Year for the Planet Week 38: The Strategy of Meal Frameworks

Year for a Planet is a personal challenge to be a better human for the planet for a whole year. This year, 2017, is where I deal with my food choices.

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Sometimes, friends ask me how I’m able to make this new lifestyle work, and I answer with a term I’m hoping I coined: Meal frameworks. Simply put, I don’t necessarily plan each and every dish I’m eating—just the skeleton of the meals I want to eat. Most dishes are frameworks—think of sandwiches, pasta, smoothies, where they have the same basic ingredients, such as bread or soy milk, but you can have a variety of flavors by changing the ingredients. This is the strategy I lead on when trying to convince busy people, especially urban dwellers, that this kind of eating is the way to go.

Why does this strategy work?

1. Frameworks allow for advance preparation.
This strategy allows me to buy in bulk and to estimate how long my supply will last. I think people end up buying junk food because there’s a small panic attack involved with thinking that there’s “nothing in the fridge”. On days when work becomes stressful, it’s a relief to know that you won’t get “hangry” on top of it all.

2. Frameworks give security.
I think when people have that impulse to order takeout or run into the nearest restaurant, it’s because they panic at the idea of potentially failing at cooking. After all, why bother making your meal if it’s not going to taste good? Having a framework means you’re not totally clueless about what the output is, allowing you freedom to “fail”. Overnight oats, smoothies, omelets, tofu scrambles, salads have all familiar bases such as soy milk, eggs, and tofu that you can vary ingredients as necessary or available. Thinking like this will allow you to open your refrigerator and pantry, and immediately have an idea of what you can make with what you see.

3. Frameworks give motivation.
I once read an article that, a bit condescendingly, likened meal prep with preparing for the apocalypse and how it ruins the enjoyment of food. Not so for me—in fact, I would argue that this has made me feel happier with eating food, because I know exactly what I put in my body and because it really saves me so much time. These days, with all that is going on in the world, it seems humanity is living such a precarious existence that it feels empowering to have control over this one thing in my life.

4. Frameworks give a schedule.
On days when I’m not traveling (i.e. My body feel stable), I can tell what time it is my what I’m craving. I’ll know that 4 PM is banana smoothie-o’clock because this is what I’m finally used to this instead of, say, pizza. It’s one thing to write a schedule, but a whole other thing to have your body be on it. My days have been gloriously productive because my blood sugar has been stable all this time.

5. Frameworks are scalable.
Alas, it will take a while for my family to get on board with sustainable eating, though seeing some of them buy organic eggs or use my binder clips for resealing food bags instead of putting them in plastic has been gratifying—it’s all about the small wins, people! But if they do get on board eventually, it’s really easy to prepare more of the same food without having to add much to prep time.

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