Hey you!! Yeah…you…the one with his mouth open staring at his empty fridge battling with his hangry emotions…. you know who you are. This seems to be a common problem these days as I hear from my clients mainly because no one has time to shop for the week. What happens next is that a takeout menu/app is brought up and food is ordered before that door even closes. Why? Because it’s easy, fast and effortless. I’m guilty of it even being a fitness freak! I love pizza delivery as well as I can make it! But hey, it takes less time, I can hang out and watch TV and the cleanup is minimal…I mean, why wouldn’t you order takeout, get fast food, or dine out every night? Well, aside from aiding the obesity epidemic, we just don’t have the time to plan our meals. Who does? I mean between work, the gym, family and social obligations, who has the time to plan breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the week, shop for them, portion it all out and then of course actually execute them. The problem is that it’s exceptionally effective and the health benefits are beyond compare. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a meal out or order pizza, it just doesn’t need to be a default staple because your fridge is empty. I can’t tell you that I have all the answers, but I do have some tips for your meals through the day and how you can make adjustments and utilize leftovers to create better meal options through the week.
Let’s start…shall we?
This meal to me is the trickiest mainly because it varies the most in terms of time and lifestyle. On a food level, you aren’t going to precook eggs, sausage and toast and put it in a Tupperware container, that’s gross. I don’t think there is much worse than cold scrambled eggs that have been reheated. Ideally, sure, I would love to get up and eat an omelet packed with meat and veggies to start my day. The majority of us can’t. We grab bagels, doughnuts, meal replacement bars or drink a shake. Even cereal and milk requires effort! I get it. Here’s what you can do to break up your morning grab and go routine:
Hard Boiled Eggs – Cook up enough for 3 days, keep back in the egg carton unpeeled. They will last for 3 days. I don't recommend doing them for a week, they get smelly and funky, even if they still taste fine. We deserve better than that! Besides, how many boiled eggs do you really want to eat in a week? However, they really are the most versatile protein source you can eat.
I know they can get a bit dry, so try some fresh salsa and avocado. Too much work, still? Precut fresh tomatoes and add a splash of olive oil and a little black pepper or sea salt or whatever fresh herbs you like (which can also be pre-chopped).
Quality Grains – Again, make about a week’s worth on Sunday. This can be oatmeal, millet, quinoa or even brown rice (yes, keep this in mind for lunch/dinner). Your base is done. Lately, I have been making Breakfast Quinoa of the Week varieties. I add a protein such as ground sausage, spinach, tomatoes and feta and eat that a few days a week with the already boiled egg, or just on it's own! The best thing about making a quinoa dish is that it can be eaten cold or warm! No excuses needed!
Now, I do understand that these are just a few tips that I follow, but they are effective even for the pickiest of eaters. The main thing is to start with a blank canvas such as eggs or grain. The rest is a matter of personal taste and the effort you want to make. You can start by making enough for 3 days and the other 2 days grab a bagel,. Start with works best for you, because at the end of the day, you are in charge of what you start your day with and how.
YES! This is my favorite meal! Why? Because there is so much you can do and so much you can prep! However, it’s the most abused meal of the day too. Grabbing a sandwich and soup from Panera, at almost 700 calories at $10 or a #4 Value Meal at McDonald’s for at over 1,000 calories for $6. I mean, in terms of cost and time, I would go with the second option. Salads are a ruse for healthy options, specifically when dining out. I mean sure, they are a “healthier” option until you add the cured meat, some cheese and the dressing. Making them on your own, you can control what goes in them.
As easy as it is to “slip” at lunch, it’s that easy to prep for lunch. Here are some of my favorite tips.
Leftovers – This is really the easiest and most efficient meal prep for lunch. I mean how much effort does it take to put some leftover pasta in a separate container? There’s virtually no thought required and zero hassle, unless you are me and can never find the lid to the matching container...why can't I ever get this right?
Utilizing leftovers to create your lunch is also relatively easy. Use leftover protein and make a wrap with fresh veggies. If you making pasta for dinner, don’t mix all of it with the sauce. Keep aside a lunch portion, add some olive oil, lemon and parmesan and grill up some chicken breasts for the week on Sunday to add to your pasta. Not only did you use what you already have, you also get a different meal the next day!
Salads – Ok, really? I need to explain salad to you? Take a deep container, doesn’t have to be microwave safe…I tend to use mason jars...add kale, baby spinach and
even arugula. All these greens are sustainable and don’t bruise easy. The veggie world is your oyster! Skip cutting tomatoes and use the grape variety, use canned garbanzo beans or black beans, properly rinsed for added protein, add nuts or seeds for instant texture and even fruit!
Choose what you want and layer them, ending with a chosen protein. This is where it gets creative, you can bake or grill chicken and shred that on Monday. Tuesday, ask for a hamburger patty to go from any hotdog stand, add that on top before lunch. Wednesday, keep it veggie and add roasted vegetables that you can get as a side from the restaurant in the lobby of your building. Thursday, use the leftover ground turkey from dinner the night before. This way, Friday, you can skip the salad and eat a slice of pizza and feel zero guilt.
Now, this is just a plan I created for a 9 to 5 client that works in the loop. Other options for those with more diverse schedules, make a batch of chicken salad without mayo and dressing, and only dress it when you use it, keeps longer. Again, change out your veggies and other accouterments every day and you’ll never eat the same salad 2 days in a row, of course unless you want to
Lunch is not hard, but the easiest to shove aside. "I will eat a healthy dinner tonight, so I can grab the quick bite at lunch." Ask yourself though, did you say the same when you ate that doughnut this morning?
Here is where meal planning is two-fold. You can isolate the meals, day by day or think about how one dinner benefits you the next day. Dinner is also the one meal that takes the most effort and has the easiest alternative…takeout. The other issue with dinner is that people tend to eat like birds all day so that they can pig out at dinner, not a good idea for your calorie count. You shouldn’t be making up your calories in one meal, especially the last one you eat before you go to bed. I do also think it’s hard to plan because the meal also symbolizes unity as the one meal we all try and sit down and not have on the run. Given that, we tend to be more lax on healthier foods and often load up on starches such as potatoes, pasta and bread. I think the key with dinner planning is to use the main meat or vegetables as the planning tool. Also, when eating out or ordering in, there are plenty of options that don’t have to cost you everything you have accomplished for yourself that day.
Main Protein/Veggie – I think the key to meal planning for dinner is to have the main course picked out. Make sure that whatever you choose is protein and nutrient laden. For my carnivores, plan your meals around cuts of meat and alternate between red and white, and have at least one vegetable, if not more. My herbivores, make sure that you add beans/legumes or a protein packed grain to keep balance with the nutrients from vegetables. The healthier your main course is, the more inclined you will to create a healthier meal around it. Grilled steak screams grilled vegetables as fried chicken screams mashed potatoes and gravy…right?? I am also not against potatoes and carbs. However, carbs like farro and sweet potatoes are filling, better for you and still give you the fiber and nutrients your body still needs. Not all carbs are bad. Balance is key.
Planning your main dinner portion allows you to think about whether you want extra for lunch the next day by cooking a few extra portions to use even through the rest of the week. Make a huge tray of meatballs with pasta for dinner and then to throw on that salad at lunch, or even make a sandwich later on that week!
Veggie friendly options? Make stuffed peppers with farro, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta and dried cranberries…make extra stuffing mixture and eat it as a salad the next day or cut up an extra red pepper for a snack! I know it might defy the whole notion of finishing everything on your plate, but this time you are doing it on purpose.
Takeout – This is where I get greedy too. I love ordering pizza, but not for the pizza. I love getting the apps that go with it. The wings, cheese stick, fried mushrooms…etc. That’s what I live for but that also takes me $20 pizza order to $55! Additionally, do I need it? NO. By the time I get through my apps, I have a slice of pizza, which means I have pizza leftovers for days, which kills my diet subsequently. Again, getting take out or going out is a treat, it’s a cheat…but for those that order it more often during the week, be smart. Order that pizza, but make a salad at home…pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and get some green beans for the side instead of the mac and cheese. The hard part is done, make the easy part your responsibility.
Fact is, meal planning and meal prep are time consuming mentally and physically. You have think of everything first and then find the time to shop and then prep everything you just planned out! It can be taxing...AT FIRSt. Try out one of your meals first. Pick out your worst meal, try meal planning for that meal for a few weeks, then gradually add in the others and eventually you will be carrying 7 containers around with you all day with a variety of healthy food options! Don't stress yourself out in one weekend completely re-doing your life, just like any other change, take the time to learn the process, map out your steps and proceed diligently. You can always make adjustments along the way and still be good to yourself.