Less Meal Decisionmaking

Back in December of last year I had my upper wisdom teeth taken out, a (surprisingly quick and relatively painless, I should say) procedure that required a temporary shift in my breakfast of crunchy cereal and crunchy toast to something decidedly softer. I figured this would be a brief detour from the usual and I’d be back to my old breakfast in no time; little did I know that, a year later, I’d still be eating the same exact soft breakfast each morning, and would go on to apply a similar uniformity to all my meals.

Now, I should back up a bit and say that for years I’ve stuck to the same basic meal regimen of a large breakfast with cereal, orange juice, and coffee; a small lunch like an apple and celery or some pasta; and a large dinner of vegetables, rice, and legumes. That, and I’m known for spending a good long while to prepare and consume my meals, not because they’re difficult to prepare but because I enjoy the deliberate act of preparing them mindfully and eating them at my own pace. Like distraction-free long-distance running, mindful food preparation provides a great opportunity to think about nothing at all but the task at hand, something I’ve grown to enjoy more and more.

What I decided to do this year was to dispense with the notion that I needed to keep making new things with all sorts of different ingredients and instead focus on making the same things with the same ingredients (or, at least, the same kinds of ingredients). I drained my cabinets of all the unconsumed consumables of yesteryear and then got to work finding a breakfast, lunch, and dinner template that was delicious, could adequately fuel my exercise routine (regular running and DDR/ITG), and, at least for a while, accommodate my lack of wisdom teeth. What I wound up with:

  • Breakfast: oatmeal, orange juice, coffee (with a little half-and-half; still not a black coffee person).
  • Lunch: a 400-calorie serving of Soylent 1.8 (or, occasionally, Huel) plus 100 calories of whey protein isolate.
  • Dinner: a (usually plant) protein, lightly steamed cruciferous vegetables, other assorted steamed/boiled vegetables, water with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar.

This template requires very little thought to plan out but provides me with a great deal of flexibility to try out different flavor combinations. Breakfast “mixins” include shredded wheat, bran flakes, milled flax, psyllium husk, cocoa powder, whey protein isolate, honey, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, cinnamon, nutmeg, and apples. After a while, I landed on a combination of ingredients that put my breakfast at about 1000 calories in a macronutrient ratio conducive to my activity level and covered my micronutrients pretty well.

I used to prepare a week’s worth of lunches ahead of time and then freeze them in individual containers to eat throughout the week, but while I liked the largely unprocessed nature of the food it did take a lot of time and effort to cook up and was quite nutritionally lopsided toward carbohydrates. Switching lunches over to Soylent cut preparation time down to ten minutes or less to make a week’s worth of lunch, and while Soylent is a heavily processed food I’d say it’s a mindfully processed one that aims for nutritional completeness rather than the lowest cost possible. That and it’s wonderfully neutral… minimalism in liquid form! (Really, give Soylent a try sometime. It’s pretty good.)

Dinner is where things really get crazy yet still entirely predictable. Proteins rotate between tofu, rice and beans/lentils, baked spongy gluten, and occasionally tinned sardines or tuna. Cruciferous vegetables almost always include broccoli, kale, and cabbage. The other vegetables are all finely chopped up together and include some combination of daikon, onions, garlic, bell/jalapeño peppers, sweet potatoes, beets, taro root, burdock root, parsnips, shiitake mushrooms, peas, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes; these are steamed/boiled in a little water, mirin, and olive oil, then topped with soy sauce, sriracha sauce, and spices such as ichimi and nanami togarashi, sanshō, chili powder, paprika, rosemary, lemon pepper, and garlic powder.

Despite the huge range of ingredients potentially involved, the meals themselves are all very uniform and regular and thus (to me, anyway) very simple. Breakfast is just oatmeal day in and day out, but a delicious meal I look forward to each and every morning. Lunch is just Soylent, but a treat I look forward to each and every afternoon. Dinner is just a pile of veggies day in and day out, but one whose flavor can be adjusted in so many different subtle ways and a treat I look forward to each and every evening. No longer do I waste time trying to decide what to eat, as the decisions have already been made; instead, I spend that time truly enjoying my food, feeling good about what I’m deliberately putting in my body, and generally appreciating having one less decision to make every day.