Low-effort meal ideas for bad brain days

So, because I’m at home most days, I usually make breakfast and lunch for myself. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty all right at cooking (I like to think, anyway) and specifically, cooking when you’re struggling to hold your shit together as is. I’m vegan, so all of this stuff I would make without meat and whatnot, but I don’t think any of these are Vegan Food ™, or really that rigid, and could be customized to whatever your diet is.

For me cooking can be really helpful on bad days–it’s not always fun or easy, but it is an act of caring for myself that I’m forced to do, even if I don’t feel like it. And sometimes, just doing the exact opposite of what my brain wants me to do can help me feel better.

From an anxiety side of things, I also really like feeling self-reliant, and knowing I can take care of myself at a basic level if I need to, it’s very soothing. I don’t know, that might not be your thing, but for me it’s been really helpful, so anyway–here is my unsolicited advice for cooking on bad days.

Breakfast

Some form of toast

This is sort of a no-brainer, I don’t know if I even need to write it down, but come on, it takes five minutes and some peanut butter, it’s relatively filling, and makes me feel like I’m six years old again, in the fun, nostalgic way, which I’m not complaining about. Avocado toast is also a great depression food, beans on toast can be nice if you have a bit more energy, you get the drill.

Smoothies

I’ve never been a smoothie fan, even now I have them all the time I’m not a huge fan of them–they always vaguely remind me of baby food, and for some reason I can’t put my finger on, I just don’t trust them? But they are objectively, very practical, relatively healthy, and they only take five minutes to make, and for those reasons I have learned to tolerate their presence in my daily life.

They’re also great for winter, since you can just use frozen fruit when everything else isn’t in season. I like to make mine a night ahead, so if I need to sleep in, I can just grab it, run, and finish my smoothie on the ride to school, which means ten more minutes of sleeping. (I know that doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, it is.)

Fruit salad

This is really just a reiteration of a smoothie, but you get to chew things, so I don’t feel like a hospital patient or a newborn baby or something, which is nice. It takes five minutes to chop up whatever fruit you have in your fridge and shove it in a bowl–it’s not gourmet, but it works, and you can change up what fruits you use so you don’t get bored of too fast. And there’s not much cleanup afterwards, which is a huge plus.

Overnight oats

This is another one of those foods I have a very mixed relationship with. To be honest, they don’t taste all that great, they’re kinda overhyped–but they are tolerable, and easy to prepare in advance for school mornings when I don’t have time to cook, so for that reason I will list them here. Here’s a recipe that looks all right–I assure you there are no shortage of these out there though, so feel free to try out a few if that’s your thing.

Lunch/Dinner

Pasta salad

There’s something about literally any kind of pasta that’s so comforting to me? That might just be a weird me thing, but either way, I’m not fighting it. You can usually throw pasta salad together in twenty minutes or less if you really simplify it, and the cleanup isn’t too bad. For some reason, when I’m having a bad day, having to cook lots of things is way more intimidating than having to chop lots of things, since if you get overwhelmed, you can take a step away without risking the smoke alarm going off or a pot boiling over. (And also, chopping things is really soothing, at least for me.) Here’s a recipe I use for reference, honestly you can pretty much wing this, but here you go anyway.

Quesadillas

This might just be because I’m going through a huge anything-you-can-make-with-a-tortilla phase right now. (Burritos, wraps, tacos, etc.) But I’ve made these a few times, and they’re surprisingly pretty simple, and pretty damn good if I do say so myself. This is a fairly simple recipe I’ve been using–it says it takes half an hour, but I’ve done it in twenty minutes. (Maybe because my cooking style involves turning the heat really high and barely avoiding burning things in the hope of saving myself, like, ten minutes.) Here’s a non-vegan recipe that looks pretty simple.

Lemon-broccoli pasta

This is another food I weirdly associate with being a kid, even though I don’t think I had it that often. But it used to be my favourite thing when I was, like, six, and now it’s my comfort food. Anyway, it only takes me about ten to fifteen minutes, I can usually wing it and have it turn out pretty okay. This is way more complicated than what I’d usually do, but this recipe looks okay for a vegan take on it, and here’s a regular one. You can get fancy with this if you really feel like it, but you really don’t have to.

Any kind of bowl

So, I used to think bowls were kinda dumb, but my friends’ mom makes super good glory bowls, and she kinda changed my mind about them. They’re super easy to assemble and usually don’t make too much of a mess. Basically, the whole concept of a bowl is that you have a protein, a starch (rice, quinoa, couscous, etc) and some vegetables, all shoved in a bowl together with pretty assembly and some nice dressing. There are lots of different takes on this, but as a starting point, here’s some ideas for rice bowls that look okay.

Soups

So, soups are very-time consuming to make and very stressful to make, but they’re super comforting to have on a bad day, at least in my opinion, and you can keep them in the fridge for a while too. So if you have about forty minutes to spare, and feel like you can take it on, they’re not a bad option. If you’re not in the mood for something complicated, my favourite thing to do is homemade tomato soup, which only takes about twenty minutes and reminds me of being five, in a good way. 🙂

A few miscellaneous tips

  • If you don’t have any cookbooks in your house, you can print out pretty much any recipe online for free. Food blogs can be very cheery and obnoxious at times, but there are some pretty good ones out there, and they kinda grow on you. All the options can be overwhelming, which is a drawback–and you will end up with a few weird recipes, but overall it works pretty well for me, because I’m too cheap to buy actual cookbooks and all the ones my family has are really old, and I’ve made all the recipes far too many times over.
  • Something that’s really helped me out of late is making meals ahead, and having at least a rough meal plan for the week. It helps make cooking feel much less monumental and all-consuming somehow, and takes away the stress of having to decide after a long day what you’re going to eat, which is half the battle in my experience.
  • This is something I still struggle with–but try to start cooking before you get hungry and your sanity goes out the window, it’s not a good idea. If you’re already having a bad day and then your blood sugar is crashing and the smoke alarm goes off and then you realize you don’t have an ingredient, you will cry, and end up spending way more time in the kitchen anyway.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. At least for me, I tend to commit to making things at a much larger scale than I can handle, because I’m an overachiever, and half of the time it works out and half of the time, I have a mental breakdown. There’s a place for pushing your boundaries, and there’s a place knowing your limits and respecting to them.
  • It doesn’t really take more time to cook tons of something in one fell swoop, and just save a bunch of leftovers for later–so whenever you have the energy to cook, capitalize on it and make a ton of food so it’ll last you the next few days. Just knowing that you’ve got that taken care of takes some stress out of your day, and if you already have limited energy and are dealing with a lot, that’s super important.

Holding your shit together when you’re having a hard time is not easy, and I’m sending all my love your way if you’re in that situation. I hope this post can be of some help to you. Take care of yourselves, and stay safe!

Lots of love,

Lorna

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