So how did we do? Was one month just a fluke, or was it the first step toward a new routine? Here’s how our fearless fivesome fared.
Better breakfasts: Reheat and eat meals fit my lifestyle
Making resolutions for a new year is always fraught. Will you crack under the pressure and give up? Was your goal never realistically attainable? And even if you manage to stick with it, will you eventually realize that nothing in your life changed all that much? It’s no wonder so many people don’t even bother in the first place.
But bother my colleagues and I did, and I’m so glad. Without a doubt, my commitment to better breakfasts made life better in general. I was pretty successful, too, managing to pull off a more satisfying morning meal most, though not all, of the weekdays of January.
I even ended on a high note, thanks to my final plan — and make-ahead experiment: sheet pan frittata. From the start, I didn’t want to completely rely on eggs, but to be honest, they are indeed one of my favorite breakfast foods. Poaching or frying eggs for other dishes — chilaquiles, beans on toast — left me, ahem, scrambling on busy mornings. Enter that frittata, which can be prepped on the weekend, cut to order and microwaved for less than a minute.
Pulling the egg and milk ratios from my skillet-baked Anytime Frittata, I moved the whole operation to a quarter sheet pan. (You can get them for less than $10, but a 9-by-13-inch shallow metal or ceramic dish could work, too.) First, I let my firmer ingredients (onions, tomatoes, zucchini) roast on the parchment-lined pan. Then I poured the egg mixture over them and sprinkled on the rest of my fillings — cheese, spinach and roasted red peppers. It took minutes to throw together, let me give new life to various odds and ends and fed me and my husband for several days. At home, I tucked squares of the frittata into English muffins, but making your own biscuits, as I did for the photo shoot in our Food Lab, really took it over the top. That’s the kind of small luxury I appreciate.
My takeaways from this endeavor are many. Biggest of all: Having a filling breakfast really does give me a morning boost. Also, I can’t count on doing too much cooking in the morning, with the competing demands of a child, the day-care run, dogs and other pressing chores (about that pile of dishes in the sink …). Reheat and eat meals — the frittata, baked oatmeal — fit my lifestyle the best, though I also came around to no-cook, improvised options, including avocado toast and a cheese plate.
Then there’s this: If I’m not making time for myself, who will? Put in the effort to make breakfast, and stop to enjoy the fruits of my labor, ideally with a good cup of tea — and maybe a few minutes of peace and quiet.
Eating with other people: I connected with colleagues and neighbors
How did it go, eating only with other people for a month?
First, a story. On the penultimate day of my January resolution, my dog woke up with a swollen neck. The vet did X-rays. Her neck is fine, but one X-ray showed the edge of something in her stomach. She had eaten one of my earrings.
I left her with the vet for treatment, went home, and ate what I really wanted, a banana with peanut butter standing up at the sink by myself. It was in violation of my resolution, and it was a gift. (One surgery later, my dog was fine.)
My point: Life is complicated.
All eating is emotional eating. Food triggers biological responses, which affect humans’ emotional states both immediately and long-term. This biology belongs to everyone, from friends at bottomless brunch to coders guzzling meal-replacement drinks at computers. (Even buzzy Silicon Valley, food-as-fuel, meal-replacements come in different flavors, for your drinking pleasure.) Human reaction to food is a useful biological tool that, like all tools, can be used for good or bad. I wanted to explore the tool of eating with others.
I loved my month of eating together, because I connected with colleagues and neighbors. I thought a lot about the health paradox of eating together, that those who eat with others eat more food, yet eating together is also linked to greater health than dining alone.
I’m honestly also a little exhausted from eating only with others (and I didn’t even get to everyone I wanted to see). But as with most good experiments, I left with more questions than answers. Now I’m going to experiment more with food and mood generally. I felt really good after eating at the sink and fretting about my dog. It might have been the banana’s tryptophan; it might have been the peanut butter’s magnesium fighting my deep fatigue from worrying about my dog. The only way to continue this resolution is to extend it to another experiment about how each food affects how I feel.
My resolution was a success, even though I wasn’t perfect. It connected me with more people and it led me to an interesting new path. And I need to find more ways to feel good, because I have a serious case of the 2020s right now.
Lunch money savings: It made me more aware of the food I’m eating
It was bound to happen eventually.
I’d survived 28 days of my food resolution without a slip-up or serious incident. But last week, I pressed my luck and it blew up in my face.
The Washington Post’s 12th-story penthouse became my refuge for the month — a quiet, contemplative space with a skyline view where I could catch up on a podcast or do some pen-on-paper editing while digging into my homemade lunches. One day last week, I was placing my bowl of massaman curry into the microwave up there when I realized there were no paper (or reusable) products around that I could use to cover the bowl. I checked the cabinets to no avail. So rather than taking the elevator back down to grab a napkin, I knocked down the power level and crossed my fingers.
You can guess what happened next.
But as I spent half of my lunch break wiping down the inside of that microwave, I realized I could get used to this. No, not cleaning out a curry-spattered microwave every afternoon — I could get used to bringing my lunch multiple days each week without it feeling like a hassle.
When we set our goals on Jan. 1, I planned to bring my lunch from home at least three days each week. Instead, I brought my lunch every single day. And for four-plus weeks, I was able to keep my menu practical and relatively interesting. I avoided eating the same thing for lunches and dinners to prevent taste-bud fatigue. I turned to a couple of old reliable recipes and experimented with new ones. And aside from two days when a big group of colleagues went out for planned lunches, I never really missed going out for lunch all that much.
It helped that I cooked the types of lunches I’d typically purchase from a nearby restaurant or food truck: mole burritos, warming curry, big salads and the Cold Tahini Noodles With Vegetables that a number of readers and colleagues have asked me about. Sure, there were a few sandwich days sprinkled in, too.
There were challenges. I often found myself batch-cooking for the week’s lunches past 10 p.m. on a Monday night, when exhaustion from work and the dinner I’d just prepared was setting in. I walked to work more days than I biked (my preferred mode of transit) in January because that made it easier to schlep food storage containers. That only sort of helped make up for the fact that many days I failed to leave the office to stretch my legs. And I probably spent slightly more on takeout dinners in January than I do in a typical month. But I saved much more by not eating out every day, and bringing lunch rarely felt like an annoying chore.
This experience has given me a far better appreciation for friends and colleagues who pack lunches for themselves, their partners and their children every day. (Thanks, Mom!) It has also helped make me more aware of the food I’m putting into my body when my stomach starts rumbling at my desk around 12:30 or 1 p.m. And although I’m not planning to stick with this ultra-strict brown bag routine, I’m now equipped with the confidence to keep bringing a homemade lunch more often than not. It’s a small but significant improvement that I can continue — which, in the end, is what a resolution is all about.
A no-takeout vow: We didn’t miss those deliveries as much as we thought
At the end of our takeout-free month, I’m proud to say it looks like we made it. My husband and I didn’t once resort to eating from a carton, despite encountering all the usual suspects that typically send us to those delivery apps: plans changing at the last minute, a nasty cold (mine), business travel (his), and unpredictable schedules (hi, double-journalist household here).
I’m considering putting an app or two back on my phone after deleting them at the start of our challenge, but if I do, I vow to view them differently. From now on, I’m going to be pickier about and far more intentional about dinner deliveries. I’m feeling okay about making an appointment for some Friday night takeout from neighborhood favorites such as Chiko or Indigo. That feels like a splurge that’s worth it. But there will be no more last-minute desperation scrolling that leaves us with middling, lukewarm dinners — after going a month without them, I know there’s another way.
I also plan to monitor and restock the freezer, because an arsenal of ready-to-eat meals was the key to our success. We’ll definitely snag more Roberta’s frozen pizza, whose blistery crust is better than many a restaurant pie and makes freezer dinner night feel very fancy. And some components of planned meals got repurposed: One backup dinner was garlicky shrimp with toast, but the frozen bread we had on hand for it wound up as a side for another menu. Keeping a list on the fridge of emergency dinners and checking it against the supply will become a new routine (or so I hope!) along with my regular grocery planning.
Knowing I was being held accountable, and that I would have to confess any slip-ups to you readers, helped keep me on track. So did having colleagues who were tackling their own challenges while rooting us all on in our collective efforts (go, team!). But even without these regular confessionals to keep me honest, I think I can keep up the (almost) no-takeout life. With a little planning, it wasn’t that hard.
And to be honest, we didn’t miss those deliveries as much as we thought. We’ve saved a few bucks, which we’ll probably spend on a nice dinner out — because, let’s face it, virtue can’t be its only reward.
Eating less meat: It spurred me to cook more and to be creative
I started the year by declaring that I was not a vegetarian, but I was willing to do a cameo as one for a month to see how it went. I was already eating less meat because I questioned the impact of my food choices on my health and my conscience. I didn’t think it would be a big deal to give it up entirely for a month, and then devise a new strategy going forward.
I was right. It was no big deal. It was really easy, actually. It spurred me to cook more and to be creative. Those are good things.
So now it’s time to determine my new plan. I’m done with Meatless Monday. It was a smart gateway, but I want to extend the habit, and “Monday” seems limiting by definition.
I can eliminate beef from my diet without missing it. I’ve never craved steaks, and my main beef consumption is an occasional burger or taco. I thought I would just forgo those for the month, but I found viable workarounds that can be permanent replacements. I tried the Impossible Burger, and frankly, it completely sated my infrequent burger needs. I know plant-based burgers are not without their detractors, but for my purposes, once a month or so, it will be fine.
And for tacos, when I tried a recipe that used walnuts in place of meat, I found something startling: I preferred it to beef. It wasn’t a lie I told myself to make the best of it. It’s my new Tuesday standard.
Other days, I just had fun. I broke out old cookbooks and tried recipes that I had blatantly ignored on first read. I cooked eggplant, which I’m not a fan of, and I kind of liked it. But I stayed true to one of my basic tenets by never contemplating cauliflower. Blech.
I found that almost any stir-fry is good if I load it with mushrooms or tofu … or both. A problem early in the month was that I was not happy with store-bought vegetable broths, but then I made a deeply earthy mushroom broth that I liked a lot, even if it will never fully replace the chicken stock I make.
The highlight of the month came when I decided to rethink a family recipe. Stuffed cabbages were the highlight of every family gathering when I was a kid, and my grandmother’s recipe — handed down through who knows how many matriarchal branches before her — was mostly a pot of ground beef and pork. Sure, they were disguised in green wrappers and swimming in tomato sauce, but it was a meat dish.
I used what I learned from my mushroom and walnut dishes to transform it into something that isn’t just meatless — I inadvertently made it vegan. When I cut one open, I couldn’t believe how completely right they looked. When I tasted it, it tasted great. It did not taste like meat, but that was never my goal. It was great on its own, for what it was.
So it’s February now, and I have eaten meat. I didn’t spend any time planning my first meat of the month, but I can’t see giving it up forever. Still, I enjoyed not cooking it. I enjoyed not buying it.
Food is part of my job, and I don’t want to put a limitation on what kind of work I can do because of what I won’t eat. So, when I’m called to cook or eat meat, I will.
But when I’m off the clock? I doubt I’ll build meals around meat anymore. It will probably become a thing I have when I go out. I’ll still eat it when I want to. But I just don’t think I’m going to want it nearly as much as I used to.