Anxiety Toolkit: Decision Fatigue & Meal Planning by Category

Anxiety is an all too common ailment plaguing us in our modern life. Amongst the myriad of strange and negative things it can do to our bodies and minds, decision fatigue strikes me as one of the more annoying. Decision fatigue is the deterioration of our ability to make good decisions because we are tired from making so many decisions.

Take Out is Becoming a Problem

pizza

One of the most tangible areas where my decision fatigue was hurting our family was in meal preparation. Every week, the process of meal planning felt exhausting, but I would do it. In the haze of decision fatigue, I would come up with a list of meals that I would cook and procure the necessary ingredients. But I didn’t necessarily pick things I had time to cook. I didn’t make the best choices. So in the midst of the workweek, in lieu of cooking things I clearly did not have time to cook, I picked up take out.

Take out isn’t bad. We love to support our local restaurants. But letting a full week’s worth of groceries rot in the fridge while also buying take out every night was a huge hit to our budget.

Breaking the Take Out Loop

Last year, my husband saw the daycare’s monthly meal schedule posted on our fridge, and he said that he wished I would make something like that. We could plan four weeks of meals and just rotate them. That sounded ghastly to me. Not enough variation. Not enough new fun recipes to try. And it sounded like a ton of work for something that I ultimately didn’t want.

But as I sat in the drive-through of Taco Sisters to pick up dinner (with pork chops, red potatoes, and fresh greens waiting at home to be roasted into a sheet pan meal that takes an hour in the oven and is therefore entirely unrealistic for me to make after work and daycare pickup), a realization hit me that when I cook at home these days, the meals tend to fall into a group of categories. I could use the categories to cut down on my decision fatigue and make better choices from the beginning.

Category Meal Planning

For the last few months, I have implemented a category meal planning system with success. It gives me the flexibility to try new recipes, but it also relies on the complement of small appliances that I use to cut down on active cooking time (InstantPot, slow cooker with a timer, Zojirushi rice pot, Joule sous vide).

Zojirushi rice cooker, Crockpot slow cooker, Instant pot

So here is what is keeping our family afloat these days:

Monday – InstantPot Beans and brown rice (Zojirushi rice cooker)
Tuesday – Tacos
Wednesday – Take Out (like I said, we love those local restaurants!)
Thursday – InstantPot Chicken and brown rice
Friday – Slowcooker meal

While this may seem simple, bland, or boring, it is just the framework. With a quick internet search, you will see the endless possibilities that can plug and play. And if you reach out, I would be happy to send you healthy and delicious recipes.

Now, meal planning is easy, I end up with fresh healthy food I actually cook for my family, and our monthly food spending is down. For the win. Take that decision fatigue.

A Month of Easy Meals by Category

For proof of concept, here is an entire month of easy, healthy meals your family will (hopefully) enjoy:

Week 1

MONDAY – Instant pot red beans and brown rice*

TUESDAY – Steak tacos in the sous vide (Cook steak according to sous vide instructions, and layer taco shells/tortillas with toppings of your choice such as lettuce, tomato, sliced peppers, sour cream, salsa, or shredded cheese)

WEDNESDAY – Healthy takeout

THURSDAYInstant pot Chicken and brown rice

FRIDAY – Slowcooker pot roast (Season chuck roast with tony’s, add baby carrots and/or sliced potatoes around roast in a slow cooker. Add one cup of reduced-sodium chicken broth. Cook on low 8-10 hours).

Week 2

MONDAY – Instant pot black beans and brown rice*

TUESDAY – Shrimp tacos (Season shrimp with cumin, chili powder, garlic, salt, and pepper. Saute over medium heat until cooked. Add a splash of red wine vinegar towards the end of cooking. Layer taco shells/tortillas with toppings of your choice such as lettuce, tomato, sliced peppers, sour cream, salsa, or shredded cheese)

WEDNESDAY – Healthy takeout

THURSDAYInstant pot chicken cacciatore 

FRIDAYSlowcooker meatball stew 

Week 3

MONDAY – Instant pot white beans and brown rice*

TUESDAY – Instant pot chicken tacos (Add a small amount of chicken stock to the bottom of the instant pot. Season chicken breasts or thighs with taco seasoning. Cover with salsa and/or green chiles. Cook on the manual setting in Instant pot for 10 minutes (longer time needed for frozen chicken. Layer taco shells/tortillas with toppings of your choice such as lettuce, tomato, sliced peppers, sour cream, salsa, or shredded cheese.)

WEDNESDAY – Healthy takeout

THURSDAY – Instant pot chicken and sausage jambalaya (Put two cups of brown rice in the instant pot. Cover completely with low sodium chicken stock. Season with Tony’s and two bay leaves, or any other seasonings of your choice. Add sliced chicken and sliced smoked sausage (12-16 oz each). Make sure all rice is completely submerged in liquid. Cook on Manual for 22 minutes.)

FRIDAYSlow cooker honey garlic chicken and veggies

Week 4

MONDAY – Instant pot black-eyed peas and brown rice*

TUESDAY – Ground beef tacos (Cook ground meat. Season with taco seasoning. Layer taco shells/tortillas with toppings of your choice such as lettuce, tomato, sliced peppers, sour cream, salsa, or shredded cheese.)

WEDNESDAY – Healthy takeout

THURSDAYInstant pot chicken taco bowls 

FRIDAYSlow cooker beef stroganoff

*Instant pot beans – 1 lb dried beans, 1 container Guidry’s cajun blend vegetable, 1 pack smoked sausage (sliced), 16 oz low sodium chicken stock. Combine in the Instant Pot, season with Tony’s, and a bay leaf. Cook on Manual for 1 hour for soaked beans or 90 minutes for unsoaked beans. After cooking is complete, use a handled cup to remove excess liquid. Use a potato masher to smash some of the beans, creating a creamier texture. Make brown rice according to your rice cooker’s instructions.

Jess Allain is a mom of two, an attorney, a triathlete, and a yoga teacher. She is a member of the Junior League of Lafayette and serves on the board of The Family Tree. When she isn't swimming, biking, running, reading, practicing yoga, litigating, or cooking something up in the kitchen, you will find her playing with her two beautiful girls. Adventure is out there!

2 COMMENTS

  1. You should check out Laurie with Passionate Penny Pincher on Facebook or passionatepennypincher.com.
    She has tackled this topic!!

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