lots of people never cook, and they are still good human beings with solid values.

Now you can begin. For me, it was a good thing to start by just feeding myself, which meant I didn't need to cook a full dinner. It's OK your kid keeps on eating at the grandparents for a bit longer, they are probably having a good time.
Roast vegetables are fine. Maybe I'd make a kind of sauce or dip with yogurt and tahin and salt and pepper and a herb of some sort. Both to make it more interesting to eat, and because yogurt is healthy. Make enough of everything that you can eat it for a few days. It's OK. There is no law saying you have to eat something different every day.

Roast vegetables are very good in sandwiches. You want them to be at room temperature, not cold. Either use that yogurt dressing or make a simple marinade with olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning, and marinate the roasted veggies at room temperature for an hour before wrapping them up in a tortilla or a pita bread. Again, make enough for several days.

The thing I do to help myself eat better is to have an almost empty fridge (so I don't get stressed out by it), but the things that are there are easy to assemble and eat without cooking. Right now it is: leftovers from a chicken, boiled new potatoes (amazing in sandwiches and healthier than you might think), and half a tin of crushed tomatoes, for making a simple pasta sauce. When I make the pasta, I will make enough for two days. I also have eggs, and since I am cooking today, I have made a frittata with some cauliflower I had leftover, and that will be a new nice thing, either on its own or in a sandwich.

Yesterday, when I was feeling overwhelmed, I had some of the chicken and some potatoes for lunch. Not super-healthy, but new potatoes are better than old, and in all potatoes, some of the starch becomes resistant starch when it cools down. For breakfast I had a slice of cheese on rye bread: a whole grain bread helps me get some sort of nourishment when I have no spoons at all. I also had a glass of juice.

To cut a long story short: when I got to the point where I could sometimes cook something, what I did was prep for when I couldn't do anything, rather than set out on my former foodie track right away. As my therapist would put it, I cared for me, not for anyone else and not for what "people would think". It wasn't and still isn't perfect, but I'm telling myself it is better than ultra-processed food, which I don't like anyway.

When start cooking, I want a clean kitchen, so if it isn't clean, I start by cleaning. I listen to a podcast while I'm doing it and also while cooking. When I'm not feeling well, I just assemble stuff on one plate, I don't want to build a mountain of dishes.

About frozen food. As stated above, I don't like most frozen foods, but I do like spinach, peas and beans, which are all very good for health and easy to prepare. For instance, I might have eaten a bowl of edamame instead of popcorn yesterday, if I'd had some. Peas are good in a pasta sauce, or as a side to the roast vegetables, with butter. When I was struggling a lot with cooking, I made a very primitive form of saag paneer, where I cooked the spinach in butter and then put cubes of paneer or whatever fresh cheese I had on top for a few minutes so it could melt a bit.
posted by mumimor at 10:52 AM on July 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

Did you ever feel so overwhelmed that you didn't cook anything that was in the fridge or freezer and so it went to waste?

All the time. Like, I am pretty sure there is shit going bad in a drawer right now and I'm afraid to check. Maybe you have ADHD, maybe you don't. As someone who has a diagnosis, I certainly recognise where you find yourself. That doesn't mean you have it but why not investigate when you have the spoons for it?

Meanwhile, my favourite former therapist used to tell me not to food-shame myself and, as pointed out above, fed is better than hungry. That is the worst thing about being overwhelmed in the kitchen, as I frequently am. One thing I have attempted is identifying meals I can have over and over. I am never going to have a meal plan for 7 days. I cannot do it. But I attempt, at times, to have a meal plan that is Breakfast 1, Lunch 1, and Dinner 1 for Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays; Breakfast 2, Lunch 2, and Dinner 2 for Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and use Sundays as a wild card for leftovers or whatever.

I have never successfully pulled this off but it is kind of my goal. Also, I don't really like frozen vegetables either, but I eat them anyway because I am mostly too overwhelmed to cook. So my meals are things like frozen mixed vegetable heated in a microwave oven, drained, and then tossed with a tin of sardines in tomato sauce, lemon juice (in a bottle from the fridge), ground black pepper, and a bit of hot sauce.

Other low-cook or no-cook meals include oatmeal (can be sweet or savoury, instant or old-fashioned or steel-ground to vary the texture), cottage cheese with sweet or savoury toppings, the classic peanut butter (or other nut butter) and jam (or fresh sliced fruit) sandwich, a black-bean burrito using tinned beans, a whole wheat tortilla, and leftover potatoes and/or fresh chopped veggies that do not need cooking or tinned corn), a baked sweet potato (I like to bake a couple at once for 4 meals) with a filling of cottage cheese, nuts, baked beans, regular cheese, or whatever.

There are lots of nuts in my kitchen because I like them. In a pinch, I can have a handful of walnuts or almonds with dried apricots and/or figs as a meal.

Dammit, this does not answer your question. My apologies! I am going to hit the post button anyway, just in case you find it helpful because it took me so long to realise that it was okay not to have different meals for every day of the week. OP, if you think this is useless, feel free to ask a mod to delete it. Truly, and best of luck in getting your cooking motivation back. I will say that motivation supposedly follows action, so deciding that you will spend just 15 minutes working toward a meal (with prep, say) and then getting started may be all that is needed to increase your motivation.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:05 PM on July 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: You all are super awesome! I cleaned out my fridge that day when I posted after getting that advice. And started only buying what I need when I need it. Small batches at a time. Stopped getting the farm box because it was too much. Stopped by the local farm stand and got good produce when I was motivated to have it. Felt better about not cooking if i don't feel like it. Embracing "fed is best."
posted by AnyUsernameWillDo at 9:44 PM on September 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

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