I love to cook. I went to culinary school, and worked as a cook for years. Some days, that doesn't matter. If I am not careful about what I keep around the house, I find myself staring into the fridge and cupboards thinking in a horrible whiny voice "there's no food here, just work, wahhhhhhhh!" And then I don't eat anything. I always make sure my son eats (I have a whole cookbook of relatively low effort toddler friendly recipes that you can make ahead in batches, lifesaver) but I struggle to be as kind and consistent with myself. There are some key things I can keep around the house that I know are little enough work that I will eat no matter how down or exhausted I am feeling. If you aren't familiar with spoon theory, it's a way of talking about the finite energy resources available to disabled people and those with chronic illness (and ends up applying to a lot of sleep deprived parents too.)
All of these meals/foods involve skills and work no greater than boiling things in a pot or microwaving. No chopping, sauteing, etc. I get these things at Costco, but you can get many of them at regular grocery stores, and I will provide Amazon links as well for those who are at a point where getting to the store is not going to happen right now. (For readers concerned about the environmental impact of single serving foods and non-local animal products, I hear you, and I get it, but I think there are many people out there who might not feed themselves anything that serves as useful, lasting fuel otherwise, and I think once they start eating stuff again, then we can move on to the other concerns. I am all about the pyramid of needs.) I am going to list these in least to most effort order, so if you're in a place where only the least effort is going to happen, you can stop reading when the list gets to a point of effort beyond what you have to spare right now. *This article contains affiliate links, which means if you buy something through them, I get a small comission. It does not impact the price of your item. This is part of how I get paid to do this. Thanks for supporting Hey Jillian and taking a little profit away from our corporate overlords.*
1. Orgain Chocolate Fudge Protein Shake. This is the lowest common denominator, the I absolutely can't even with today option. Costco sells the powdered form, which honestly I really only like if it's blended with some kind of milk, dairy or otherwise, but at the points in my life when I really just couldn't get myself to eat anything, I set up a subscription on Amazon for a case of these prepared shakes to arrive every two weeks. They work out to about $2 each, which is less than a pastry on the go, so if you're someone who struggles with breakfast or mid-afternoon hunger, these could end up saving you money, they legitimately taste good, and you will probably feel better after drinking one than if you just had sugar and wheat. Bonus: this was the only way I stayed alive through hyperemesis gravidarum and severe food aversions my first trimester of pregnancy, so there's that too. Maybe get a case for your favorite nauseous pregnant person or new parents.
2. Clementines. Super basic, but you can get a bag or crate of them at any large grocery store. I get mine at Costco. They make a great quick, sweet, healthy snack with a burst of glucose & fiber to help keep you going at and fill you up a bit. Totally worth having around, way easier to peel than oranges, which are decidedly too much work. Lots of vitamin C gives a nice immune system boost too.
3. Sardines. If you like tuna, sardines are their classier low-mercury cousin. My husband eats them out of the can, I love them on a salad with a little parmesan and a balsamic dressing, and they are even good on pasta with red sauce. I used to keep a case in my desk drawer when I worked in an office. Just be sure to rinse the cans when you're done, the remaining oil can get pretty ewwwww smelling otherwise, or attract your pets to lick a sharp can.
3. Tasty Bite Madras Lentils. You don't even need a bowl for these things. You either microwave them, or sit the unopened package in hot water to heat them up, and if you want you can eat them out of the packet. They genuinely taste good, and they contain protein, which are really my two requirements for easy foods when I am struggling to find the energy and motivation to feed myself. They are available in cases at Costco, and you can get cases in tons of different flavors via Amazon. These also work out to about $2 per packet, which is more expensive than making lentils at home, but way less money than take out, and you will feel better after eating them than whatever you might get out of a vending machine for $2.
4. Dino Buddies Chicken Breast Nuggets. Yep, I went there. Dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets. 10 of them microwave in 1:00, or you can get fancy and cook them in the oven. 10 nuggets has about 20 grams of protein, which is not too shabby for a food you can eat even when your inner child has taken over. I get them from Costco, but you can get them on Amazon in a massive 80oz package. There is nothing ideal about this food except that it gets me to eat when I really don't want to do anything, and that's worth something in my book.
5. Greek Yogurt + Frozen Berries. This is one of my favorite easy breakfasts. Thaw the berries, throw on top of yogurt, you can even get fancy and add granola. Protein, fat, vitamins, fruit sugars, fiber, this meal has everything you need to get your day started, you could even jar up like 5 of them at once and have parfaits premade for the week (just don't add granola ahead of time or it will get soggy.) They have an organic "antioxidant" mixed berries bag in the freezer section at Costco that is significantly less expensive than any other way of buying organic berries. There are lots of foods I don't worry too much about being organic, but berries soak up a ton of pesticides, so I think it's worth it in this case.
6. Sweet Potato + Greek Yogurt + Black beans. These stuffed sweet potatoes aren't much work, and it's a huge amount of good fuel all in one place. You can bake the sweet potatoes in the oven, or microwave them for 8-9 minutes; either way, make sure to stab them with a fork a few times first. They sell cases of canned black beans at Costco that are definitely worth keeping around for quick and easy protein. Drain the liquid, put the beans in a pot with a little chipotle, or cajun seasoning, or hot sauce, whatever sounds good to you. Heat & stir until heated through. The greek yogurt acts as a sour cream stand in, but you could totally use sour cream too, I just find I use greek yogurt for so many more things that it's easier for me to just keep that around rather than both. Pile the beans & yogurt into the sweet potato and enjoy.
7. Trident Seafoods Alaskan Salmon Burger + Baby Spinach + Goat Cheese + Your Favorite Dressing. So, this is a little more work, but it comes together really fast and tastes fancy and has lots of nutrients. I get everything except the dressing at Costco. I actually throw baby spinach and dressing on my plate whenever I start feeling guilty about not eating enough vegetables. Salad +protein in general is a great formula for a quick meal, try it with the sardines I mentioned above.
8. Half & Half + Crushed Tomatoes + Chicken or Vegetable Broth + Italian Seasoning. Tomato soup is one of the fastest, easiest, most comforting foods. You can seriously just eye it, no recipe needed. Use about 1/2 as much broth as tomatoes. Add everything but the half & half to a pot. Bring to a simmer for a few minutes. Turn off heat, add a splash of half & half, and either eat chunky or blend in your blender or with a stick blender. If you really want to go wild, make yourself a grilled cheese to go with it. Making soup sounds like a lot of work, but it can be done in 5-10 minutes, and you can then proceed it to eat it out of a mug, the lowest effort of food receptacles.
9. Pasta + Chicken or Vegetable Broth + Shredded Cheese + Baby Spinach. The one pot meal has seriously changed my life and the way I think about dinner. Make yourself some super delicious and easy mac and cheese by boiling 2 cups of broth, add a half pound of pasta, reduce to a simmer and cover, cook for 8-10 minutes, immediately stir in the shredded cheese and baby spinach. The heat of the pasta will melt the cheese and wilt the spinach, and cooking the pasta in broth leaves you with a delicious sauce when you add the cheese. You could add garlic powder, italian seasoning, Adobo, whatever flavoring sounds good to you. If you want to up the protein, snag a rotisserie chicken to carve up and have along with your pasta.
10. Kodiak Cakes Power Cakes and Waffle Mix + Eggs+ Frozen Berries + Maple Syrup. Already fortified with brown rice protein, when you prepare the Kodiak Cakes with an added egg, per the package you are getting 18g of protein per serving, which notches these pancakes into the "you won't immediately crash before you can get anything done" category of breakfast foods. I listed these last because you have to actually stand there and make the pancakes or waffles, but other than that this is a very easy meal. The frozen berries add some nice vitamins, and the maple syrup is delicious but optional.
Since I tend to eat these kinds of foods pretty often, I also sometimes eat them too much and get sick of them. There are other foods that have previously been Costco easy food staples for me, like frozen black bean burgers, frozen mango + greek yogurt made into quick mango lassis, Dave's Killer Bread + almond butter and plenty more. I also love the Starbucks Instant Coffee single packets, they were especially critical when I had a newborn; I would definitely put them in any new parent or baby shower gift basket. What are your go to meals when you just can't even with life?
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