The Tale of Two Eaters

Let’s begin with story time where we meet two characters: Aye and Bee.

Meet Aye

Aye loves shopping at grocery stores. Walking from aisle to aisle, she derives pleasure from finding new treasures. A new brand of soy milk is on sale. There’s a blend of nut butters she’s never seen. Hey, that new bean-to-bar chocolate looks amazing.

An aisle of peanut butter. Recipe from

Aye happily visits grocery store spontaneously when she’s bored. That’s why the farmers market is a mecca for her, full of seasonal, fresh ingredients to sample. She loves to shop for deals and bargains, even if it means visiting multiple stores.

In any week, she may have visited 2-3 grocery stores. These extra trips are truly necessary for those unanticipated ingredients in a Saveur or New York Times recipe. No big deal. She’s only 7 minutes away from the closest grocery store.

San Mateo Community College Farmers Market on Saturday morning with people and vendors.Pin


Aye doesn’t do meal planning. What a bore. She opens the fridge door every night and cooks what she finds. It’s fun to be creative with food. Sometimes she throws out ingredients that have gone bad. She doesn’t bother with leftovers unless there’s too much food to finish.

She estimates that she spends 1 hour at each grocery store a week and 1 hour at the farmers market. Every night, she spends 10 minutes deciding what to eat based on rummaging in the fridge. Cooking takes about 20-30 minutes. Conservatively, she spends about 7 hours 30 minutes a week on cooking and shopping for groceries. But hey, it’s her hobby so why not?

Now, Meet Bee

Bee has a plan. She loves to cook and visit the grocery store. But she knows that with limited time, she has had to develop a habit of planning what she eats each week. She doesn’t leave the house without a shopping list. Not any ordinary list but a reverse shopping list based on her weekly food inventory.

Illustration of a Fridge well Organized with containers neatly stacked.Pin


Every dinner that Bee cooks has with leftovers for lunch. Despite being exhausted after a 9-5 day job, she quickly launches into cooking thanks to her trusty meal plan. While there might be excess trips to the grocery store once in a blue moon (nobody is perfect!), if an ingredient is missing, too bad. Either substitute or skip it. There are always frozen meals handy as backups.

The Difference

Sure, there’s less spontaneity in Bee’s life compared to Aye’s. No random trips to the grocery store to check out new ingredients. If Bee wants to try a new recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, the recipe is pre-planned (maybe even optimized). Usually, these cooking projects are saved for guests on the weekend.

Improvisation chart of different ingredients that can be substitutedPin

Bee has an efficient way of being. And there are no stressful moments of hitting the grocery store during rush hour traffic. C’mon Aye, what a mess.

Bee thinks she probably spends less time than Aye for grocery shopping and cooking thanks to meal planning. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume they spend the same amount of time.

Who would you rather be? Aye or Bee?

Aye sounds like she has a lot more fun! But it all comes at a cost of leaking mental energy.

Thanks to Kathy Sierra, we learned that mental energy, or cognitive resources as she calls it, is a limited resource.

Wooden barrel with words "Mental Energy" on sticker and tap showing leak.Pin

The funny thing about life is that we hear people say, “I don’t have enough time.”

Not true.

We all get 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Why do some people get more done and achieve more than others?

These two characters, Aye and Bee, are two extremes. Each of us has Aye and Bee inside battling to win.

Aye and Bee illustration contrasting the two characters in food planning, cooking, and grocery shopping approaches.Pin

What can we do to lean towards Bee’s habits while indulging as Aye when we can afford to spend the time and mental energy having fun at the farmers market and trying exotic new recipes?

Anna looking down chopping vegetables
About Anna Rider

Hi! I'm Anna, a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on with the help of my physicist and taste-testing husband, Alex. I have an insatiable appetite for noodles 🍜 and believe in "improv cooking".

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