Have you been following my posts on real food barriers and how to tackle them? If not, check out this post on examining and adjusting your budget. The second barrier I addressed was how to slowly incorporate real foods one at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Today we will discuss the third barrier people often face when adapting a real food lifestyle:
"I want to eat better and I know what I need to do, but I just don't have the time."
Let's get something straight, no one has time to cook. Lucky for you, cooking doesn't have much to do with time. It has everything to do with priorities. You will always make time for something that is important to you. If your health, energy, and weight management are of value, then you should (and can) find time to cook.
I will agree that it is draining to cook everyday. I love to cook and even I hate to come home from a long day and need to make dinner. It requires daily planning, energy, and numerous shopping trips. When you put yourself in this position Monday through Friday take-out and convenience foods become very tempting. How can we tackle this situation and set ourselves up for success?
We can meal prep! Meal prep is NOT just for body builders. Many people associate meal prep with the image of a ripped man/woman filling Tupperware containers with bland chicken, rice, and broccoli. Meal prep is not just for those working towards specific physique competitions and goals. Meal prep can work for everybody, including you!
Meal prep tip #1: focus on one meal
It probably seems overwhelming to think about cooking enough over one or two days to get you through the week. Just like everything else, it is important to take it one thing at a time. Focus on one meal and see how preparing that meal ahead of time helps you throughout the week.
Meal prep tip #2: protein
I consider protein to be the "base" of my meal that I build around. I find that when I do not have good sources of protein (fish, chicken, meatloaf, pork are some examples) available it's difficult to throw together a filling and nutritious meal. Think about it, you can sauté up some veggies in two to three minutes, but cooking chicken isn't as quick, especially when you're absolutely starving at 6:30pm. Having protein options ready means the hard part is done and you can build around it with the easy things, like vegetables or salad.
Meal prep tip #3: always have a backup plan
I always have some good quality canned fish (such as wild caught salmon or sardines) and frozen fish on hand in case I run low on protein towards the end of the week. Frozen fish can be quickly defrosted by running it under cold water. It can be helpful to purchase good quality cold cuts, free of nitrates/nitrites, to keep for a "food emergency". They can be rolled up for a quick lunch or packed as a snack.
Meal prep: Getting started
Want to start with breakfast? Try making an egg bake on Sunday so that you have breakfast all week. Want to start with lunch? Let's take a look at how to accomplish this...
Case Study: Meal prepping breakfast/lunch/both for the week
Aim: To cook food ahead of time so that breakfast is ready to eat every morning and foods are available to pack lunch.
Methods: Find recipes and pick foods. Try my egg bake recipe or hard boil eggs for breakfasts. For lunches try a simple chicken dish such as this one. Pick a vegetable to go with it, no recipe needed! This can be as easy as sautéing zucchini, steaming broccoli, or purchasing mix greens for salads. Don't forget, you will need some fruit to go along with your breakfast.
Once you have decided what to make, generate a food shopping list. Your list is your secret ingredient to a successful meal prep. Don't go to the grocery store or farmers market empty handed! It is too easy to be tempted by foods you didn't intend to buy and it is more likely that you will forget something! Make a list on your phone or write it down. You need a plan because you want to avoid going to the grocery store everyday! Next, food shop, Saturday afternoons and Sundays tend to be the best days for this.
Analysis: Determine when you will cook. You don't need to be in the kitchen non-stop. Make the most of your time. For instance, have something in the oven while you are making breakfast and prep veggies during football commercial breaks. You can always do some prep on Saturday too. And don't forget the slow cooker! The set it and forget it method is great for getting a large amount of food ready with little commitment.
Results: Food is cooked and on hand during the busy week. As you continue to meal prep each week you will get used to the appropriate amounts of food for you. It can take some trial and error to have enough leftovers without letting food go to waste.
Conclusion: Starting with just one or two simple recipes on your first meal prep day will be important. You can add more as you go. For example, adding a second meat or protein will mean dinner can be ready in minutes when you get home.
Meal prep tip #4: think outside the stovetop
The quickest way to prep large amounts of food is to move away from cooking in a skillet on the stove top. Try the slow cooker to cook up several pounds of meat. Make a casserole dish of some sort, such as a shepard's pie, to have easily re-heatable leftovers that already incorporate your protein and veggies!
- Cauliflower rice, to go with the chicken
- Egg bake
- Cinnamon acorn squash slices, a great snack with nut butter
I will also purchase greens, lettuce, avocado, fermented foods, and fruit to add to my meals.
Meal prep doesn't need to be crazy, complicated or too involved. It can be as easy as cooking yourself a good base of 2-3 pounds of chicken in the oven with salt, pepper, olive oil, or throwing something in the slow cooker. If you keep veggies on hand, you'll eat them. Find what works for you, but please, give it a try!