Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Planning and Preparing Healthy Meals

       Once I realized that I could afford to eat healthy meals on a budget (Healthy Meals On A Budget) I was then faced with the challenge of learning how to cook them. I am not a chef. I don't have all day to spend cooking or the patience to go to the grocery store several times per week. Grocery stores overwhelm me. Also, I knew that if symptoms were creeping up that I wouldn't feel like cooking. That would lead me to feeling like I had failed, which would only make the symptoms worse. Needless to say, I was skittish about starting the process. 

       I have since realized that deciding to forge on, in spite of my fears, helped saved my life. Some may remember that when I started all of this I had just been released from another mental ward. I could barely walk due to my obesity and the swelling in my feet due to all the medications I was having to take. My doctor told me that I was on the verge of full blown diabetes. My blood pressure was through the roof, and my resting heart rate was around 100bpm. I was in trouble, and I was desperate. I have learned that desperation can sometimes be a great motivator. 

       I was determined to find a way to eat healthy foods, exercise and reduce my medications to reasonable levels (with the help of my doctor, of course). First, I researched everything I could find on healthy foods (Healthy Eating Parts 1 & 2). Then, I realized that I would have to plan out what I was going to eat, if I stood any chance at all. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Simply waiting around until I was hungry to decide what I was going to eat always meant grabbing junk food or fast food. That was no longer acceptable for me, so I started planning out the week's meals. 

       Planning the meals was the easiest part. Cooking them is where I found I had to really put forth the most effort, in the beginning. Below is a weekly menu planner that I found, for free, on the internet. It is in Jpeg format so that it can be clicked on and printed, or click here to be directed to the site where you can download it (Meal Planners). It makes planning meals and grocery store visits as simple a possible. 
       I write out the meals for the week on this sheet, and then make my grocery list accordingly. By doing so I know when each meal and snack will be. That allows me to make sure that I plan out the appropriate expiration dates of the food. It also helps me choose my fruits and vegetables by when I need them to be ripe. For instance, if I plan on having a banana for snacks at different points during the week I know to get some that are more ripe than others, to make sure I have them throughout the week. It seems too simple to work well, but it does. I love things that make my life simpler, and I love this sheet.

       Now came the tricky part. I had to learn to cook and prepare these meals, and I had to do it in as little time as possible. Not to mention, I had to find things that were so simple that even if I was barely able to drag myself out of bed, due to overwhelming depression or anxiety, that I could still get it done. 

       For anyone that has very little time to prepare meals, can't cook well or is experiencing symptoms, getting in the kitchen to prepare a meal can be a daunting task. Knowing that, I started digging through more cookbooks, in more libraries, than I care to remember. I was determined to find healthy meals that I could prepare easily and quickly. I was able to find many good recipes for meals that could be done in under thirty minutes. Here is a link to some examples (Healthy Meals In 30 Minutes). Even they required quite a bit of work and cooking skill, and I still had to have the resolve at the end of the day to make them. 

       So, even after all that research, I was still occasionally running into troubles. Finally, I stumbled across a cookbook full of recipes for a device that simplified my life dramatically. It was full of slow cooker recipes. I was blown away. I had always thought of these contraptions as something used to make roasts or beef stew. What I was unaware of was how versatile they were. 

       I couldn't believe how many amazing recipes there were in that book, and they required NO cooking skill. All I had to do was throw the ingredients into the cooker and it took care of the rest. I began searching the internet and found a recipe for nearly every dish I could think of. There are thousands of free recipes online for vegans, vegetarians, followers of the paleolithic movement and simply healthy recipes for everyday meals. 

       When I found all of those recipes I really started researching the slow cookers themselves. I had many questions. It turns out that slow cookers only cost between $15 and $125, depending on the size and the options it has. I knew if I started saving I could get one rather quickly. Then, I read that they typically use just 100 watts of electricity, and I got excited. Using this formula (wattage   x   hours used  ÷  1000  x  price per kWh  =   cost of electricity) allowed me to figure out that if I used one three times per week, for eight hours at a time, it would cost less than $3 a month in electricity! On average a single burner on a stove pulls 1500 watts, on the medium setting. An oven set at 350 degrees pulls between 4500-9000 watts, depending on the model. Knowing that, I figured I would quickly make up for the price of the slow cooker in electricity alone. That proved to be true. 

       Please realize, I am not selling slow cookers. I just want to illustrate that when I bought mine, it helped revolutionized my eating habits. Those improved eating habits helped lead me to improved health and reduced symptoms. All Hail The Slow Cooker!
       There has never been a simpler answer to not having time to cook, to simply not knowing how or to not feeling well enough to stand in the kitchen for what can seem like an eternity. In a matter of minutes a meal can be put in, and there is no cooking technique required. It does everything for me. 

       While I was researching slow cookers I found an advertising phrase the Crock Pot brand used in the 70s that said, "Cooks all day while the cook's away." That is exactly what it does.  Here is a link to seventy three, mostly healthy, slow cooker recipes on the web, for free. (73 Free Recipes). This link simply gives a quick reference to what can be done with a slow cooker. An internet search will provide a recipe for most types of foods and dishes. 

       If I know that I am not going to have the time to cook (even the thirty minute meals), or I know that I am going to be drained when I get home, or symptoms have crept up, then a slow cooker is my savior. Simply throw all the ingredients in and turn it on. Period. Yes, it does take a minute or two to also prepare a nice green salad for appetizer and to slice some fruit for dessert. However, I have found that it has never taken me more than fifteen minutes to put everything into the slow cooker, prepare a salad and cut fruit. 

       Finally, there is only one pot to clean, and that is a beautiful thing in and of itself. One quick side note, I purchased a model that turns to the "warm" setting once it was done cooking. That has been an invaluable feature. I may not know exactly when dinner will end up being. If I set it for a six or eight or twelve hour cooking cycle and it simply shuts off after that I could be in trouble. With the "warm" feature it's no big deal if dinner has to be pushed back. 
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As always I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource, and is staffed by wonderful people. 
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