One of my most requested [and overdue] blog posts is about quick and healthy meals or staying “on track” nutritionally when life gets nuts. These requests have a common theme… when life gets busy, eating healthy takes a back seat. How do we navigate what to eat when we’re away from our kitchens for 10 hours a day? Girl’s [and boy’s] gotta eat, am I right? And then when we get home, the last thing we want to do is stand in the kitchen for an hour (or longer) and prep a nutritious meal. I don’t need to explain this to you guys, I truly think everyone can relate here… So below are my top 3 tips for getting into a nutritious groove when all you want to do is order the takeout, pop in the frozen pizza, or head to the local pub for an after work happy hour with appetizers (not that any of these things are bad in moderation). Keep reading beyond my top three tips for some breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal inspo.
Tip #1 …. [the most important tip! It’s a real shocker] Plan ahead.
Believe me, I wish there were a way around it, but it’s the most efficient way to get in your groove without sacrificing the quality of food. I believe that the only way to truly know what you’re putting into your body, is to cook from scratch, which is also one of the most time-consuming tasks. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t always have to be! Preparing your food ahead of time is such a time saver, and will likely hold you accountable to actually eating the food that you put TLC (tender love and care, not the girl group) into making. So while this tip might not be the most popular amongst everyone, putting in the work ahead of time pays off… literally.. saves you money too…Chop up your favorite veggies (onions and peppers for this gal) and find a way to incorporate them into all your meals– salads, eggs, sandwiches, you name it.
Tip #2… Read the Ingredients in your food.
Knowledge is one of the first steps of behavior change, and the fact that you’re reading this means you’re already working to learn more. Reading the ingredients in your food arms you with the knowledge and power to make healthier decisions. If you’ve read my previous posts you’ll know that I am not excited (to put it lightly) by processed foods. That includes all foods that come in a wrapper or a bag in the freezer section. Not all packaged foods/frozen foods are the enemy… just be sure to read the ingredients label for sneaky add-ins and/or preservatives. Reading ingredients is an excellent habit to get into, because food companies often add undesirable ingredients or additives and still label their products as, “natural” or “organic.” I.e. Frozen fruit– one brand may have added sugars while another brand is one ingredient… the fruit itself. Looking for added things like artificial food coloring, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, brown rice syrup (yup, still sugar), maltose, etc. will make you realize just how many foods include additives. Staying away from these foods is a small way to make a big dietary change. You might even just say “screw it” and take up cooking… I did.
Tip #3… Make small changes little by little.
This one is important and will differ for everyone. If you’re having a hard time adhering to a “diet,” take a little time for some self-reflection and set intentional goals. What are you struggling with? Eating too much? Got a sweet tooth? Love soda? Do you eat a lot of fried food? Where can you make small changes? I can tell you that going straight to a Whole 30 diet is going to be your own personal hell and probably will be forgotten once those 30 days are finished. Lasting change takes time, so be patient with yourself and celebrate the little milestones. Maybe you only eat cheese with one meal a day or maybe you replace butter with olive oil in your diet. Maybe you master mindful eating before even making a dietary switch, or maybe you switch from milk chocolate to dark chocolate. You get my drift… Make the small changes and slowly add new challenges. It’s good for us to be continuously challenged, anyways. Over time you won’t even think twice about soda or your once-favorite fried foods.
Now for the good stuff… Below I’ve listed some of my favorite healthy meal options that can be whipped up in a jiffy– all of these can be modified to whatever your dietary preferences are.
Breakfast- eat. something…
I will try not to sound like a broken record here, but your mother was not lying to you– it’s SO IMPORTANT to eat a balanced breakfast and set the tone for your day. All of these breakfasts can be made in ten minutes or less.
- Eggs- I Had to kick it off with my favorite breakfast. Eggs are incredibly versatile and magical to me, and I think (I hope) everyone likes some version of eggs. Eggs on avocado toast (scrambled, poached, or over-medium), eggs & veggie scramble on toast (great way to get your veggies in the a.m.), eggs & smoked salmon, etc.. the options are endless and they are so quick to whip up. I don’t need to tell you, but I will anyways… whole grain bread is best, but still read the ingredients. There’s often added sugar. You can also choose sprouted grain breads, or you can just forego it! You’ll be surprised how satiated you can be without it (:
- Overnight oats or Chia pudding- I think I’ll refer you to Pinterest or any basic google search for these recipes… They are so simple, very few ingredients, and easy to grab for a busy morning. The ingredients will simply depend on what floats your boat.
- Smoothie bowls topped with nuts, homemade granola, peanut butter, or really…whatever you want– There are a thousand different ways you could go here… protein powder, fruit-forward, chocolate-forward, greens for breakfast, you name it. If you need some guidance, shoot me a message and I’d be happy to get you started! If you need a homemade granola recipe, look no further but click here.
- Homemade slice of bread- if you’re really on-the-go, check out my pumpkin spice loaf for a tasty version of a healthy breakfast bread. You can easily make any number of healthy muffins, banana bread, etc. and use as a quick grab-able breakfast for the week.
- Yogurt parfait- Yogurt is a food that more often than not has added sugars- sweetener free yogurt exists (usually in plain greek yogurt), but make sure to do your homework and read the ingredients. This is another one that you can cater to your tastes. Apples with cinnamon and granola, berries and homemade granola (maybe a little honey if you’re feeling sassy), throw in some chia seeds or bananas… the world is your yogurt parfait.
Moving on to Lunch
Lunch is perhaps theeeeeeeeee most important thing to pack and requires the most care. Skipping lunch leaves you ravenous with little energy to make dinner. If you plan on working out after work and skip your lunch, forget it… not happening and probably because you’re too hangry (not like I’m speaking from experience or anything). And buying your lunch leads to temptation and is just plain expensive. The following items require preparation, but #worthit
- Everything-in-your-fridge-salad: I don’t have a fancy salad recipe for you here… usually once a week (at least) I look in my fridge to see what needs to be used up and throw it in a salad. If you have a favorite dressing (I’m a balsamic nut job), choose your veggies that you need to use up, a protein (hard-boiled eggs are easy), nuts, maybe a cheese, maybe even a fruit, and toss it into a salad. You’d be surprised at what you can put together.
- Sandwich: Although I don’t eat meat, sandwiches are SUCH an easy and delicious lunch. Investing in a wholesome bread and switching to mustard or hummus can make a huge difference. This is also a great way to get in your veg. This is another limitless option– I’ve done grilled veggie sandwiches consisting of zucchini, broccoli, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mustard, and *muahhhhh* so tasty. You can make a PB & banana sandwich. You can make a turkey, mustard, and tomato sandwich. My point is… if you’re really in a bind, what’s better than a sandwich, piece of fruit, and a side of nuts for an easy peasy lunch?
- Homemade Burrito Bowl: I saved the best for last (: If you play your cards right, you can prepare burrito bowl lunches for a week. I might be exaggerating. Simply- brown rice, black or pinto beans, pico de gallo, avocado, peppers, onions, cheese if you wish, and a little hot sauce will take you all. the. way. You can make all of these things in bulk when you’re meal prepping and pretend you’re eating Chipotle for lunch Monday through Friday. However you like your burrito bowl, you can have it your way. Packing suggestion: keep the warm foods in one container and chilled foods in another. This way you can heat up your beans, rice, and whatever else while your salsa-like toppings/raw vegetables stay fresh.
From my personal experience, dinner is the most difficult meal to remain healthy, control portion size, and put a genuine effort in. You’re tired, probably very hungry, and the late night cravings are beginning to set in. A couple of things have helped me. 1. Make an event out of it. If you are going to spend time preparing a nice and healthy dinner for yourself (and/or others), learn to enjoy the process. Play some music and get creative with dinner. Try a new recipe, brush up on your cooking skills, and maybe even pour yourself a glass of wine while your at it. I realize that a full-blown, creative dinner is not always an option, so don’t worry… there are other tips I plan to share. 2. Meal Prep. Again, shocker. But crockpot meals, soups, and even cutting your vegetables ahead of time can be a HUGE time saver. 3. Eat dinner at a decent time. This tip relates more to portion control. Waiting until you’re ravenous to eat a meal can often result in over-eating and eating too closely to bed can disrupt sleep. 4. Have healthy alternatives on deck that mimic your favorite foods. For example, the days where I’m too burnt out to cook and need food fast, my go-to’s are a cauliflower pizza and/or cauliflower gnocchi from Trader Joe’s. I’m telling you, this works! Without further delay… some dinner ideas!
- Tacos: Obviously people have different topping preferences when it comes to tacos, but for the most part they’re ready to go and can easily be done in a healthy way. Forget the cheese, substitute greek yogurt for sour cream, and just make sure your favorite salsa doesn’t have any added sugar. Other than that, with corn tortillas (corn rather than flour is an easy substitution), prepped veggies, and canned beans, tacos can be done in 20 easy minutes and you get your Mexican fix. win-win in my book. My personal favorite tacos include sautéd portobello mushrooms, pinto beans, sautéd peppers and onions, salsa, cilantro, avocado, and pinto beans.
- Crockpot anything and everything: Perhaps this is more of a wintery idea for dinner, but nonetheless it is so easy to throw everything in a crockpot, go to work/school/whatever, and come home to dinner. My husband loves the crockpot to make a hefty portion of shredded chicken for the week, because it takes 5 minutes to prepare and requires minimal effort in the kitchen (sorry babes, it’s true). 2-3 pounds of chicken, one big jar of salsa, salt, pepper, and paprika goes into the crockpot and comes out as his protein for the week. My personal favorite is a vegan quinoa chili. Where things get hairy is adding the unhealthy stuff– heavy cream, cheese, ranch, etc. The crockpot is a wonder for effortless, bulk meals but it’s easy to get carried away… so stay the course! At this point, you know when a meal is straying from “healthy.”
- Everything-in-your-fridge-salads: *see above* Seriously though… when you’re in a time-pinch and want to minimize food waste, look no further than what is in your fridge. I also like to eat lighter in the evenings, so a salad at night is a great way to incorporate your veggies if they’ve been absent from your plate that day and eat a meal that’s on the lighter side. If you need some salad ideas, look no further than the my goodies page for a couple ideas.
- A healthy version of your fave: This is the part where I recommend all of my favorite cheats for the days you don’t even want to attempt dinner. I’m a realist, and I recognize that these days exist for everyone. PIZZA- a common favorite. Look to your local store for a cauliflower crust pizza as a healthier alternative and add some veggies (always add veggies even when you think you shouldn’t) to your ‘za before popping it in the oven. PASTA- another common favorite. Look for cauliflower or sweet potato gnocchi at Trader Joe’s for healthy substitutes. Use a red sauce rather than a cream sauce and make sure there is no added sugar in your sauce. It’s more difficult than you think, but red sauce without added sugar does exist! I could go on and on about healthy alternatives to your favorite junk foods, but the point is that sometimes you need a little back up! Having a healthy alternative on deck has saved me countless times from making an unhealthy decision that would’ve been the easy decision.
I’m no saint, but eating healthy for me has become a million times easier by preparing meals ahead, reading food labels, and making small, lasting changes. As for the meals, these just are a few of my favorite things. I’m more than happy to offer recipes or specifics on any of the meals above.
For now, I’ll end things with a little behavior change inspo- it’s never too late to become a better version of yourself.