If you are someone who enjoys, or at the very least is able, to plan and prepare their meals for the week ahead of time, then I salute you! But, if you are like me, meal prep is not, and likely will never be, part of your wellness journey. Personally, planning my meals ahead of time feels too restrictive and truthfully a little boring. But not knowing what you will eat all day everyday does not have to mean trips to the vending machine or delivery of junk food to your desk. Below are some of the strategies I used to keep my nutrition on track whether I’m working 12-hour days, spending endless hours on the couch, or running from event to event.
Stock healthy foods. Keep healthy, non-perishable food items on hand even if you do not know when you will eat them. This may not be the cleanest way to eat, but, by cutting out the trip to the grocery store, it’s more likely you can talk yourself into cooking dinner rather than opting for take-out.
Some examples of healthy items I keep in the apartment are quick-cooking brown rice, Banza chickpea pasta, frozen edamame, chickpeas and other vegetables, frozen cauliflower rice, canned beans and stir fry vegetables (opt for low sodium when available). I also keep on hand some perishable vegetables that tend to last longer than others (e.g., carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, Brussels sprouts).
Simple cooking. Master one or two easy cooking techniques that you can call upon in a pinch. Personally, I am a huge fan of stir-fry because you can throw just about any vegetable into the pan with some soy sauce and other flavorings and have dinner in minutes. I also like roasting winter vegetables because even if I get home late, I can quickly cut and season vegetables and toss them in the oven, and by the time I’m out of the shower (and nearly out of patience), dinner is almost done.
Healthy restaurants. Choose two or three healthy restaurants that you can order from when there just isn’t time to cook but you want to keep your nutrition on track. I have a Thai restaurant that I order clear vegetable soup and brown rice from when I’m too tired or hungry or lazy to think. Having the answer ahead of time will help stave off cravings or making poor choices when you are short on time or patience.
Snacks. Pack snacks (in your bag or desk) to stave off impulsive decisions or, even worse, hanger! My defaults are an apple, a handful of nuts, or a granola bar (just try to get ones with more protein or fiber than sugar).
Indulge within reason. Allow yourself to eat your favorites (ice cream anyone?), but don’t stock up on these items during your regular weekly food shop. Instead, tell yourself that if you crave a guilty pleasure, you’ll just go to the store and buy it then. I have found this approach reduces the natural instinct to want what you can't have, while also limiting the amount of times I allow myself to indulge (because if it's cold and raining I really have to want that ice cream to go get it).
Start now. Don’t wait for Monday! I often hear people saying they’ll start their diet on Monday, or after the holidays, or some other designated period. There’s no reason you cannot start with your next meal, or even your next snack. If you get in the habit of rebounding quickly from indulgent meals, eating more healthily will become the norm and comfort meals more the occasion.