You’ve probably been there before. You begin with every intention to lead a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising and then life gets in the way. The kids get sick, or you have to work late to meet an unexpected deadline, or a friend calls and needs help. Whatever the reason is, it often doesn’t take much to derail you from your eating plan and you suddenly fall into the trap of eating convenience foods on the run rather than the healthy meals you had planned.
One of the primary strategies to staying on track is planning ahead. This can mean having meals prepared, or ingredients ready to put together something quick. Here are some tips to making that happen on a regular basis so that eating health becomes more of a habit and a priority. Many of these you’ve heard before, but I find that it’s always nice to be re-inspired because it gives me a renewed sense of empowerment along with the reminder that it is possible to live a healthy life even in the midst of chaos. The key here is that if you've decided to make it a priority, you'll take a no excuses approach and do it.
Plan ahead and have a list. Have you ever just walked into the grocery store without a plan and spent way too much time trying to decide what you want and need? I have for sure and it’s always a waste of time and often money. To save both, make a list and stick to it. This way, you can be in and out in no time and won’t be as tempted by impulse purchases that can be costly and unhealthy (any vegetable would be excluded from these categories : ).
Block out time to cook and prepare for the week. This is often a Sunday morning or afternoon when it may be easier to spend several hours in the kitchen. Plan a few dishes that can be cooked and then refrigerated for several days, or split and frozen for a few meals. Good ideas include soups, stews, grain dishes, quiches or frittatas, and cold salads.
Pre-cut veggies for later use. Whether you’ll be making a stir-fry for Monday’s dinner, making salads for lunch, adding vegetables to your morning eggs, juicing during the week, or simply want healthy snacks within reach, having a supply of vegetables washed, peeled, and chopped saves a tremendous amount of time. And adding vegetables to anything is always a positive move towards more vibrant health.
To keep them fresh so that they give you the most flavor and nutritional value, store them separately in air-tight containers and pull them out of the fridge on demand. Chopped red peppers, carrots, and cucumbers make great snacks, either alone or dipped in hummus, guacamole, or salsa, and having them ready to go will make it less likely that you’ll want to grab a bag of tortilla chips.
Make batter ahead of time. If your family likes pancakes or waffles in the morning, prepare your own homemade batters the day before and store them in the fridge. Then prepare what is needed and save the rest. In fact, you can even premix the batter’s dry ingredients and store them in an airtight container in the cabinet so that making the batter takes even less time. Here’s a recipe that I like to use frequently. The nice thing about making your own is that you can control the ingredients since many of the store-bought mixes contain bleached, white flours, trans fats, aluminum, and preservatives.
Prepare lunch while making dinner. If while I’m preparing dinner I know I’ll need lunch for the next day, I will automatically get it ready as I’m cooking dinner. This could mean a piece of salmon from dinner goes into a salad for the next day, or setting aside some quinoa pilaf in a separate bowl, or boiling a couple extra eggs. If you’re already in the kitchen, why not get it all done at once?
When I was commuting to Boston two days per week, I would plan and pack two days worth of food to take with me so that I wouldn’t have to buy less than healthy meals while away. It saved me time and money on the road and when I got home after two very long days, I didn’t miss a beat because my diet kept me strong and energized.
Have healthy snacks available. If you’re someone who likes to have your afternoon snack while at work, rather than resort to the nearest vending machine, cafeteria, or coffee shop, bring healthy treats. These can include fruit, home-made trail mix made with dried fruit, nuts, and seeds, a handful of almonds, or veggies. Yesterday, I made these delicious soaked and seasoned sunflower and pumpkin seeds. A handful of these will satisfy any hunger and keep you energized until dinner.
Being prepared ahead of time takes the guess-work out of eating. If you have healthy food ready, the temptation to grab something unhealthy is minimized. This in itself will save you time, money, and energy, since your home-prepared foods will more likely feed your body what it really needs to function at its best and you’ll be teaching your children important eating habits early on. The more you get into this habit, the more you will appreciate its value and realize the power that your diet has over your performance and well-being. It won't take long for you to see that the time you take to prepare healthy, whole-food meals is time well spent and you won’t want it any other way.