For me, the secret to consistent healthy eating comes down to one routine I've built into my life. Every Sunday, I spend a few hours preparing fresh, healthy meals for the week ahead. This habit saves me time and money overall. If all of my lunches are made in one setting ahead of time, I don't have to rush to prepare food during the busy morning hours or foot the bill for ordering out.
I've found that in my personal health, habits trump feelings, cravings and circumstances. It's not just me either. It's all of us. According to the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we revert to our default behavior when life gets busy. Healthy eating then is not a matter of willpower or control but the sum of our habitual behavior which remains constant even in the context of busy lifestyles.
My Sunday food prep routine is reinforced by two of my favorite healthy living bloggers who also prep and plan their meals beforehand. The weekend Instagram feeds of Brittany of Eating Bird Food and Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean often includes pictures with the hashtag #sundayfoodprep. Here is a picture from my own Instagram account of my Sunday cooking session.
Starting top left, over, down: Banana flax seed muffins, Kale, Roasted red peppers, grilled chicken, turkey wraps, stir frys in tupperware, blueberries in plastic baggie
While there is an army of people who champion the food prep lifestyle, others refrain from cooking their meals in one setting. Below is a list of common reasons people give for not preparing their meals beforehand along my my typical reactions. When I share the habit I attribute some of my healthiness too, I often get many questions. I've included a few of those as well. Share your thoughts and experiences with food prep in the comments below.
I don't know what to make. What's cooking on my Sunday agenda? It isn't elaborate or expensive. It's often boiling a batch of quinoa to mix in with stir frys or salads. It's commonly peeling and chopping a bunch of veggies (red peppers are my fav!) for the same reason. It's usually roasting a pan of sweet potatoes to add as a side dish. It's preparing a dozen of banana flax seed muffins to grab for breakfast or as a mid morning snack.
I don't like to eat leftovers. The majority of my healthy cooking routine involves fresh produce. There is a common misconception that food prep involves freezing meals like casseroles or quiches. This can certainly work, but I find that I stay the most healthy when my routine operates in conjunction with weekly grocery shopping. Before I spend a few hours preparing meals for the week, I buy a bunch of fresh fruits, veggies and greens from my local produce stand. Then I'll hit up the grocery store for protein such as beans, tofu, or various kinds of lean meat.
Doesn't everything just go bad? Most food lasts three to five days in the fridge. This is just right for a five-day workweek. A great resource to check for shelf life is StillTasty.com. You can enter in any food in their database and it will tell you how long it will last before going bad. The majority of my meals are roasted veggies like carrots or mushrooms, whole grains and protein such as chickpeas or grilled chicken. I mix and match spices and sauces for different flavors and I typically add those the day I plan to eat the meal.
I never know what will come up.Especially in New York, many work and social environments bond over shared meals. There are times when I'll pack food and then a coworker or friend will suggest lunch out or a work related dinner event will arise. Pending budget, I'll save my food for another day and go out. Though if the weather's nice and it's possible, I'll suggest we have an impromptu picnic and let them know that I packed but I'm happy to wait while they go grab something. I find that flexibility keeps things interesting and fun.
What if I'm going somewhere that doesn't have access to a microwave? I usually always prepare lunches that require heating but will sometimes make weekly dinners beforehand too. If I have a lot of appointments or events after work, I'll pack something for dinner that is easily consumed on-the-go that doesn't have to be heated up. My favorite option for this is a wrap with cucumber, lettuce, hummus, turkey and feta. It typically should be kept cold but I find it holds just fine out of the fridge for a few hours.
I'd rather spend my weekends having fun. We have this in common. I enjoy a social life on the weekends too. I like getting brunch with friends or exploring New York City by going to art and cultural events. Yet food prep has become so woven into my life that I've come to enjoy it as a way to de-stress. The few hours I spend cooking are worth it for me in many ways. I use the cooking time to reflect, brainstorm and check in with myself mentally and emotionally before the workweek. I often play my favorite music as I chop veggies or make sandwiches. It's become a ritual that is both unwinding and anticipatory as I let go of the past week doing what I can to take care of my body and mind for the week ahead.
For more by Gina Ryder, click here.
For more on personal health, click here.