Food Paralysis

Having more choices is often promoted as being a good thing, but wisdom teaches us that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.  I would like to apply this idea to how we view our food in the kitchen.

It is fairly common to stock up one’s kitchen with a wide assortment of food options, with the expressed intent to prevent future dissatisfaction by addressing our every gluttonous desire ahead of time. What’s the harm of stocking an extra box of mac’n’cheese when I have the space?  It will save me the displeasure of one day wanting mac’n’cheese, and realizing I must take a trip to the store to buy it.  (My gosh, delayed gratification? Please, that’s so last decade.)  However, I feel like many of us to walk into the kitchen, and are overwhelmed by how many options we have.  There is the classic joke of people walking into the kitchen, being surrounded by food, and declaring “there’s nothing to eat.”

Furthermore, I often catch myself second guessing my food choice.  Since there were 100 options, the chances that I made the right choice are only 1 in 100, pretty low!  If there are only 5 options available, it is much easier to rule out a few options, making the odds of choosing “correctly” a lot better.

Therefore, to solve this food paralysis problem, I plan to stock my kitchen with fewer options for food, probably at most 5, so that the process of elimination goes quickly.  That way, I not only spend less time on my decision, but I an more satisfied with it as well.

A more detailed solution: Let’s assume that I just want to pick a protein, and a vegetable, and I have chicken and egg for protein options, and broccoli and carrots for vege options.  Instead of looking at my ingredients and thinking I have 4 options-chicken with broccoli or carrots, or egg with broccoli or carrots—I should pre-assign chicken to broccoli, and egg to carrots, reducing the number of options to 2.

The benefit seems minimal, but here’s how it scales: Let’s say one day your nutritional goal is to eat one serving each of protein, vegetable, carbs, and fruit, and you have 5 options in each category.  That means you could make a meal 5*5*5*5 = 625 different ways!  That’s way too many to think about every time you walk into a kitchen.  It’s easier to know that each option, say chicken, has already been assigned to say broccoli, rice, and apple, and deal with just 5 possible meals.  Less headache, less thinking, more eating, more enjoying, more living your life.

Parting thoughts: Unless you’re trying to become a chef, or you have a particular special occasion, there’s no real need to make the “best meal possible right now” or fulfill yourself with the “very best options” to “maximize happiness.”  We are pushed hard to get the very best all the time, but we forget sometimes that there is no “need” to get the very best, especially not all the time.  You’re hungry, just eat something and move on with your life.  If you want it to be special, then plan ahead of time rather than try to scramble to put something together when you’re hungry—if the meal was special to you, you would have (or really should have) planned ahead.