Meal prep: something I never saw myself doing a few years ago. Or even just last fall.

As I was running around between classes, I hardly had the time to cook or prepare food. I would bike to class with protein bars and bananas in tow and see peers all around me with their bright and shiny plastic cartons full of whatever delicious veggie-mishmash they had brought from home.

Meanwhile, I would hide in the front row of the lecture hall, glancing back and forth between the lecture slides and my 20-gram protein bar.

Martha Stewart, I was not.

So, last winter I decided to get my life together and become the personal housewife I knew I could be. Now, I wasn’t going to go the extent of trying to knit myself a cute apron or anything. No — but I was going to prepare my lunches and pack them for the next day every night to have them ready to go.

Sam Rankin / Daily Nexus

Boy, did I feel great!

After a short time, I felt like I could start my own cooking channel. I would begin with my pan laid out, cooking spray and olive oil in hand. I would pour/spray that stuff on, throw in a bunch of spinach and sauté it in the pan with a teaspoon of black pepper.

When that was done, I would pile it into my shiny, red meal carton and top it off with strips of Tofurkey deli slices, chopped slices of cheddar cheese and Trader Joe’s Green Goddess salad dressing. Lastly, I would add in some homemade breadcrumbs.

Such was my routine, which I would then adapt in order to take other similarly complex, self-made recipes out for a spin.

However, as time went on I came to an awakening: While the Martha Stewart in me was trying to flaunt her stuff, the Julia Child part of me was actually the one guiding my meal prep ship, which was comedically sad and sinking fast.

I hadn’t realized it when watching episodes of these amazing women flexing their cooking muscles, but cooking takes time.

There would be times when I would whizz through whatever I was making and come out of it feeling like the glorious, wannabe YouTube star of my dreams. However, there were other days where one half hour meal might take twice as long, seeing as recipes don’t account for you spilling (and re-spilling) milk and running around like a headless chicken looking for a substitute because you’ve discovered that the sautéed sweet potatoes you’ve been storing in the cabinet have gone moldy; nor does it account for washing and rinsing the glorious heaps of metal utensils and cookware that you’ve been playing with for the past 40 minutes.

So I, like my inner Julia would have wanted, spilled, spattered, burnt, bruised, crushed and discarded multiple foods that I worked with. I was not the picture perfect college cook that I thought myself to be.

I hadn’t realized it when watching episodes of these amazing women flexing their cooking muscles, but cooking takes time.

As college students, we all struggle with the concept of perfectionism. For women, I think this comes particularly from feeling like we must live up to the expectation that we have it all together — the image of the seemingly perfect caregiver, fitness model, clothing stylist, cleaning machine and personal chef all rolled into one. We’re all trying to fulfill some idealized vision of what we could be. At times, it can be overwhelming. In my case, I focused on being the primed-up, personalized chef by dabbling in meal prep activities.

Don’t get me wrong, I will admit that sometimes it is good to do these things. Like if you want to try out knitting yourself a new beanie, or try out a yoga routine or give that delicious new recipe a go. Go for it!

But I would acknowledge that the weight of these expectations is oftentimes overwhelming. And sometimes we forget to take a step back and realize that living with confidence, purpose and drive comes from attitude, not aptitude. The way you carry yourself matters so much more than appearing to have everything all neat, tidy and clean on the surface. When we display such images, others see only the results and not the real life work or struggles we undergo.

Realizing this, I have decided to cut myself some slack. I still meal prep often, if not most of the time, but there are other times when I go back to tossing a piece of fruit and a few snacks into a bag and heading out with a smile on my face. I know that I am a college student and have a busy life. However, I also know how to sustain myself by making the right choices. What I have learned from my experience with meal prepping is that there is more than one version of what good choices are, and a healthy mental state is so much more important than being possessed with an overwhelming desire to live up to cultural ideals.

Heather Carr hopes that her fellow Gauchos will realize that there is more to life than being perfect.

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