By Sam Mitchell, CSCS, PN1
Twenty-four hours. That is all you will ever get. Each day starts anew and runs for twenty-four hours before it makes way for the following day. How do you spend that time is up to you. Eating healthy seems daunting when we have so many other demands on our time. It is important that we make eating healthy a priority – it does pay off in the long run! If this means spending a little extra time cooking, preparing, or researching, then we should make time for those activities so that we can enjoy the benefits like feeling better, increased energy, and a longer life (great side effect!).
Yes, changing your diet will take more time then you are used to. This is true of breaking any routine. The more you do it, the more efficient you will get at it and the less time it will take you. The best advice I can give is to take the time now, it doesn’t get any easier later. Since I know time is of the utmost importance to all of us, here are my three keys to saving time when eating healthy.
Have a Plan
Flying by the seat of your pants makes it tough to eat healthy, especially if eating healthy is a new adventure. Planning out meals in advance makes it faster when grocery shopping as well as cooking your meals. Start with planning a handful of meals, not necessarily the entire week. Choose a couple of meals and days where you will know what you are going to eat and when. Planning out meals builds your grocery list for you and makes grocery shopping easier and faster. If you know in advance that you’ll be going out to eat, look up the menu and pick a healthy option. Keep increasing the number of meals you plan out until you know what you’re going to eat and when 80-90% of the time. Making a conscious effort to have a plan for your eating will help you stay on your healthy eating plan and save you time in the long run.
We have all heard of the infamous meal prep. And you’re probably thinking, “If I don’t have enough time to eat healthy how could I possibly have enough time to meal prep?!” The truth of the matter is yes, meal prep does take time. But, it will save you more time throughout the week and, if you already have your meals prepared, it makes it easier to stay on track. There are two meal prep “options”. The first is the “Sunday” meal prep, when you take time on one day (it doesn’t have to be Sunday) and prepare meals for the whole week.
A second option would be the “breakfast” approach. In this option, you would prepare healthy food for the whole day (or part of the day) as you are making yourself breakfast. Kind of a throwback to the TV mom that would prepare the packed lunch for the kids to take to school while also cooking them breakfast. Not everyone has the time to spend it cooking in the morning, so keep in mind the “breakfast” approach can be applied at any time of day. If you have more time at night, prepare meals (breakfast and lunch) at night while you are cooking dinner.
If you still don’t think you have time to do these then there is one more strategy. The simplest and most basic way to meal prep is to cook extra dinner. Many people may have a plan for breakfast and dinner. But when it comes to lunch, it’s a free-for-all, subject to cravings and poor choices made for the sake of convenience. We can solve the issue of having to prepare a separate lunch by just adding more ingredients to dinner. Make extra dinner, save the leftovers, and enjoy the delicious and healthy meal again the next day for lunch. Simple and easy and takes no additional time. If you need more variety, just season the leftover portion differently as you prepare it.
With meal prep, your basic goal is to decrease total time spent cooking by preparing multiple meals at once. How this is achieved doesn’t really matter. Try these strategies or create your own. No one knows the demands on your time and schedule better than you do.
Life is hard. You are busy. Let’s not make it any more difficult. Don’t overcomplicate your diet. Start small and simplify your eating. Use fewer ingredients. Don’t try to make a new recipe every day of the month. Find 4-5 recipes you want to be able to make well and keep making them over and over until you don’t need the recipe anymore. Add a new one to your arsenal every few weeks. Use different seasonings or different preparation methods to breathe new life into old recipes.
This will save you time in the long run if you know how to cook and prepare food without the need of a recipe. Limiting your food choices as you re-learn and focus on healthy eating is a great way to become a proficient preparer of healthy meals. For a great guide on simplifying your eating, check out this awesome infographic from Precision Nutrition!
When you start to do anything for the first time it will be hard. You will stumble through your first couple attempts. The more you do a task, the more proficient you become at it and the less time it will take. So do yourself a favor, make the commitment! Tell yourself “I do have the time to prepare healthy meals” and then make it happen. I believe in you!