Most of us can easily relate to having a busy schedule - complete with long work hours that leave us feeling exhausted by the end of the day when our heads finally hit the pillow. Oh, time! It seems there is never enough of it. Yet, rather than wait until the last possible moment to get up in the morning to dump half a gallon of coffee down your throat, drag yourself in a zombie stupor behind your steering wheel and head to work - leaving without the slightest notion of a plan for breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day - consider the possibility of a rather simple alternative. An alternative, mind you, with massively positive ramifications in all aspects of your life. Though it may seem easier initially to stop and grab something on your way to work, go out to lunch or buy something pre-made on your break, in the bigger picture, this is an expensive and ultimately counter-productive quick-fix.
The reality is that our bodies need to eat several times throughout the day, and the more say we have in what we consume, the more our bodies will thank us in the long run. On average, Americans buy a meal or snack 4-6 times a week and each spend at least $230 per month eating out! When we dine out, we tend to eat more, know less about the nutritional content of what we are eating and temporarily put out of our minds our dietary and health related goals. Alternatively, cooking food from home is proven to encourage far more conscientious choices, smaller portions, as well as less strain on our wallets. What do the savings look like? Switching to home cooked meals would save the average person between $35-$40 per week.
With limited time as a consideration in a busy schedule and life in general, here is a guideline for the components to a healthy meal and ideas to help you plan ahead for your week!
As far as essential meals are concerned, the main elements to include are portions of some form of grain, protein and vegetable. Now for each of these, the goal is to find something that is easily made and will last you through the workweek, so that cooking for yourself is enjoyable instead of a stressful activity to procrastinate over. Choose a day out of your week where you can set aside 1 hour to dedicate towards your nutritional planning. Put on your favorite relaxing tunes (for me it is always Billie Holiday when it comes to cooking time) and lay out the ingredients and cooking utensils you will need. Once you get in the habit of making the majority of what you eat from home, it truly becomes an enjoyable ritual to create your own meals! The beautiful thing is that you can always mix it up, add variety and explore new recipes that reflect what is in alignment with your diet choices.
Healthy snacks between main meals are crucial! Making mindful choices when packing snacks for your day eliminates the temptation to snack on high in calorie, low in nutritional value food items and indulge in bad eating habits you truly do not need. Some ideas could include crackers or veggies of your choice (celery, carrots, cucumber, etc.) and hummus (which, if you choose, you can make yourself –it is extremely easy and cost efficient to do from home), almonds or mixed nuts, nut butter and veggies, granola bars, or yogurt and fruit if you are craving something sweet!
When preparing your meals, keep in mind the portions you will need each day and make the appropriate amount to last through the week. It is helpful to keep at least three large Tupperware or glass storage containers for each so that serving yourself for meals is simple and time efficient. Vegetables can be chopped up and baked in the oven with an oil of your choice (coconut or olive suggested) at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or stir-fried on the stove. If you have access to a local farmers market or stand, these generally have lower prices and fresher, seasonal selections. Veggies and protein can be turned into anything, so experiment with different grain ideas throughout the week. Rice, quinoa, lentils or noodles can be made into stir-fries with your favorite cooking sauce. Bread can be incorporated into sandwiches, and tortillas into tacos or burritos.
Cooking from home provides us the opportunity to preserve the nutritional quality of what we feed our bodies, eliminate temptations to break our health regimen and save money in the process! In this way, when we do choose to eat out, it is a special occasion we can appreciate, rather than rely on.
Stay tuned for weekly recipes to precook your meals. Vegetarian and gluten-free substitutions will be provided in all recipes!