“I don’t have time to eat healthy.”
Let’s take a moment to shift that way of thinking. We ALL have to eat every day, right? It takes the same amount of time to eat whether you’re eating from the drive through, the vending machine, or a nutritious lunch you packed at home. Correct? The difference is the planning.
Now don’t misunderstand me – I know that the planning, shopping, and cooking takes time. I know that some of you truly work most of your waking hours and spend the remainder of your time caring for your family and sleeping. So, what I’m saying is not that it’s easy or that your reasons aren’t valid, but that it’s POSSIBLE.
So how do you get started? First off, when your time is extremely limited, you need to be able to shop just once per week. You don’t have time to run back and forth to the store, so planning is crucial! Chances are that if you’re working that much, you are probably also watching your budget. The good news is that a once weekly trip to the store instead of popping in every few days will also help keep your grocery costs down. And since you should be increasing your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, you’ll also need to have time to wash, chop, and cook some of these purchases the day that you shop.
Before your shopping trip, take a look at what you have on hand. Check your pantry, freezer, refrigerator, and spices. If you already have the makings of a few meals but are missing an ingredient or 2, jot down those dishes and the extra items needed. If you have a stockpile of processed foods and you can’t afford to throw them out, incorporate small amounts of these items one or 2 days per week, but add a big green salad or a side of veggies to them.
Once you have a rough plan of weeknight dinners, you can make your shopping list. Plan to cook enough each night that you have left overs for lunch the next day. You may need to take that portion out of the meal prior to serving if your family is struggling with portion control. And if you’re really strapped for time, you may need to double or triple just a few recipes for the week. It may not make everyone happy, but no one ever starved eating repeat meals!
If you have a crockpot or Instant Pot, focus on recipes for these appliances since they cut down on your time in the kitchen. If you need recipe ideas, you can follow me on Pinterest. I’m constantly trying and adding new recipes there.
You don’t have to eat all organic or all Paleo or all ANYTHING from day 1. This is a journey, and if you’re at square 1 you do not have to move from McDonald’s to Whole Foods in one fell swoop. In fact, if you’re living on an Aldi and WalMart budget, you can absolutely feed your family well and lose weight without ever stepping foot into a Whole Foods. I take a good, better, best approach when I’m shopping. Anything that is a basic ingredient like a fruit, vegetable, piece of meat, an egg – something that doesn’t need an ingredients label – is automatically GOOD. It’s leagues beyond a processed item whether it’s fresh, frozen, organic, pasture raised, grass fed, etc. While organic items may be better or best, if that’s not in your budget, don’t sweat it! Feeding your family grilled chicken, broccoli, and mashed potatoes made from non organic sale items at WalMart is way better than an organic frozen pizza and organic gluten free cookies from the fancy grocery store. Seriously.
So once you’ve made your list, shopped, and brought your budget friendly real food ingredients home, here are some steps you can take to simplify food prep throughout the week.
- Fill the sink with water and add a few tablespoons of white vinegar. Dump all your produce there and let it soak for 10 minutes. Then grab your cutting board, a good knife, and some Ziplocs or storage containers. If you have veggies that you want to cook, chop and put them on a cookie sheet, drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then oven roast them all at once. For the raw veggies you want to snack on during the week, put them in grab and go portion sized packages. If you have fruits and vegetables that won’t last the full week, either plan to eat them early in the week or cook them right away.
- Thaw any meat you’ll be preparing in the next couple of days. If you’re making crockpot meals, place all the ingredients together in the fridge the night before. Or, if you have space, put it all in the crock the night before, then you just have to move it from fridge to pot in the morning.
- Put your family to work. Whether you live with a roommate, a parent, or a bunch of kids, get them involved! They can help chop and wash, clean up, or do the dishes after. Don’t be a hero! And ask for their opinions along the way. Even if they are resistant to the changes, find out what they think and let them be involved in the process.
- Stick to the plan. There will be days that you get up late, don’t feel like messing with it, and would rather just order pizza. Stay strong! If you’ve already bought the food and it’s in your house, you CAN make a meal faster than you can hit the drive through or call Domino’s. And if you can’t, you may have over complicated your recipe choices.
- Get back on track when you don’t stick to the plan. See what I did there? Everyone caves and orders pizza on the occasional rough day. The key is not letting that throw you back into your old habits. Make it a one time thing and then get right back to your menu the next day.
Once you are consistently making better food choices for you and your family, you can get creative and try some new things. But in the beginning, keep it simple and plan for success! If you’ve already done this, I’d love to hear what worked well for you!