In the Catholic religion, Lent is a 40 day period in the late winter/early spring when you’re supposed to give up doing something and/or incorporate a beneficial habit to your routine. It’s all in the name of Jesus. In the past, I’ve given up going on Facebook, my brother stopped eating sweets, my mom didn’t go to Starbucks, etc. This year, I found myself becoming increasingly dependent on eating out for most of my meals, so I decided to stop.
I began preparing for my eating out hiatus the week before, stocking up on Pinterest recipes and slowly reacquainting myself with the monotony of dining hall meals. I also forced myself to unfollow my favorite restaurants on Instagram so I wasn’t tempted by the alluring photos of my favorite dishes (I’m looking at you, Homeroom and Lottie’s). During this preparation stage, I realized that while I’d miss the convenience of someone else making delicious meals, I would survive.
This was much easier said than done. The first week I experienced serious withdrawals. I almost cracked multiple times. I sat in my car in the parking structure near Ike’s (one of NorCal’s most acclaimed establishments), contemplating going to Confession to repent for my sins and beg for forgiveness just so I could savor the taste of orangey halal chicken with smooth avocado slices and honey oozing out the edges of the dutch crunch roll. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but I had an intensely indescribable craving.
Mustering the little strength and self-control I had, I reversed out of my parking spot, and went to Trader Joe’s instead to grocery shop. If there was a Lenten Season Award Show and I received an honor, in my acceptance speech I would have to give major props to Trader Joe’s for being my saving grace. Not only do they have an expansive selection of frozen meals and other ready-made meals, but you can create your own meals for an entire week under $25.
One of the easiest and versatile foods known to man is pizza (thank you, Italy). I bought a few bags of Trader Joe’s flatbread pizza crusts to use throughout the 40 days, and kept them in the freezer until I was ready to use them.
Even when they’re frozen, they take all of 10 minutes in the oven before they’re ready to eat. I would usually pair the flatbread with either the Trader Joe’s pizza sauce (which is the best store-bought pizza sauce I have discovered) and shredded mozzarella and whatever other toppings, or if I wanted something a little lighter, a loaded veggie pesto pizza.
For the times when I was getting back to my room from a long day and didn’t have the energy to cook creatively, I would throw some brown rice on over the stove and pop the Trader Joe’s orange chicken in the oven. Easy, delicious, and if you make the whole bag at once you’ll have enough to get you through two or three more servings.
One of my favorite meals that was good for Friday dinners (during Lent, you can’t eat meat on Fridays) was lemon pasta with a seafood medley. Trader Joe’s has a great frozen seafood blend of scallops, shrimp, and calamari that tastes great paired with linguine, some lemon juice, parsley, and pepper.
While Trader Joe’s had my back for dinner, I kept my fridge stocked with eggs so I could whip up a quick scramble for breakfast in the morning before class, or I would grab some fruit and tater tots from the dining hall because #totsarelove #totsarelife. If I had more time in the morning, I’d use my beloved tots to make an epic tater tot breakfast pizza.
Lunch mainly consisted of sandwiches from the dining hall or leftovers from my dinner the night before, but it’s not too difficult to make your own gourmet lunches on the go.
At the end of my 40 day experiment, there were two main findings:
1. I ate a lot healthier
Watching what went into all of the meals I prepared for myself forced me to be mindful of what I was putting into my body. I could control how much salt was being added, or adjust the portion sizes if I needed to. While there are plenty of health-conscious restaurants out there, I found that it’s easier to be healthy in your own kitchen.
2. I saved a lot of money
Although each individual meal eating out costs anywhere from $10-30 (depending on how large I was living at a given time), when you’re eating out on average 3-4 times a week, it adds up. By grocery shopping for myself and using the dining hall, I would spend about $30, give or take, a week on food. Most of the time I would only cook 2 or 3 times, and eat leftovers the rest of the week. There were even some times when I was able to skip grocery shopping for a week because of my expansive selection of leftovers.
Although I had to be more responsible in my planning and time management, the 40 day period without eating out set me up to decrease my dependence on restaurants. It only takes two weeks to form a habitual behavior, so dedication in the beginning is critical to long-term success.