Getting meals on the table day-in and day-out isn't easy. We are busy. We are tired. We are overwhelmed by the thought of cooking every night. What I see so often in my new clients and in those who find cooking a burden is that food or even eating is a second thought; it's one of those obligatory things they slap together or "have to deal with" every day among all the priorities of their life. Sound familiar?
Yet, there are costs to this strategy: 1.) It's really expensive to eat out or buy prepared foods every day. 2.) Scarfing down food, skipping meals or eating late is really stressful on your digestion and slows down your metabolism. 3.) Relying on prepared/processed foods or take-out can contribute to health complications like weight gain, diabetes, and, more likely than not, the sluggishness you feel when you wake-up. Cooking for yourself gives you control over what you are eating, saves you a few dimes, and makes you feel better almost immediately.
Changing your eating habits and your relationship to cooking is easier than you think. It's all about two sweet little words: "Meal Planning." I know, I know. It's like landing in your grandmother's home-ec class. Get over it! By thinking ahead, shifting a few priorities, and setting aside a few hours, you can change your dietary game for good!
Here are my top 7 strategies for conquering meal planning . . .
- Own 2-3 great one-pot meals that you love. As much as you need diversity your diet, time is tight and learning new recipes each week can be daunting. The key to a great, nutritionally balanced one-pot meal is getting the macronutrients balanced. The recipe should have a source of protein, carb (in the form of a vegeable or whole grain), and a fat. Carbs in this case are anything that isn't purely protein or fat - think vegetable or whole grain. Some good examples include:
- Leftovers are golden. When cooking from scratch each night isn't practical and eating out each night ins't on the table, you have to love left overs. But let's stop with the stigma many of you have. Leftovers can be classified as food that you have prepped as components of meals (pot of rice, roasted chicken, baked sweet potato, steamed greens, etc.) or they can be one of your fave one-pots. Get used to this routine: when you cook, you'll never cook for one serving/one meal. Always double up or if you cook for one, make a normal serving.
- Designate a shopping day and a time slot. In other words, make the time to go to the grocery store or make a grocery order from Fresh Direct, Good Eggs, Amazon, or your local delivery service just as you would schedule your gym time, massage, yoga class, or doctor's appointments. For example, this could mean that Sunday mornings are your time to shop. Making shopping a priority ensures food is in the fridge. Food in the fridge is one step closer to making good food choices.
- Set aside time to cook. This goes without saying at this point, but you'll need to set aside the time to actually get cooking done. Don't be too advantageous. Start out slow - pick one or two recipes and get those in your fridge or even packed as servings for the week. You'll feel the difference in your wallet and your energy immediately! (Note: As you begin to build your pantry with herbs/spices, oils, and ingredients you need to prepare meals the up front costs can be high. But once you've made the investment, your shopping bill will begin to shrink, i.e. you won't be buying rosemary every week!)
- When short on time, get the prep out of the way. Let's say you've gone shopping or your order has been delivered, but you don't have a recipe or the time to full prepare a whole meal. Take 30 minutes to wash, trim and chop up any hearty greens like kale or collards. Wash and dry/spin lettuce (water is their death!). Chop up a few onions - they will keep for a week. Slice a few apples for easy snacks. Quarter a grapefruit. Bag up grapes or nuts for the office. Marinate some chicken, etc. When early meal prep steps are done, your time in the kitchen is shorter when it counts.
- Keep a list on the fridge. Whether it's a dry erase board or a magnetized note pad on your fridge, when you want something or run out WRITE IT DOWN! By the time you are running to do your shopping, the list is ready!
- It begins with baby steps. Trust me. I'm not making these recommendations without having the experience of working full time and juggling a busy life. Realism is important here. So often I see clients shop with the best intentions, but food goes to waste because they aren't structuring the rest of the process into their schedule. If eating out every meal is your M.O., then a huge change could just be eating breakfast at home or making your own salads for work. For others of you, just getting food in the house and some prep done will be a huge accomplishment. Choose easy foods to consume with minimal prep (hummus and veggies, cheese and apple, salads, canned tuna, a roasted chicken from the store, frozen veggies, etc.) so you don't waste what you purchased when you can't cook. You can do this!!
Do you have some great tips to add to this list? How do you navigate your work week around meals? What's going to be your first baby step? Share your comments with me below . . .
Also, I teach this stuff and would love to come to your house, to your office or to your community to support better meal planning and cooking strategies. Check out what's possible here and let me know how I can help you!