One of my favorite things about the Internet is that it allows women from around the world to talk directly to one another, breaking down the walls and false veneers that can make us feel alienated from one another.
It’s been so nice to see more stories popping up that are changing — or at least rounding out — the narratives surrounding motherhood, especially when it comes to food. There’s so much pressure on women to provide their families with nutritious, well-balanced meals, but so often the people lecturing us fail to think about the actual realities of life: not enough time and energy to get all the details right.
That said, while there are a lot mothers giving real talk about the struggles of feeding their family well, I hardly ever see such talk from any of us late-20s/early-30s women who don’t even have kids to feed.
That’s why I’m coming clean.
I’m not a mother. I work at home. And I still struggle to make myself satisfying, nutritious meals on a semi-regular basis. It makes me feel kind of like a loser, to be honest. When I hear about how much other women have to deal with in their lives, I’m left wondering why I can’t manage to do laundry more than once every two weeks without approaching a nervous breakdown or why I resorted to eating black beans out of a can for lunch the other day.
But I’m tired of feeling guilty when I am legitimately giving life my all.
I’m in my late 20s and finally getting my career where I want it to be. That means I work — a lot. I’m pretty tied to my deadlines, and I still have a ton of student loan debt. So if I have to choose between getting paid for taking on an extra article and running to the store so I don’t have to get takeout for dinner, guess which one I’m going to choose.
The pressure to make amazing, nutritious meals feels even heavier because I write about food. When I do make a meal I’m proud of, I post it to Instagram. But it takes a lot of work to put together a satisfying meal in the middle of a workday, especially one that looks nice. And yet, when I see the pictures of the healthy and beautiful meals other people are posting on Instagram for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I can’t help but feel bad about my own choices.
It started to really bother me, and even though I wanted to just ignore it, I realized I had to make a change and find some sort of middle ground. I had to give up the delusion that every meal I make has to be Instagram worthy to have value to me. But if I don’t have time to make an elaborate creation, that doesn’t mean I should throw in the towel altogether and just spring for takeout or something that’s void of nutritional value. I should be prepared to make simpler but more nutritious meals when I’m feeling super swamped with work and don’t have a lot of time to cook.
There are a few simple ways I’ve been able to do this without losing my mind. The first thing I’ve done to make a change is buy a bunch of salad ingredients on the weekend. I then wash, dry and chop the lettuce and other veggies on Sunday and make a jar or two of salad dressing. That way throughout the week, when I want a quick lunch, the salad ingredients are right there waiting for me.
It ends up being less expensive, more nutritious and faster than trying to decide which takeout to order for lunch during the week. I also allow for a little indulgence. If my salad doesn’t have croutons on it, I’m probably not going to eat it (I know myself pretty well after all these years). Yeah, croutons aren’t the most nutrient-dense salad add-on I could choose, but sticking with the serving suggestion on the package so I don’t go overboard still ends up being a much better choice than getting pad thai. Instead of a carb-bomb that has barely any veggies in it, I’m eating a big bowl of vegetables that has just a little bit of fun sprinkled on top.
Another thing I always make sure to do is roast a couple of sweet potatoes on Sunday or Monday. They’re full of fiber and vitamins, and during the week I can add a few cubes to my salads or toss a handful with canned black beans or chickpeas (which I always have on hand) and some of my homemade dressing for a quick but substantial meal.
None of these meals is Instagram worthy. The world doesn’t care about my canned black bean and sweet potato salad… but that’s OK.
Even though the food world is so visual and putting your best foot forward is important, it’s also important to not forget that food is there, at the end of the day, to give your body the fuel it needs to get shit done. Sometimes that means making vegan coconut curry with a side of homemade flatbread for lunch, sometimes it means the end piece of a loaf of bread smeared with almond butter is my dinner, and hey, sometimes it means that if it looks like I might end up skipping a meal entirely because I did a bad job at planning my day, I order a takeout veggie burger and french fries.
Either way, when I stop worrying about what others think about what I eat, I feel a lot less stressed, and that often leads to my choosing more nutritious, simpler foods in the long run. I may not have the hectic life of a parent, but I still do a lot, and I’m finally letting go of the notion that just because I’m child-free doesn’t mean I can’t cut myself some slack now and then.
All you can do is try your best, and everyone’s best is different. Once I learned to respect that — not just in others’ lives, but my own — it’s been a whole lot easier to show myself kindness when the going gets tough.