When I first committed to changing my eating habits, cooking my meals wasn’t the problem. I bet that’s the case for a lot of you, too — experimenting with fun new recipes and testing out exotic ingredients is a blast!
But keeping up the momentum and turning the healthy choices into habits is where it gets less sexy.
Sooner or later, spending an hour in the kitchen before every meal gets to be too much. Life happens, routines get mixed up, meetings run late. Being able to make positive choices day after day, even after the novelty of the new lifestyle wears off, is where the real work begins.
For me, the secret to eating well on the regular has been making it automatic by building it into my routine. Not only for the sake of my schedule and my sanity, but for my bank account, too. How do I do it? By adopting these 6 practices.
// Meal planning
Step 1 of making healthy eating a habit is getting used to planning your meals more than just a day or two (or, let’s be real, an hour or two) ahead. I find that planning and prepping in 5-day chunks is ideal.
Each weekend, I plan out what I’ll have for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner for the entire workweek. I wing it with leftovers, freezer meals or takeout on Saturday and Sunday. I don’t necessarily cook everything on the weekend, but I purchase everything I need and prep about 80% of it (more on that below).
For more on what/how much I eat every week, check out this post.
Instead of cooking one meal at a time and keeping your fingers crossed that you’ll have leftovers, get used to making multi-serving “cookups”. Cook once, eat twice, as they say.
My cookups take place on Saturday and Sunday, and by the end of each weekend, I make sure to have 5 days’ worth of breakfasts, lunches and snacks ready to take to work on Monday. This usually means I make a complete 5-serving breakfast dish (usually a frittata) and a complete 5-serving lunch dish (usually a slow cooker stew) over the weekend.
Dinners are a little more on-the-fly, but I always make sure I have the raw materials pre-prepared the fridge on Sunday night. Usually this ends up being a big slow-cooked piece of meat and some chopped veggies for roasting. That way I can have a fresh, warm dinner every night without having to start from scratch.
Heads up: This might require a shift in the way you think about cooking. It can’t just be an occasional creative project anymore; you have to start treating it as you would a job. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and creative! It just has to be a non-negotiable part of your routine.
Give it a time slot. Create a to-do list. Set goals. Continually try to make your process more efficient, just as you would at work. If you’re intentional about it, it will become second nature in no time.
// Shopping with purpose
Instead of shopping for one or two recipes at a time, start thinking of it as a once-a-week errand. Not only is it more efficient, it’s also a lot cheaper.
Also, work on simplifying your grocery list. Challenge yourself by trying to make as many recipes as you can using the fewest individual ingredients. Trying out exotic new dishes is fun (trust me, it’s pretty much my favorite thing ever), but it can be expensive and wasteful if things go unused. Go for ingredients that can do double duty – for example, if you’re making Bolognese for this week’s lunch cookup, consider also making Italian-style meatloaf or a big pot of soup using the same herbs, proteins and veggies.
This might sound a little neurotic to those of you who eat more intuitively, but having at least a loose eating schedule has been a super important part of my healthy eating journey. I’m not saying you need to set an alarm, but work on establishing a rough routine (breakfast when you get to work, lunch at noon, a late afternoon snack before you leave, and dinner at 8). This is especially important if you’re unemployed and living with less structure than usual.
Why? Two reasons: 1) it keeps your blood sugar stable so you don’t find yourself starving, empty-handed and ready to rip someone’s arm off, and 2) it keeps your digestive system relaxed and strong.
If having a schedule feels too restrictive for you, at least start getting to know your hunger cues. Do you start feeling weak and foggy every 3 hours or so (like me)? Are you starving every day when you get home from work? Set these benchmarks in your brain and think about dividing your day with thought toward your body’s energetic needs.
// Eating enough at breakfast
I know, I know. You’ve heard this one before. It seems like people are either breakfast eaters, or they aren’t. I’ve actually always been a breakfast eater, but I’ve only recently discovered the life-changing power of eating a BIG breakfast.
Most of us grew up in households that treated breakfast as an afterthought, but I’m challenging you to forget that idea. After 8+ hours of sleeping (and, therefore, not eating), if we don’t boost our blood sugar before becoming active in the morning, we’re setting ourselves up for a day of energy craziness.
Even if we DO eat breakfast, but fail to eat enough, our blood sugar continues to dip lower and lower and our brains go into survival mode. Our bodies start getting anxious about when our next meal will come, which triggers cravings, not to mention renders us mentally and physically useless. And we stay on this rollercoaster for the rest of the day. (The Paleo Mom has some great science to back me up here.)
Eating a BIG breakfast (3 eggs, a few ounces of meat and plenty of veggies) has not only made me happier and much less likely to get the munchies, it’s also made me more pleasant to be around. Think of it as a public service; stay cool, stay fed.
// Keeping the fridge clean
You can do the most strategic meal prepping of all time, but if your delicious leftovers are buried beneath expired mayonnaise and half-empty takeout boxes, chances are slim that you’ll stay on track for more than a few days. Trust me, everything goes to hell when you’re hungry.
Just like when you pack a gym bag the night before a morning workout or buy a new planner when you want to get organized, having a tidy fridge is a great way to set yourself up for healthy eating success.
Do yourself a favor and clean things up before your next grocery haul. After your cookups, consider labeling or at least strategically stacking your leftovers so you’re in no danger of mistaking them or forgetting they exist. Tidy fridge, tidy mind.
Whether eating healthier is part of your resolution this year, or you’re just looking to kick a few less-than-empowering habits, now is a great time to set some daily practices in place that will make your health goals easier to reach. Take the anxiety and mental drama out of healthy eating by making it automatic and setting yourself up for success! You go, Glen Coco!
Tell me, what do YOU do to make healthy eating automatic? And what side of the breakfast-eating fence do you fall on?
Clean Out Your Fridge: www.easyhomemeals.com