Like many people, I stopped eating out during quarantine. Periodically my husband and I would order to-go meals from local eating establishments. We spent about 25% of our normal amount on dining out. Last week, someone asked me how I stopped going out, and I jokingly replied “I don’t know - I just stopped.” Of course, that got me thinking, how DID I make this change? I broke it down into these six steps.
1: Know Your Why
The “why” was partly because restaurants in Iowa were only open for to-go orders. I also felt like my husband and I had more time to plan, shop, and cook. But I think that the biggest “why” is that I have been using this time in quarantine as self-care and eating healthier, home-cooked meals was one way I could do that! I also remembered that I used to enjoy trying new things and cooking new things. Let’s face it - when I go out to eat, I usually choose my favorite meals and don’t stray beyond 2 or 3 things at a particular restaurant.
2: Batch Your Week
My husband and I would sit down on the weekend and answer the age-old question: what sounds good for dinner. We made a list of 10 or 12 meal ideas. Because we wanted to help limit trips to the grocery store, we would prepare ingredients in advance (cook hamburger and use half today while freezing the rest).
3: Plan for Spontaneity
By having meal ideas and not ingredients, we planned for spontaneity. It worked to have ingredients for meals yet not be boxed in because I was planning lasagna on a Tuesday but I didn’t feel like all of the long prep process to make it. Or sometimes a chicken breast and roasted asparagus sounded much better.
4: Let Go of Perfection
I also let go of my ideas of what a perfect, healthy meal should look like. Since we were preparing 3 meals a day, sometimes a frozen pizza or chicken strips were just fine!
Decision fatigue is a real thing, and too many meal choices can be the same way. After all, there are millions of recipes on the internet! I found two people whose recipes I follow and have good luck with Kristin from Iowa Girl Eats and Ina Garten from The Barefoot Contessa. This helped reduce my decision fatigue while also letting me try something new. We also had a few go-to choices - hamburgers, chili, lasagna - that we made a couple of times. We would also plan several meals around the same ingredient (Italian sausage in Zuppa and Lasagna).
6: Call on Others to Help
My husband stepped up to the plate for our quarantine meals. When our kids were little, my commute was much shorter, so I would always be the first one home from work and would start dinner. I would also be in charge of feeding our children breakfast before we went to work. Honestly, I got tired of it! With both of us working from home, he took on a much more prominent role with all of our household chores. It made these chores seem like less of a chore and more of an activity that we did together.
And as I reflect on these six steps, I think that they could apply to most habits that you want to change!