If you’ve decided to work on your eating habits this year, especially keeping consistent and healthy habits intact, let me tell you that nothing will derail your diet faster than being hungry and having absolutely nothing prepared in advance!
Sometimes it feels like eating healthy takes too much effort and is too expensive, but with a little planning and weekend meal prep, it’s not all that difficult or hard on your wallet! Take a few minutes on Saturday or Sunday morning to choose your recipes for the week and get the grocery shopping out the way. Make it easy on yourself by selecting recipes that you can eat more than once, or ingredients that you know you can use for multiple meals.
1. PLAN YOUR MEALS IN ADVANCE
This is the most important part of being successful with your diet and staying on track for the long haul. Take a few minutes to look up recipes and make a list of ingredients you’ll need before you head to the grocery store. By doing this, it will make your shopping trip easier and you’ll know exactly what you need without wandering or trying to think of things you can use on the fly. This also helps you to spend less money or throw fewer things away at the end of the week because they never got used as planned. Make it easy on yourself by selecting recipes that you can eat more than once, or ingredients that you know you can use for multiple meals. If you get tired of eating the same meal every day or need a little diversity in your diet, prep individual ingredients, and not a single “full meal”. This way you don’t have to eat the exact same thing 4-5 days in a row but can create several different food combinations using the same ingredients. You can also cook larger quantities in advance and then portion and freeze to create a stockpile of frozen meals.
2. DON’T BE AFRAID TO BUY IN BULK
If you’re an individual, it may feel a little daunting to buy in bulk. Maybe it even seems like a waste of money because there’s no way you can use everything before it goes bad. However, many types of foods have a long shelf life and can provide an overall higher value even for a single person. You can actually save a lot of money shopping at wholesale stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, etc. Produce can be costly, and people often resist buying it in bulk because it spoils so quickly. However, it does go on sale if you watch for ads. You can also shop seasonally to find better deals if you’re trying to save money.
Bonus Tip: Another option to consider is buying a share of a CSA farm. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. If you’re not familiar, the way it works is pretty interesting. You find a local farm and pay an up-front fee for a share of the crop. For several months during harvest season, you will receive bulk produce delivered to your door every week! Not only is it local; it’s seasonal. It’s an amazing value, and many of my friends swear by it. Check out local CSA farms to learn more.
Wherever you get your produce, my advice is to wash and chop all of your fruits and vegetables the moment you get home–don’t put it off! Most items can be frozen and stored until needed, which will help with meal prep at a later date and often cut your prep time in half when you need extra time. If you do have limited time and can’t handle all the pre-washing and chopping, you can buy already frozen fruits or vegetables. They are picked when fresh and still full of vitamins and nutrients!
3. DON’T SPEND ALL WEEKEND IN THE KITCHEN
Weekends are often the days where you aim to get caught up on housework, errands, grocery shopping or anything else that was neglected during the week. So the thought of meal prepping and cooking all weekend probably seems dreadful–but it doesn’t have to be! Don’t overdo it, and try to accomplish everything at once. Spend a little time cooking a few things such as; brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, and quinoa for the week ahead. These are healthy starches that will last up to 4-5 days in the fridge. If you can do this, you’ll be ahead of the game!
You can also batch cook chicken and vegetables in the oven to save time later. My favorite thing to do is slow cook several chicken breasts in the Crock-Pot, shred, and portion out for various meals during the week or freeze for another day. Chicken can be used in all sorts of recipes from salads to soups and can be a huge time-saver later on!
I also suggest making snacks ahead of time and portioning them out. It’s easy to graze or snack on something that is unhealthy. If you prepare your snacks in advance it’ll likely be easier for you to stick to your meal plan and diet. I like to keep a few baggies or containers in my car or at work so I’m prepared when the hunger hits!
4. USE THE CROCK-POT/SLOW COOKER OR INSTANT POT
Some days it can feel impossible to accomplish everything you need to get done in a 24 hour period, especially if you’re a parent. When you’re juggling work, after school activities, doctor appointments, homework, cleaning and everything else in-between, the Crock-Pot or Instant Pot will literally be your best friend. If you don’t have one, you need to get one! It will be the best investment you’ve ever made. Nothing beats a healthy meal that the Crock-Pot/Instant Pot has simmered to perfection!
There are endless Crock-Pot & Instant Pot recipes that take little prep-work and only require a small amount of time and attention, which is ideal for someone with a busy schedule. Often times I will start the crockpot in the morning and let it simmer on low all day. When I get home in the evenings not only does the house smell amazing, but dinner is already done, and I typically have enough left over for additional meals throughout the week or ready to freeze for another day.
5. FRINGE BENEFITS OF PACKING YOUR LUNCH
You may not realize it, but creating a meal plan is not only healthier for you, but it’s also a major money saver. According to health.com, packing your lunch to work can save you around $2,400 a year. Actually, that estimate is conservative because it’s based on spending $10 a day for lunch. Many people spend $15, $20, or more on any given lunch. So even though eating healthy may seem expensive; it’s almost guaranteed to be much cheaper than going out for a meal every day–even a quick fast food meal. Just putting forth a little effort to think through your meal plan can actually go a long way in terms of savings. Not only that, but it will help you make your New Year’s diet stick!