When I prescribe diet changes to my patients, the most common objection I get is that their busy schedule is not conducive to healthy eating choices. As a busy professional I can understand how eating healthy might feel like an enormous burden and can be left on the curb due to the numerous demands of life. While eating healthy on a time budget does require a little fore-thought, it can be a whole lot easier than you think.
A small investment of time pays off by keeping you healthy, eating well and feeling your best. Ultimately, it makes life easier. Even the simple strategy of cooking once and eating twice by making more than you need and enjoying leftovers is effective in promoting better nutrition on a daily basis.
Waiting to decide what to eat until just before you leave for work or just after you get home in the evening may result in you not have everything you need to put a meal together. Cooking your own food can become a revolutionary act that could, possibly, save your life, or at least enhance it substantially
Being unprepared in the face of hunger is a sure-fire way to sabotage your efforts to stick to a nutritional program. In this 'food emergency' what is available, quick and easy is not the most nourishing option for you or your body.
With a little strategy and some minimal planning, you can ensure those emergencies are avoided entirely. Here are some ideas I share with my patients to support them in maintaining consistently healthy meals even when schedules are at their tightest.
1. Make Lists.
Take some time one day every week to sit down and make a shopping list. Then visit the grocery store and purchase all of the ingredients for those recipes in advance. Keeping a list and sticking to it saves time, money, and unhealthy food from 'appearing' in your shopping cart. It is also wise to never go to the grocery store hungry!
2. Frozen is Your Friend.
Frozen vegetables (preferably organic) become a real timesaver, especially if you already have some in your freezer and can avoid the need for last-minute grocery store stops. The same goes for frozen grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, and organic berries. Shopping at warehouse stores can become a real time- and money-saver. Buy the very best quality you can find that fits your budget. If you have the freezer space, you can take advantage of sales and coupons and stock up for weeks or even months with these essentials.
If the time for chopping has no place in your tight agenda, choose fresh pre-washed organic leafy greens, like spinach, kale, arugula, and even Romaine. Pre-cut produce is also available at many markets, which drastically reduces kitchen work. They might be a bit more expensive, but if you are short on time they are well worth it to get some fresh produce into your meal.
4. Use Canned.
Carefully chosen canned and jarred foods, such as vegetable or chicken stocks, sardines, wild Alaskan salmon, artichokes, and roasted red peppers, make it easy to toss together last-minute meals. I recommend choosing lower-sodium versions and read labels carefully to be sure that gluten, dairy, sugars, and other unwanted ingredients not inadvertently sneaking into your food. Whenever possible, BPA free cans are best.
5. Schedule Your Prep Time.
Once you have a well-stocked kitchen, it is time to prepare for the days ahead. Choose two days during the week (I find that Sunday and Wednesday generally work best) when you are going to spend a few extra hours in the kitchen, cooking and preparing as much as you can in advance. That means chopping your vegetables, making a few sauces and marinades, and cooking any whole grains you want to eat in advance. Focus on making it a fun process rather than a chore. Get your children and your spouse involved, create some great conversation.
6. Progress Not Perfection.
Even when you do your best, there will always be days where everything falls apart and preparing something as simple as a salad topped with pre-cooked wild salmon becomes impossible. You have learned to be prepared and will have nuts, seeds, and other healthy snacks available and easy to grab to ensure by the time dinner comes you are not ravenous.
Many grocery stores now have hot bars with healthy selections. Stopping by your local market on your way home and picking up a rotisserie chicken along with sautéed pre-cooked vegetables makes a simple 'fast food' meal without the processed grains, sugar, sodium and damaged fats found in many a drive-through. Always do the best you can under the circumstances rather than aim for perfection or an 'all or nothing' approach. Good enough right now is always your best option.
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