The perfect meal plan (part 1)

I’ll be honest. I suck at meal planning. It’s a right pain in the arse. All those wonderful meal plans and recipes you find online… I want that too. I love cooking and am good at it, so why can’t I do that? It shouldn’t be hard. And yet it is.

It’s incredibly hard. No matter how hard I try, I cannot do it. The moment I start thinking about creating a meal plan, my mind seems to want to blow up. So many choices. Where do I start?

Oh, I know! My meal plan needs to be healthy, tasty and affordable. And easy, that too. And let’s not forget about quick – and not too much cleanup. Creative. Fun. With lots of variety and different colours. Sparkling colours, that make your mouth water.

That, my friend, is what we’re talking about.

And it’s not happening.

Bummer!

But exactly why is it not happening? And – maybe even more importantly – how do I solve this problem, so I can finally make it happen?

I’ve been beating myself up over this very issue. Been telling myself I’m lazy, a procrastinator, lacking motivation, weak, too bloody perfectionist… But that didn’t solve the problem because those things are, quite obviously, not true. So let’s try for a different approach. Answer the first question first.

Why can’t I make it happen?

I’m a Spoonie. My energy levels are often quite low. I may be in pain – and often more so than I even realise, because my interoception (awareness of the physiological condition of my body) isn’t working the way it should.

Then there’s my problems with food in general. When I was little, my mum used to say I was a picky eater. And it’s true. There’s a lot of food I won’t eat.

My reasons for eating a mostly plant based diet are not the usual suspects. Sure, I want to eat a healthy diet. Yes, I love animals and am concerned about the environment. And I go out of my way to make the most ethical choices I – in my unique individual situation – can make. If that means I have to wear leather, eat eggs and on occasion eat some fish, I will not think twice about it.

OK, I’m lying. I do think about it twice. I don’t want to have to do these things, but can’t really see a viable way around it.

Back to my issues with food.

My choice of food is already limited because of my medical need to avoid gluten. It gets more limited by the need to stay within my financial means – and as I’ve been on disability my entire adult life, I’m on a very tight budget.

Then there’s my aversion to most meat and raw food. I cannot and will not eat salads. I’m not a bloody sheep, I don’t eat leaves. The stuff makes me gag. Literally. It’s not the taste, and even though it actually looks appetizing, the texture upsets my senses to the point where I become physically unwell when forced to eat it.

There’s tastes I cannot abide. Smells that make my stomach turn. Colours or other visual aspects that put me off. Combinations that make me want to pull my hair out – even though I may well like the individual foods. Foods I like but cannot touch without recoiling in disgust – like pears and melons. Lovely, yummy fruits, but the sweet sticky liquid dripping down my hands makes my skin crawl. I can only eat them if someone else will skin and cube them for me, so I can eat the cubes with a fork.

When Mum said I was a fussy eater, she wasn’t exaggerating. Some might laugh at my sensitivities, but there’s nothing funny about them. They’re a very real issue, causing a great deal of what – for lack of a better term – I’ll call food anxiety. Sensory issues are an absolute bitch.

That’s part of the why answered.

But there’s more to it. Probably partly due to the sensory issues with food, there’s the enormous overwhelm of actually having to come up with a meal plan. There’s so many variables to take into account.

  • Foods I will be able to prepare and eat
  • Cost
  • Nutritional value
  • Variation in colour, taste and texture
  • Ease of preparation and cleanup
  • Fun to make

So I load my shopping app and scroll through the many, many options. Here’s where the overwhelm begins. I want to buy food that’s on offer and in season, but where to start? There’s just too much choice.

Let’s go to one of my favourite foodie websites instead. Oooooh, that looks good! But oh yikes! quinoa and raw leaves in it. I can forget about that already.

Maybe if I got out my cookbooks. British cooking, Jewish cooking, the Uncheese Cookbook… Drat! Most of the recipes are not gluten free, include lots of meat and/or dairy and are hard to adapt. That, and I’ve no way of knowing what’s in season – or even available.

Also, too much choice.

And did I already mention too much choice?

My head is spinning. It’s spinning out of control rapidly. My energy quickly dissolves into thin air. I think I’ll just go on FB for a while. Listen to some music. Play with the cats. Have a tea.

That’s how at the end of the day sod all gets done – and, come to think of it, I didn’t even eat a proper meal. It’s not laziness. No weakness of character or lack of motivation. There’s plenty of willingness to put in the work. It’s the inability to make the necessary choices. The inability to figure out the sequence of where to start and how to continue.

There’s actually an expression for that. Executive dysfunction.

Next installment: The solution

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