How Meal Kits Help Me Manage My Anxiety

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

It’s 7 p.m. and I’m heading home after a particularly long day at the office. It was more stressful than usual; I skipped lunch to meet a deadline, my coworkers had a million questions for me, and my head is throbbing from a lack of energy. The thought of ordering takeout makes me feel nauseous — I don’t want to wait 40 minutes for a $20 salad, or a greasy carton of noodles.

My heart starts beating quicker, and I begin to sweat wondering if I’ll make it home without passing out on the bus.

I open my fridge and pull out a bag containing salmon, zucchinis, tomatoes, garlic, honey, green onions, and red pepper flakes. Forty minutes later I’m clearing the dishes from a recipe called “Hot Honey Salmon.” I feel 10 times better — emotionally satisfied and completely zen from the methodical process of cooking.

Once again, a meal kit has helped me manage my anxiety.

As an Art Director, I am constantly making decisions, managing time, and re-prioritizing tasks to ensure my agency’s clients are visually represented in their campaigns. I love my job, but I also know how important it is to be able to disconnect from it when the work day is over — otherwise the cycle keeps going, leaving me mentally and sometimes physically exhausted.

This heaviness permeates into my personal life sometimes. I’ll have added anxieties of problems that didn’t get solved at work that day, like paying bills, or checking up on a friend who’s been ill. When time is constrained, it’s difficult for me to not feel anxious about everything.

When time is constrained, it’s difficult for me to not feel anxious about everything.

Cooking and meal planning used to be my jam, but it was a lot easier to do when I had fewer responsibilities. Grocery shopping is now a burden; it’s time I could spend doing more important things. Recreating elaborate recipes was once a hobby and a joy — now I’m lucky if I can remember the ingredients to make tuna salad.

After one particularly bad week of staying late at the office every night, I crashed. I didn’t have time to shop. I barely had time to cook. The recipes I’d saved went unused, the veggies I had bought at the farmers market began to rot.

The only dry goods I had were pasta and rice — an easy fix for sure, but heavy in carbohydrates and low in nutritional value. I sat for two hours scrolling through Seamless trying to figure out what I could order that would arrive quickly, was somewhat healthy, and didn’t cost me a fortune.

My anxiety had overpowered the situation so much that I ended up not eating at all, overwhelmed by the different factors involved. It was the worst of a set of similar experiences, each one ending in my not eating due to a mix of exhaustion, tension, and lack of nutrients.

I was done with being “hangry.” Through a coworker’s recommendation, I signed up for Hello Fresh. Two weeks later, three meals landed on my doorstep. A sensation of calm washed over me while removing the neat little cardboard boxes, labeled with the recipes I’d chosen ahead of time, which also stacked perfectly inside of my fridge. All I had to do was choose which of the three meals I was most in the mood for, prep and cook it, and enjoy it.

Meal kits have been my anxiety saviors ever since.

The process for meal kits is usually simple: I select my meals for the week (sometimes for an entire month) through an online portal. Right now I’m really into Home Chef, but I’ve also tried others with varying success, including Blue Apron, Hello Fresh (as mentioned above), Gobble, and Dinnerly. The ingredients are delivered to me on the same day each week, in insulated packages that keep food fresh and cold even if I don’t get home until later that evening. Each kit contains pre-portioned ingredients (read: instead of a tub of rice, you get a one-cup package meant to serve two people), a recipe with step-by-step visuals, and culinary tips and techniques. The price of the kit is always the same (shipping is usually free too).

A sensation of calm washed over me while removing the neat little cardboard boxes, labeled with the recipes I’d chosen ahead of time, which also stacked perfectly inside of my fridge.

Cooking has always been my favorite stress reducer; adding or mixing ingredients in a structured manner, and watching a meal come together from start to finish, is incredibly therapeutic. Not to mention getting to enjoy the end result, feeling rewarded for my hard work, and occasionally mastering a new skill (like julienning or searing).

Meal kits reduce my anxiety based on predictable sustenance. Even on my worst days at the office, all I have to do when I come home is pull a box or a bag from the fridge. Forty minutes later, I’m enjoying a meal I’d never have thought to cook on my own.

I’m eating healthier as well. Most of the ingredients are vegetable- and meat-based — even the sauces are typically made from scratch. Now that I’ve switched to Home Chef, I’m able to choose from several low-carb and heart-healthy recipe choices. These kits have helped me lose weight — something I’ve always had anxiety about. I’d bypass the salad aisle every time I used to grocery shop because I didn’t think I liked greens. Now I’m eating them more than ever before.

It’s also easier to budget when using meal kits. I used to get stressed out buying $100 or more on groceries, most of which went uneaten based on my schedule. Knowing exactly what I’m spending on dinner each week helps me calculate my finances in a healthy way. I feel better knowing I have a set amount for meals and can work around to help me save money.

The convenience of not having to visit a store or a fast-food counter offers me the chance to invest my time and energy elsewhere, while still reducing stress doing something I love. I don’t know where I’d be today without the structure and manageability meal kits have provided. Anxiety is something I’ll deal with for the rest of my life, but I find comfort in knowing dinner is the least of my problems.

Have you tried meal kits before?