The most important mental health lesson that I learnt this year is that in order to see any real improvement to my well being, I have to eat well, sleep properly, and exercise. This is a lot easier said than done but one thing that has helped keep me on track is meal prepping. This is not the easiest thing to do when you are in a low place but if you can spare an hour or two on Sunday, you can get yourself prepped to eat healthily and consistently throughout the week. This isn’t about counting calories or macros, this isn’t gonna cure your depression, and sometimes you are gonna fall back on your regular depression meals (my personal go to’s are wheat thins and peanut butter cups) BUT by making it easier on yourself to put food in your rotting flesh prison, you might just feel a bit better. So here are some of my tips, tricks, and favourite recipes.
Overnight oats are a really easy and cost effective breakfast that you can make ahead and eat all week. Basically you take some quick oats (I usually do 1/3 or 1/2 cup) and put equal parts liquid (I use sweetened vanilla almond milk but you could probably use mountain dew and it would work) and then you top with whatever strikes your fancy. I usually use frozen raspberries and chia seeds but you can also use peanut butter, coconut flakes, chocolate chips, bananas, cinnamon, pieces of lint, whatever! Here is a recipe for some fancy sounding varieties http://damndelicious.net/2017/01/26/easy-overnight-oats/.
My go to for lunches are rice or “buddha” bowls. They have the vegetables and ~healthy feel of a salad without the sadness. The basic structure that I follow is a grain (usually rice but sometimes quinoa or noodles) + protein (tofu, chickpeas, or black beans because oh yeah btw I’m a vegetarian) + cooked/roasted vegetables (broccoli, peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini) + a green (spinach, kale, lettuce) + sauce because I don’t want it to taste like shit. These can be a little time consuming but there are some hacks to cut down on time. You can add broccoli, cauliflower, carrots or other veggies into the pot/rice cooker to steam while you make your grain. You can also roast your chickpeas/sweet potatoes/vegetables on the same pan. You also don’t need to make your own sauce, grocery stores have some pretty fun pre-made sauces already (peanut sauce is my fave). And if anything you can always just pour a bunch of sriracha on it and voila you’ve arrived at flavourtown.
Here are some recipes to get you inspired but don’t feel pressure to be as extra as these pinterest people: http://damndelicious.net/2014/09/10/easy-burrito-bowls/, https://minimalistbaker.com/sweet-potato-chickpea-buddha-bowl/#_a5y_p=3725189, http://www.saltandlavender.com/spicy-chipotle-buddha-bowl-cauliflower-rice/, https://www.purewow.com/recipes/egg-and-veggie-breakfast-bowl, https://wellandfull.com/2016/02/the-vegan-buddha-bowl/, http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com/2012/08/spicy-peanut-portobello-kale-rice-bowl.html
I usually don’t meal prep dinner because that requires more energy and forethought than I can expend. But I do like meals like soups, stews, and pasta that you can cook in abundance and eat all week. Recipes like these are great because they usually utilize canned or frozen vegetables for when going to the grocery store is NOT an option. These are also really great to make a bunch of when you’re in a Good place and then you can freeze them and have them stocked up for when you are in a Not Good place like when pregnant people make a bunch of casseroles before they give birth because let’s be real, depression is as needy and time consuming as an infant. Here are some comforting and cost-effective recipes: https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/italian-orzo-spinach-soup-recipe/, https://www.delishknowledge.com/slow-cooker-butter-chickpeas/, https://www.budgetbytes.com/2016/03/thai-curry-vegetable-soup/, http://www.lecremedelacrumb.com/slow-cooker-enchilada-quinoa/, http://www.thegardengrazer.com/2013/03/asian-spaghetti-with-mushrooms-snow.html, https://minimalistbaker.com/sweet-potato-coconut-curry-soup/
If your depression manifests itself like mine, no matter how much you eat, it is never enough to feel the empty void in your life! So I eat a lot of snacks. In the morning I like to grab a portable piece of fruit like a banana or apple. In the afternoon I usually pack vegetables (carrots, cucumber, peppers, cherry tomatoes) because if I’m gonna shove food in my body when it isn’t even hungry, might as well make it healthy! My trick for getting myself excited about vegetables is packing some dill/spinach dip. If hummus or baba ganoush is more your thing, that works too. You could even drench your vegetables in high fructose corn syrup and it would still be healthy BECAUSE VEGETABLES.
Lots of meal prepping instagrammers are all about hard boiled eggs as snack but if you don’t want to be the weirdo in your office/class eating an egg, trail mix has nuts with similar nutritional values PLUS m&m’s.
I fully understand that taking care of yourself when you’re depressed can be an insurmountable task. So when you can prep ahead and put a vegetable or two in your body, I hope that these ideas are helpful. And when you can’t even lift your head let alone a fork, I hope that you can be kind and forgiving to yourself.