I recently had the chance to find out. I’m a month into a sabbatical, and I’ve discovered that yes, happily, I still eat as well. I’ve gone from making around three dinners a week to making six breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and the food is still interesting, tasty, quick, and good for me. Google’s food may still be better, but mine is a lot closer than I expected.
First, some disclaimers. Health, nutrition, and variety matter, but so does time investment. I enjoy cooking, but it’s not a passion or a lifestyle, and I’m slow and inefficient in the kitchen. Cooking every day and night, or even every other night, is a non-starter.
I don’t mind eating the same foods a few days in a row, though, nor do I need to “match” my dishes into an appropriate whole. Teriyaki fish, glazed yams, and meditteranean greens? Sounds good to me!
My overarching goal was just to get close enough to the food I had at work. I wasn’t trying to learn to cook, change my diet or habits, lose (or gain) weight, or anything else.
I owe my success to two key things: proactive shopping and cooking in batches.
First, proactive shopping. Self control is a limited resource, so instead of running out, I try to prevent situations where I’ll need it. Full cookie jar on the counter? Sure, I could use my steely willpower, but it’s a lot easier if I don’t bake the cookies in the first place. As with other parts of life, structuring food like this means better routines, less decision fatigue and context switching, and more mental energy for the stuff I care about.
Surprisingly, the hero of the story here is our CSA, that warm fuzzy hippie California favorite. This was originally Gina’s idea – I’m not dogmatic about local or organic – but I love that it automatically delivers a wide variety of fresh produce every week. The key word is automatic: it forces us to cook a solid, ongoing baseline of good vegetables. Add in a shopping list makeover, prune down the staples to just healthy foods that we’ll still happily eat, and the daily diet looks pretty good.
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Next, an oldie but a goodie: cooking in batches. Only one or two people in the household? Cook six or eight servings, throw the extra in the fridge, and eat it over the next few days. We double down on this by cooking at least a few dishes each time. We’ll cook up a storm and spend the next five days eating different combinations of leftovers, supplemented with ready-to-eat foods like nuts, beans, and olives. The amortizing cuts the time investment way down.
Don’t get me wrong. When I go back to work, I’ll count my blessings and scarf down the food like it’s manna from heaven. Still, it’s nice to know that cooking isn’t such a big deal. Structured right, I can eat well and still have time for the rest of life!