One of the many valuable lessons I teach my clients is “Keep it simple.” Think less. Make fewer decisions. Let your environment do much of the work for you. If healthy food is around you and convenient, you’re more likely to eat it. If you have a trusted system for making healthy food available, you don’t have to decide to eat whatever shows up in front of you. Like donuts at the office or going out for lunch because you didn’t pack anything.
Enter something I like to call the “food ritual.”
What’s the food ritual you might ask? It’s setting aside a bit of time to prepare some healthy food in advance so that it’s ready, available, and convenient when you need it. How you choose to ritualize healthy meal prep is up to you. Here are some strategies that have worked well for myself and my clients.
1. The Sunday Ritual
You don’t have to do this on Sunday, of course. You can choose any day you like. It’s just that Sunday is often a time when people are more free, more relaxed, and more able to devote time to this type of task. Sundays are usually a time when we’re traditionally thinking ahead to the upcoming week and what to do to be prepared for it.
Whatever day you choose, set aside 2-3 hours once a week to do the following:
Look ahead to your upcoming schedule and see what’s happening. What nutrition challenges or opportunities might pop up? Where might you need some special preparation in advance? What are the quiet and busy times?
Come up with a general menu for at least the next few days. It doesn’t have to be anything in-depth. Just get an underlying sense of the food you might need to have on hand for the week ahead. Then, build your shopping list from your menu. This preparation will help you be as effective and efficient as possible when you hit the grocery store, and you’ll be less tempted to buy random things like a big bag of chips or chocolate.
Hit the grocery store—or what I like to do is order groceries online and have them delivered to me—and stock up on what you need for the week. Consider grabbing a few extra “just in case” emergency items as well, such as canned beans, frozen vegetables, or other easily-stored healthy options that you can use in a pinch.
Once you’re back home, start prepping and cooking. Whip up a batch of lean protein — for example, by grilling or roasting several chicken breasts/thighs at once. Try some one-pot meals that can be quickly cooked in a slow cooker, then divided into containers to be frozen or refrigerated, such as soups, stews, curries, chilli, etc. Wash and chop veggies.
Why slice tomatoes for one meal when you can slice them for three? It takes just as much time to bake one chicken breast, as it does to bake several.
See where I’m going with this?
Some of my clients choose to prepare most of their meals for the week on Sundays. Others prefer to figure out which meals will be easy to cook “in the moment” and save them for later, and only pre-prep meals for super busy times, such as lunches at work or dinner after a late meeting. Find what works best for you, and your schedule.
If possible, give yourself a little extra buffer zone. You never know what unexpected challenge might strike at 6pm on Wednesday, and when it does, you’ll be glad you stored away an extra meal in the freezer. Speaking of, pack up ingredients and meals for easy storage in your freezer, fridge, or workspace.
2. The Daily Ritual
You can combine the Sunday Ritual with the Daily Ritual, for example, by preparing the labor-intensive staples such as lean protein on Sunday, and then adding some quick-prep items such as fruit and veggies every day.
It often takes about as much time to prepare a few items as it does to make one.
For example, it’s nearly as fast to chop three carrots as it is to chop 1 or to scramble six eggs instead of 2. During the Daily Ritual, you can prep a few extra items to have on hand for later in the day or the following day.
Try a Morning Ritual where you use some of our time-saving strategies to whip up a healthy breakfast or lunch such as:
- Oatmeal: Shake up your dry oatmeal and any other items like ground flaxseeds, cinnamon, protein powder, other grains, etc in a large container. In the morning, scoop out the dry mix, pour in some water, and pop it in the microwave. Top with fruit, add more protein if you like with things like cottage cheese, or Greek yogurt and enjoy a hearty breakfast.
- Premade Egg Batter: Blend up some eggs in a blender with some veggies if you’re feeling crazy; keep the mixture in a jar in the fridge for up to a few days. Blend, store, and cook as needed.
- No-Sog Salad: Take a large jar and pour salad dressing into the bottom. Then add veggies, top with greens, and make sure the jar stays refrigerated and upright throughout the day. When you’re ready to eat it, shake it up and pour it into a bowl.
Or try a Dinner Ritual where you make extra portions and save the rest for tomorrow. Again, it doesn’t take much more time to prepare a few extra things, cook in bulk where possible.
3. Healthy Meals Made For You
Many grocery stores from your average Safeway or Loblaws to more upscale Whole Foods-type places now offer a wide range of grab-and-go meals. Think salad bars, pre-washed and cut vegetables, and individually-portioned lean protein. There are also many specialty food store chains that offer healthy food takeout and delivery.
Some of my clients even sign up for a healthy meal delivery service, even for just one or two meals a week. If you don’t enjoy cooking or are extremely busy, you may find that having a break from the time and hassle of meal prep is worth the money. It might just mean the difference between a delicious, nourishing, physique-friendly lunchtime salad and another regrettable fast-food run.
Google “healthy meal delivery” in your area and see what pops up. When life is extra busy, make a healthy salad bar one of your food rituals. Remember, do what works best for you, your life and your goals.
You can mix and match all of these food ritual options, in any way that works for you. Anticipate, plan, strategize. This preparation is the way to seeing success with less hassle.