Meal Management Theory

I had a boss once who used to drive me nuts. One day he gave me three tasks. My response was, “What is the priority of these tasks? Which one should I do first?” He would say, “Matt, they’re all important.” Even though I hounded him about it, he wouldn’t prioritize them.

This is what’s known as a management fail. The very essence of management is making decisions on what is most important and what is least important. It’s how you take responsibility for something. It also explains why my boss didn’t want to make a decision. One way to avoid having your decisions criticized is to not make any decisions.

So why am I wasting everyone’s time here talking about an old manager of mine? In fact, we’re all managers. Unless you’re currently serving time in a government sponsored institution or in basic training (same thing, really) you have to make management decisions on what you’re going to eat on a day to day, month to month, and year to year basis.

But first, another anecdote: I’ve spent some time in the software developement business and the saying goes like this: Software can be fast, cheap, and good – pick two.

Project Triangle

Pick Two

In other words, your options are:

  1. cheap and good, but not fast
  2. fast and good, but not cheap
  3. fast and cheap, but not good

Wouldn’t you know it…the boss always goes for option 3. Our stalwart manager doesn’t come out and say that we’re going to make shitty software, but they make up a plan that doesn’t allow enough time and isn’t resourced appropriately. They think that insisting their employees do something cheaper and faster is what makes a good manager. In reality this is just another management fail.

Later, no surprise, the software sucks. Then there’s this period where the schedule and budget go way over and the recriminations start. You end up with software that is expensive, late, and still pretty bad. Instead of two qualities out of three, we get a whole lot of suck in everything. Later when the company goes out of business we all wonder (although, not me) how it all went wrong.

Let’s apply all this to YOU, and your management task. How do you figure out what to eat?

Food can be easy, cheap, and healthy – pick two.

Just like with our bumbling manager before, most people go for cheap and easy; it’s the default condition, really. Remove $1.99 hot pocket from freezer, microwave for 2 minutes in special crisping sleeve, “enjoy” warm meal, wonder why you feel like crap for the next 3 hours. Later, when your life has become hellish (i.e. not easy) and expensive (i.e. not cheap) due to medical problems you’ll wonder how it all went so wrong.

To be truthful, going for cheap and easy is basically not managing at all. Getting to “healthy” means sacrificing either cheap or easy for a long term benefit. That takes some planning and some discipline.

People complain that eating Paleo is expensive. It doesn’t have to be if you’re willing to forego “easy”. Learning how to cook, buying cheap cuts of meat, shopping at the farmer’s market, growing a garden, are all ways that lessen the convenience, but still allow a poorly resourced person to eat well. Typically, there is an inverse relationship between time and money. The more money you have, the less time is available, and vice-versa. It’s probably more accurate to say that the more money you have then the more your time is worth. Whatever your situation, decide how you want to work it out.

Hey, if you’re a real estate mogul you can play it the other way as well. Hire a personal chef to purchase and cook your food for you. Or send your aging trophy wife/husband to cooking school. They’ve got to pull their weight one way or another, right?

The 1% of you out there with all the money, enjoy it. Eat like a king and outsource the drudgery. But the rest of us are going to have to work at it a bit.

Categories: Anti inflammatory diet, Cooking, Paleo Diet Basics, The Liberty Garden


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. says

    I can’t believe you mentioned Hot Pockets without linking this video:

    Besides, Hot Pockets (and other prepared foods) aren’t cheap. $2 gets you 280-380 calories, according to this calorie chart:

    $2 will get you a dozen conventional eggs (840 calories), or a half-dozen hippie eggs (420 calories).
    It’ll get you over 2/3 pound of conventional hamburger (850 calories) or perhaps 1/3 pound of grass-fed hamburger (425 calories).

    And so on.

    JS –

        • Amy Kubal says

          Last week our local grocery store had a special – a dozen eggs for $0.88!! They weren’t the ‘good eggs’ – but $0.88!!! You need to move Steph!! :)

          • Drey says

            I couldn’t help responding that it’s best when you live in the country. We have people bring their extra eggs to church and they’re free pastured eggs from your neighbor! Just trade out egg cartons :)

  2. Adam Pockran says

    So you can make easy and healthy food, easy and cheap food, but you can’t make food that’s easy, healthy and cheap? Not sure I agree with that. You’re right that people need to stop making excuses though.

  3. Michal Bohumel says

    Matt, I really appreciate your thoughts. I am at the same state of mind and agree with you. If you want a quality life often you have to spend some time, effort, (money). Afterwards take the fruit of your labor. I cook my meals ahead and enjoy the long term benefits.

  4. says

    As a software developer I chuckled a bit at the parallel with developing a product; it is so true. I’ve known this for years and have used the same analogy many times. Funnier is that for years I applied the same logic to my nutrition (fast and cheap). End product I guess was roughly the same. Sorta gives you a sense of humility I guess.

  5. Martín Raúl Villalba says

    This may be true when it comes to software development, but not necessarily so for nutrition/paleo. At least not for me.

    Take eggs for example: very nutritious, dirt cheap, very easy to make, and they are very space-efficient to cook. I usually make them one dozen at a time.

    Since recently, as prices continue to rise on, well, everything (Argentina) I’ve noticed the following: I can eat a week worth of Paleo, with about 50% of my food being high quality grass-fed meat of various kinds and fish for $X, and my mother who eats a pseudo-SAD diet spends slightly less than I do per week while eating a lot less. So paleo is cheap/the cheapest alternative.

    As for cooking the stuff, it really takes no more than 10 minutes of my time to prepare several meals and leave them cooking. That makes paleo easy AND fast.

    In other words, Paleo can, and in many cases IS the cheaper, easier, and faster way.


  6. says

    Matt – great post. I’m new to Paleo and boy am I working it in the kitchen at the moment – I’ve got leftover boxes, pots and pans coming out of my ears! But the food is good, I’m enjoying cooking a lot more now and need to still get into cooking cheap meats, and growing my own veg. Square foot gardening seems to be where it’s at and I’m looking forward to being able to grow my own peppers and expensive veg in my backyard. Cheers

  7. says

    Eating healthy is cheap!
    You might pay more for food, even though I don’t think so, but in the long run you spare yourself from visits to the doctors, pills, pain, and other inconveniences.
    Yes, it might take some time to cook a meal, but it’s worth it. You prepare it just how you like it and savor it in the comfort of your own home.

    • Amy B. says

      I’ve been thinking about this lately, because I like to use this argument, myself. I’ve heard it said this way: “Pay the farmer now, or pay the doctor later.” I tend to agree, BUT…in thinking about the economics of health care these days, I’m not so sure it works this way anymore.

      I am NOT an expert in this stuff, so if I’m dead wrong here, someone please chime in and help me understand.

      The way I see it, unless you’re uninsured, your health care costs *don’t* generally reflect your state of health. If you have decent insurance, you could be on a hundred prescriptions and have to see five different doctors every month and even though yes, you might have some nominal copays, your costs aren’t all that astronomical. There *isn’t* much of a financial incentive to be proactive about health for the well-insured. It’s the people who would have to pay out of pocket for every doctor visit and every bottle of pills who really need to focus on preventive care.

      The long-term incentive for people to take care of themselves might not be as much financial as it is a quality of life issue. If you want to be able to get up out of a chair under your own power when you’re 80, or not suffer the side effects of statin drugs (muscle pain, memory loss, etc), or be able to go dancing, or heck, even just carry some heavy grocery bags from the car to your kitchen or a load of laundry up from the basement, then yes, there are a whole lot of reasons to focus on food quality. (Unfortunately, these don’t always seem as immediate when you’re, say, 30 years old and staring the office donuts in the face.)

      Sorry for the mini-rant. I guess I’m just getting frustrated because I see some of my income essentially go out the window every month for heath insurance that I very rarely use. For the whopping annual OBGYN and dental appts, I could pay out of pocket and spend WAY less than I’m currently spending on insurance. Mostly, I have the insurance not to cover the zillions of drugs I’m on (‘cuz I’m not on any) or the slew of docs I see on a regular basis (“ain’t none”), but for the catastrophic freak accident — to cover the ambulance and hospital in case I get hit by a bus, y’know?

      People would have a much bigger monetary incentive to get well and focus on preventive maintenance (diet, sleep, stress mgmt) if their insurance premiums and copays were on a sliding scale based on how much of the “system” they needed to use. (Seeing a ton of docs and being a drain on the system? You pay more.) I do realize this would be difficult, because there will always be exceptional cases — like people with congenital conditions and people in freak accidents who need a ton of care for the long haul. But there’s got to be something better than what’s going on now.

      I can see that money issues do play a role more for OTC stuff — antacids, aspirin, cold meds, etc., and maybe that’s where some of that argument holds a little more water. I’ve been low-carb/quality whole foods for about 5 years and in all that time, I think I’ve had one cold, if that, and one headache, which was simply from lack of sleep. And that’s despite riding the DC metro every day for a big chunk of that time, surrounded by people coughing and sneezing up God-knows-what, plus an office job where I see almost no sunlight all winter. Maybe I’m just lucky, but personally, I fully attribute my health to my diet and lifestyle. I can’t remember the last time I bought any type of OTC meds, but I know plenty of people *younger* than me whose medicine cabinets are so full they could pass for a CVS.

      (And btw, I agree with you that quality food cooking does not have to cost more. Like Robb’s always saying — do the best you can. If you can’t afford all organic, grass-fed, that’s not a reason to eat bagels and margarine. That’s a reason to find an Asian supermarket, where they tend to have a stunning array of fresh meat and produce SUPER CHEAP. Is it organic? No, but it sure beats Wheaties and skim milk. You don’t have to be a food saint to “qualify” to use the term Paleo for the way you eat.)

      • ket says

        Like you, I have insurance only for a catastrophic emergency. My husband and I pay just about $400 a month for both of us for a $5000 deductible. Neither of us has seen a doctor in years. Neither of us take any prescription meds. He did take otc prilosec until becoming primal, but hasn’t had any in ages and ages. We’re in our late 30s/early 40s and get plenty of outdoor time, eat primally, sleep well and exercise moderately. It isn’t that hard, is it? All in all, I think we do spend less money because we rarely eat out and I’ve found a lot of joy in discovering new recipes and new foods –at least to me–organ meats used to elicit an ewwwww from me. I know so many people who spend way more money on their prescriptions per month than I do on food. It makes me kind of sad, really.

  8. JMH says

    *grin* That darned triangle sure shows up a lot, eh?
    As a student, the sides are labelled “Grades, Sleep, and Social Life”.

    I’m also not sure I agree with your sides though… Maybe easy, quick and healthy? Because recipes that are easy and healthy inevitably take more time, slow cooked or something. Throw it in a pot and walk away. Quick and healthy will need more babysitting.
    Paleo is only expensive because it’s not how we were taught to cook. So, like any new skill, you’re clumsy at it at first. There’s a lot of waste. But once you get the hang of it, even with grassfed, it’s just as cheap if not cheaper. Convenience “food” isn’t as cheap as it looks like or people think it is. If you compare receipts for a month, you’ll get disabused of it real quick. Especially if you take coupons out of the equation.

    • Jonathan Grandi says

      “So, like any new skill, you’re clumsy at it at first. There’s a lot of waste. But once you get the hang of it, even with grassfed, it’s just as cheap if not cheaper.”

      Well said. The increased skill and experience with the “Fab Five” foods (Vegetables, meat, fruit, nuts, and seeds) will let us get closer and closer to fast, cheap, and good.

  9. Gene says

    Just zapped a Sweet Potato in the microwave, lubricated with Kerry Gold and tossed a can of tuna over it. A splash of balsamic and it’s actually quite tasty. Add greens ad libitum. Total cost = maybe £2.00, of which the tuna is the most expensive bit. Total prep time = 5 minutes.

  10. Cindy West says

    I hadn’t really thought about it that way but you got me thinking. I don’t believe eating paleo is expensive, if you think about all the crap your NOT buying I believe it evens out.

    My husband & I hunt each year for the soul purpose of putting meat in the freezer. Yes, the processing costs come money but only because we don’t take the time to do it ourselves though we done it before. Plus that’s a small price for pay for NATURAL FREE RANGE venison & pork….YUM!!! We also have a local farmers market in which to buy our seasonal veggies & fruit; the price is well worth the freshness & quality.

    I think I’m the queen of easy; most meals I fix take about 30 minutes…yes, that’s from scratch and using meat & veggies. I don’t complicate things by following a receipe; I just throw things together. It’s meat & veggies…how complicated can it be…really…think about it.

  11. says

    Matt, great post – super great analogy. Like every family out there just making it month after month you do have to get organized and prepare. The easiest fall back is just grab and go food but ultimately your health suffers and the effects are felt immediately. I don’t stress too much about not having Paleo 100% of the time. I do my very best for myself and the kids and it just works out. Planning is the key though. Thanks!

  12. Alec says

    Let’s think about time spent in other areas as well.

    You can argue that a good part of the paleo package is exercise. A critical part of exercise is proper diet. You may find yourself inadequately fueled if you cut corners, and will spend more time and effort training because of this.

    Let’s think about immune system health as well. In all likelihood, you may be spending time fighting colds all year without the right lifestyle practices. You also might be spending money on medicines to treat that, and if it’s not you, it might be your kids.

    Both of these will leave you more fatigued and/or stressed. In turn, nobody can predict what effects -that- will have on performance at work, school, etc.

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