How I Solved the “Food Problem”

I haven’t cooked in nine months. It wasn’t my intention to go this long without cooking so much as a bowl of quinoa, but here I am. My no-cooking stint started out as a way to mitigate stress during an overwhelming time in my life. It has since morphed into a lifestyle. Prepare yourselves. 

I used to love grocery shopping, chopping things on my beautiful Boos cutting board, and making sheet pan chicken thighs or salmon with roasted vegetables. Another go-to was making enormous quinoa and kale salads with beans and vegetables and homemade vinaigrettes. I was never a technically skilled cook, but I knew what I liked and I prepared food simply. I thought of my cooking style as “assembling ingredients.” My diet was healthy, delicious enough, and affordable. It was a relaxing ritual that I looked forward to at the end of the week.

Then I got pretty sick and developed a habit of buying grab-and-go foodstuffs and picking sad sandwiches out of the day-old (and 20-percent-off) section of my overpriced neighborhood bodega. It was a choice based purely on necessity; and it was made palatable by the fact that I was on medications that obliterated my appetite.

After a few months of this, rather than getting back into the habit of meal prepping and cooking, I decided to try another path — a more efficient and cost-effective path. During this initial phase of eating convenience foods, I learned quickly that I had been spending a significant amount of time addressing what I call this “food problem.” There’s the shopping, the putting away of things, prep work, cooking, and cleanup. Not to mention, if you’re anything like me, dealing with the inevitable leftover wilted produce and cleaning out the fridge.

Now that I wasn’t grocery shopping, cooking, or cleaning up, I had so much free time — so I wondered if I could make some adjustments to my take-out diet to make it more nutritious and affordable. 

I have had a subscription to Huel powder for the better part of a year, but I slowly stopped mixing the powder with water as the idea of washing a single utensil and glass became more and more abhorrent. This was the pinnacle of something more than laziness — I was becoming a bona fide weirdo. So I looked into ready-made meal-replacement drinks. Soylent was much more affordable than Huel’s answer to ready-made drinks, so I signed up for a subscription. It came out to $3.13 a bottle without promo codes, which I sometimes snagged. This past Cyber Monday, I purchased 10 cases (120 bottles in total) at about $2.12 a pop with the help of a promo code.

A bottle of Soylent is equal to one meal, or 400 calories and 20 grams of protein. I would need 800–1100 more calories to sustain my humanity. In brainstorming methods through which I would consume the rest of my day’s caloric and nutritional needs, I asked myself what makes some foodstuffs more “efficient” than others and what kind of parameters I should put in place. I wanted to continue to save time by not cooking or creating any dirty dishes. I decided everything I ingested would be eaten with the aid of nothing more than my hands and a cloth napkin on my lap to catch any crumbs or spills.

I was missing fiber in my diet, so I added vegetables and fruit. I picked bananas, apples, citrus fruits (oranges and grapefruit), and tomatoes. For additional protein, I included pre-cooked turkey or chicken breast by the pound ($8.99 per lb), which I ate cold with hot sauce (with my bare hands) until sated. I would take bites of a tomato or two to help the dry poultry go down. I typically purchased about a pound-and-a-half of turkey breast per week. If each serving is three ounces and there are 24 ounces in 1.5 lbs, that got me eight servings. Each serving equated to only 125 calories, but made up 26 grams of protein.

Here is a table of all the raw whole foods and lean protein I would mix and match to make up my daily needs:

Food Product Calories per serving       Price per Serving
Soylent 400 per serving $2.12
Huel 400 per serving $2.12
Turkey breast 125 per 26 grams $1.69
Tomato on the vine    27 per unit $0.80
Medium apple 95 per unit $1.00
Grapefruit 110 per unit $1.50
Orange 45 per unit $0.99
Medium banana 105 per unit $0.19
Cashews 163 units per serving $0.47

As you can see, even if I ate two servings of turkey breast per day, I would fall short of my caloric needs. For a person of my height, weight, and activity level, I should consume 1,200–1,500 calories per day. This is when I decided to reuse empty Soylent bottles to mix my Huel powder with water. I rinse the bottle out with water, use a funnel to deposit half a serving to a full serving of powder, fill it with water, and shake. Bam! Two-hundred and fifty to 500 calories and 18.5 to 37 grams of protein ready to ingest ($1.06 for half a serving, $2.12 for a full serving).

I also stocked up on cheese burritos ($3.49) to keep in case I didn’t feel like eating multiple servings of the above foodstuffs. This choice saved me from purchasing many mediocre or slightly gross and soggy day-old convenience store sandwiches ranging from $6.39 to about $10.

These odd dietary options were then supplemented with the occasional lunch or dinner out with friends. Without factoring in meals out with friends, the total monthly cost of sustaining my physical needs amounts to approximately $264.35. My previous monthly food costs ranged between $300–$350, so this dietary change nets savings of $35.65–$85.65.

I am sometimes made extremely aware of my various oddities and wonder how I have kept myself alive thus far. My new lifestyle reminds me of a ridiculous story I stumbled upon on the internet years ago about an extreme minimalist who purchased and ate packaged emergency food meals as his sole means of sustenance. I thought that was a severe solution to the “food problem.” And yet, I have developed a method not too different from this strange minimalist. Surprisingly, this efficient program is actually cost-effective and pretty healthy. It’s not the most well-rounded diet, but it works. It keeps me alive and healthy with extremely minimal effort. It will do until I become more interested in partaking in the joys of food and feeding more than just my physical being.

Michelle Song does things including writing, editing, and nurturing a Meyer lemon tree. She is an older Millennial unlikely to be found anywhere but her inbox at

Photo credit: Kamil Kaczor, CC BY 2.0.

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