Depression affects our ability to handle day-to-day tasks and daily decision-making. This makes meal planning an acute source of stress and overwhelm for so many of us because it takes energy and cognitive functions which are in limited supply. Food is one of those things, that are necessary for survival and can affect our mood, so it’s not something that we can necessarily avoid/shelve until we feel better. But golly, the elements of it all – the planning, the shopping, the cooking, the eating, the washing up – is a lot to deal with when we’re already dealing with so much.
Meal planning in advance can be really helpful. At the time, it might be a bit stressful because it’s a lot to think about in one go. But once it’s written, we don’t have to think about it again for another week, taking one of the stress-points out of each and every meal.
It might be helpful to write out what we’re doing, and who’s home, each day that week. That way we know how many people we’re catering for, how many packed lunches we’re likely to need, how much time and energy we’re likely to have that day, etc.
If we’re having a week where we don’t have the brain-space to plan anything at all, we could just use a plan from a previous week. Or have a go-to back-up plan in a drawer for those rubbish weeks. Tesco has a meal planning resource which includes the meal plans that other people have put together, which is handy for the times when this step feels super-overwhelming.
When we’re put on the spot, our brains often go blank. If someone came up to us and suddenly demanded that we name an animal, we probably wouldn’t be able to think of a single animal. In the same vein, when we’re meal planning, it’s likely that there will be times when we cannot think of a single meal. To get around this, it can help to make a long list of all the meals we commonly make (which will be different for everyone!) or we can look up meal ideas online on sites such as BBC Good Food. This way, when we’re meal planning we don’t have to use so much brain power. Rather than searching the hidden corners of our brain for things that we can cook, we can look at the list and choose from that.
MEALS FOR A BAD DAY
Some meals take a lot more energy to make than others. For example, cooking a curry from scratch takes effort, several ingredients and can take a while. Throwing a jar of pasta sauce on some pasta is faster and takes less brain-space. Sticking a pre-prepared frozen meal in the oven to re-heat is even easier.
Having a list of meal ideas that we can fall back on when we don’t have any time, energy, or brain space, can take some of the stress out of those difficult days. Perhaps part of our self-care plan for the days when we feel empty could be a list of meals that can be prepared with the least amount of energy or thought.
Depression can affect our concentration and memory. It’s so easy to forget things when we go shopping and the huge array of choice can be a bit of an assault on our senses. Having a list to hand, can really help.
Having a notepad somewhere that’s easily accessible in the kitchen means we can quickly jot down things we run out of, as we run out of them – saving a hunt around all the cupboards and fridge or trying to recall what we’ve run out of. If that’s not practical, we could keep an ongoing list on our phone. Once we’ve meal planned we can then add anything else we need to the bottom of this list. Hopefully, that should mean that we only have to go to the shops periodically, and we’re less likely to forget things.
UTILISE ONLINE SHOPPING
Many supermarkets who offer online shopping will save our shopping lists and show us the items that we use most regularly. This means that when we’re writing shopping lists, we’re not doing it from scratch. Some supermarkets will also tell us which items have offers on which can help us to save money. Choosing less-popular delivery times can help to reduce the costs involved with online shopping. It’s helpful because it can save us both the physical and mental energy involved in leaving the house and getting ourselves to the supermarket.
KEEP EASY THINGS IN
There will be some days where we don’t have the brain space to manage cooking whatever it might be that we’ve planned. Some days, getting out of bed is a challenge. On these days, when we need to pull out all the hacks we can to make it through the day, it’s helpful to have super easy things in. This could be meals we’ve previously batched and frozen or ready meals we can just chuck in the oven.
KEEP SNACKS EVERYWHERE
Snacks are a great fall-back option. Keeping them in our kitchen, next to our bed, at work, in our bag, in the car, and anywhere else we can think of, means that we should always have them to hand. They’re not a long-term solution, but they can stop us from getting to the point where we’re too hungry to think (on top of feeling low and foggy-headed).
There’s a lot of shaming and pressure that comes with the topic of food; what we eat and how we eat it. Depression affects everything, not just our appetites but also, every cognitive function we have. It might also impact how much money we have to spend on food and for that, Cooking on a Bootstrap is a treasure trove of tasty but budget-friendly meals – most of which are simple to make and batch, even with limited spoons. If there are those around us too, who relish a practical way to help, let them plan meals with you, do the shopping, put it away, cook meals for the freezer.
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