Adulting for Autistics: Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping
One of the biggest hurdles young adults face is keeping themselves properly nourished on the money they have available. This is true of autistic and allistic people alike – it’s a skill you have to learn. Some people struggle with it well into their 30s. Personally, I didn’t realize how well my parents had modeled this for me growing up until I saw that other college-age kids were living on ramen or eating fast food every day and then wondering why they had no money to pay bills. In the hopes that you may not suffer that fate, today I’m going to talk about grocery shopping and meal planning.
The trick to feeding yourself without starving your piggy bank is (drum roll, please)….forethought. That’s really all. If you Google “meal planning”, you’ll find articles about where to get the right containers to freeze your meals in and recipes designed to cook three meals at once to be portioned out and all kinds of unnecessary stuff. When I say meal planning, I mean thinking about what you’re going to eat for the week (or two weeks, whatever your schedule is) before you go shopping and then buying what you need for what you’re going to cook. If that sounds suspiciously simple, it’s because it is. Still, many people struggle with it.
Lists Are Your Friends
A good place to start with your meal planning is to think about all the meals you eat. Do you eat breakfast? I don’t, usually, I just have coffee and that’s fine for me. But if you or anyone in your household eats breakfast, you need to make sure you have breakfast food available, whether you prefer cereal or grab-and-go granola bars or smoothies. How about lunch? It can be really tempting to get fast food for lunch during the workday, but that’s a good way to watch your money fly away. If you choose to bring your own lunch from home, or you eat at home, you need stuff for lunches. And then there’s dinner to think of as well, plus snacks.
At some point, it might be a good idea to make lists of the meals you and your family like, but that’s not necessary to start out.
The most important, of course, is the grocery list. There are lots of apps you can use for this or you can go with the traditional pen and paper if you just love crossing things off (it’s so satisfying!). The key thing is to make sure your grocery list has everything that you need for the meals you’ve planned and you stick to your list.
If you’re really on the ball (translation: my mom used to do this but it’s way too much trouble for me), you can check your local stores’ sales papers and choose what you want to cook based on what’s on sale that week. I tend to check out what’s on sale by way of an app, usually the night before I plan to go shopping. It’ll definitely help you save money, but if it’s too much to deal with, that’s fine.
Cook Once, Eat (At Least) Twice
To get the best value from your food budget and your time, we have the old maxim “cook once, eat twice”. For me, living alone, this is more like cook once, eat for most of the week. For a couple or a family, that might be cook once, eat twice, or cook once, eat one dinner and then a couple of lunches. Some foods are better suited to being leftovers than others. Steak, for example, isn’t a thing you’d want to try to eat for several days. That’s more of a one-night-only affair. However, soups, stews, pasta, beans and rice, and the like are all great choices. Anything you can cook in an enormous pot is probably a good bet for several days’ eating. And always remember that just because something began its life as lunch or dinner doesn’t mean it can’t have a new life as the other meal. Dinner leftovers make awesome work lunches!
Cook once, eat twice is a great idea. But we all know that we’re going to slip up and forget to thaw out something we need or get caught up in something else until it’s too late to cook or just plain not feel like it some nights! And all of that is perfectly OK! So I highly recommend keeping some quick, easy stuff on hand for those days when life happens. My personal favorites are frozen pizza, frozen entrees (lasagna, etc.), canned soup, and frozen skillet meals. These things keep me from eating popcorn for dinner too often, and they’re not as unhealthy as you might think. Yes, they’re processed and probably full of sodium (I don’t look), but most of them include something resembling protein and vegetables, which popcorn does not.
Meal planning and grocery shopping don’t have to be huge, involved projects. You can do the planning and make your list in ten minutes, using your own priorities. If you need to spend as little as possible, beans and rice can feed you all week for pennies. If you have more to spend but have trouble remembering to actually cook, frozen food can help cover you. Just ask yourself “What would I like to eat this week?” and start from there.
What are your favorite hacks for meal planning and grocery shopping? Where do you struggle most in keeping yourself fed without breaking the bank? Do you have a great “cook once, eat many times” recipe you want to share?