Meal Prep Made Me Cry

I went to my husband in tears. “I am consumed and overwhelmed with meal prep and planning.  I thought it would be an easy change, but this is just too much.  It’s not sustainable.”

For various, but specific, reasons we’ve been following an anti-inflammatory eating plan.  You can read more about it here. It’s basically an abundance of fish, veggies, fruit and whole grains.  It’s not significantly different from how I generally feed my family, but it does include more of some items (fish, shrimp) and less of others (red meat, sugar).  Those are small changes but when I multiply that modification by three meals a day, it seemed like a never-ending food-prep cycle.

Not to mention, like many families, I have other individual, uh, challenges.  The list below applies to at least one of my people:

  • Allergic to salmon
  • Doesn’t like shrimp
  • Hates pasta
  • Turns his nose up at veggies
  • Uncomfortable in the kitchen (unless eating, of course)

All three make a cheeseburger their go-to meal.  While it’s on a whole wheat bun, that greasy ground beef (with icky fillers, I might add) is NOT part of the program.  If I want them to prepare something else, that means they better have quick and handy alternatives.  

Guess who is in charge of that?

I was tired of thinking so much about how to feed my family errorless meals.  Having faultless snacks, fresh-cut veggies and hummus, and plentiful berries meant perpetual grocery store runs and continuous cutting board cleaning.  I felt like I was spending an inordinate amount of time finding unique recipes with proper ingredients … and then I had to make them!

What I really wanted to do was say “Screw it all” to multiple fish dishes each week. I wanted the option of grabbing Chick-fil-a in its peanut oil and breaded chicken.  I wanted to make beef tacos in 10 minutes, darn it.

I’ll fast forward through the details of my tears. Through honest discussions and gentle suggestions by Mr. Poppins*, I’ve tried to simplify life and it seems to be flowing better.

I think most people who try a change feel overwhelmed.  Even though my approach wasn’t significantly different, it varied enough from what I was doing to make it feel like I had to work really hard at it.  

When someone new to nutritious eating tells me she is taking entire food groups out, or she is following a strict diet of yes/no foods, I cringe inside.  Having so many rules can set us up for failure.  Fear of breaking the food law keeps us from playing the game.

Sometimes these drastic changes are necessary, of course.  Clearly, a peanut allergy means no peanuts.  Not one.  Celiac means taking out all gluten, and a heart attack often calls for radical dietary changes.  

But for the rest of us trying to live a balanced, healthy lifestyle, maybe it’s not mandatory.  The 80/20** approach might be enough.  Get it right 80% of the time; relax on the other 20%. That’s the shift I needed to feel successful.  100% is achievable, sure, but not without consequences: never-ending trips to the grocery store, too much time spent in the kitchen, crankiness, and tears.  (If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy; yep, truth in our house.)  

80% feels triumphant.

We need to give ourselves grace when our nutrition goals aren’t perfectly executed.  Life happens.  So does red meat and sugar.  But if I can make easy swaps and not get so consumed with following the No-Meat-No-Sugar-No-White-Stuff-No-Gluten-No-Fun Diet, then maybe my efforts will feel rewarding enough to continue.  And hopefully, we see the dividends of our 80% investment.

Sometimes our self-imposed food rules need to be broken.


*Mr. Poppins is also known as my husband, as I explained here.  He’s practically perfect in every way.

**Don’t worry, Dr. Manzer, my college marketing professor: I remember this is not the same as the Pereto Principle, which assumes most of the results in any situation (80%) are determined by a small number of causes (20%).

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