I’m in reasonable shape. I save more than I spend. I have time for projects and fun. I’m usually in a good mood.

If I picked one secret to this success, it would be: food.

Everyone eats differently, but I found a strategy that I have kept for years that works well not only to keep me fed but also fuels the rest of my life.

Over 80% of my meals, I cook myself. There are some in the Bay Area, and more in even denser cities of New York and Hong Kong that eat every meal out. Cooking for myself means control over what I eat. I get to select nutrients, calories, portion size, and cost.

I sympathize: cooking is laborious, and the results are not always tasty. My strategy is to cook a meal with four dishes for 4-6 people. I usually spend two hours in the kitchen to prepare these four dishes. Then, I eat the same meal for the following 3-5 nights. While at work, I can wax poetically about the four-course dinner waiting back at home for me, for example a veggie black bean burger with sharp cheddar and pickles, garlic green beans, potato salad with goat cheese and roasted red peppers, and a raspberry pot au feu for dessert. This four-course meal may be extravagant and perhaps tiresome after many nights in a row, but the convenience and quality justify the effort.

Almost all of my meals are vegetarian. Over decades, I realized that the part of the meal I liked least was the meat. I enjoyed the taste, but not the chewy, gummy, meaty part of meat that got stranger as the meals aged in the refrigerator. I do make chicken sandwiches, calzones with sausage, or salmon gravlox, but rarely.

Vegetarian does not means forcing a meal with tofu, tempeh, or seitan. For years, I ate too much bad tofu in co-operative housing. Now I just cut out the meat, include a protein source like beans, and don’t think too much of the overall balance of the meal.

One dish is often a dessert. Two of the four dishes are often vegetables, and the remaining dish is likely a starch with more vegetables. I eat a lot of vegetables.

I finish meals happily full and actually energetic. My cooking wakes me up, not puts me to sleep. Towards bed time, I may start feeling hungry again, but the relative emptiness helps me tire. I wake in the morning sometimes ravenous, but the first meal is intended anyway to break the fast.

I don’t keep snacks in the house. I wouldn’t know what to do with them. I eat dinner and that should be enough for the rest of the evening.

Since I eat mostly vegetables, I certainly don’t put on weight. Furthermore, my cooking reduces my intake of fats and oils. I do use butter in quantity, but I don’t use the whole stick as some restaurant might to beef up flavors. Instead, I take in enough calories in the form of delightful beer.

Eating out is definitely social in groups, the universal breaking of bread. I do want to sample so many of San Francisco’s excellent restaurants. Nonetheless, dinner is expensive, easily $40 or more. I have a rule: no eating out alone. Pick a restaurant and a night; make the meal the focus of the occasion and not just a stop on the way to another destination.

Cooking cuts costs. I don’t buy packaged foods much. Most everything I bring home comes from a bulk bin or the produce section. I have fallen in love with San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery.

Everyone has their own approach to food. I’ve developed a system that works quite well for me to improve my health, save some money, keep me happy, and satisfy me. I gotta run; Rainbow is having a sale on kale.