I’ve been a somewhat healthy eater for quite some time. Most of the time… healthy-ish. Depending on where I am and who I’m with, or how much I want a margarita. Truth be told, I should say that I USED to be a healthy eater but for a while I seemed to have let myself get lazy about food. It’s all too easy develop bad food habits if those habits make the rest of life easier. But I have discovered a secret. It’s also very easy to create good food habits with just a little bit of planning and forethought.
I finally developed a system that works for me and my husband so that we consistently eat healthy meals and snacks at least 5 days a week. Come Saturday all bets are off but this is a good start for us and maybe it could be a good start for you too. The magic happens in three steps all in one day. Meal planning, shopping, food prepping.
On Sunday night, or Monday morning or any day of the week that works for you to designate as the beginning of your week, grab a real food cookbook, peruse your pinterest healthy recipes board or go to your favorite food blogs and find 5 different dinners you would like to eat this week. Sometimes I like to get a little creative and try to arrange for the leftovers of one meal to get used up in the next night’s recipe. Roast chicken on Monday and Chicken vegetable stir fry on Tuesday is a good example. Don’t get all crazy and gourmet here. Stick with cooking methods you’re familiar and comfortable with and recipes that have a fairly simple ingredients list. Find a theme that works so that the same herbs and vegetables can make repeated appearances throughout the week. It may help to think of all your favorite cilantro recipes, or basil recipes. You get the picture. And the more you do this the more intuitive the planning part will become.
Make a list. Take those recipes and write out what you will need to purchase for the entire weeks’ worth of meals. (This is also a good time to take stock of what’s already in your fridge that will work for the week and clean out anything you no longer recognize. This is when I throw out any leftovers from last week that we never got around to eating. Your fridge should have room in it. It should look mostly empty and clean and ready to be filled.) Make sure you didn’t miss anything on the list for the dinners, now add things you’ll eat for breakfast and lunches on the go if you work or go to school or if you need to feed others who do. At the store, stick to the list. The time for coming up with brilliant food ideas or thinking you’re going to find a way to work that lavender speckled eggplant into your week somewhere are over. If you’ve done the meal planning and list making part right, then when you check out, your total should be less than you usually spend on groceries for the week. When we don’t have a plan, we overbuy.
You did it! You got your groceries home and it’s mostly fresh veggies, and organic pastured meats because you stuck to your list. Maybe the first time you do this you’ll also have to stock up on healthy whole grains and legumes like quinoa or lentils. I like to buy grains and legumes in bulk and store them in the pantry. They are cheaper that way and then i only need to restock a “pantry item” about once a month or so so.
Unpack your bags but don’t put the vegetables away. You can put away meat, eggs, milk, and anything that goes in the cupboard or pantry but the veggies you are going to prep for various applications throughout the week. I clean all my veggies first by stopping the sink and filling it with lukewarm water and 20-25 drops of GSE or a capful of 35% food grade H2O2. I let those soak while I put everything else away and put my grocery bags back in the car where they live. After about 20 minutes soaking I set the produce in the dishes drainer and empty and wipe out the sink and get my big chopping board, sharpen my chef’s knife, pull out Ziploc bags in gallon, quart, sandwich and snack sizes.
Don’t worry about the fact that you usually dice carrots for your soup but shred them for your salad but coin them for your stirfry. The point here is to simplify your weekly duties. Pick one and get chopping. I usually coin the carrots, chop the celery, de-rib and tear the kale, rough chop the chard, etc. I usually leave the onions alone until I want to use them in a recipe. I feel like they get stinky if I process them earlier in the week but feel free to pre-chop those as well. The cleaned chopped veggies all go in a separate appropriately sized bags and are squirreled away into the fridge. The one exception to this are my smoothie bags. I like to make a green smoothie in the mornings but the only way I will ever actually make it is if I can just dump 1 bag into the Nutribullet, add some water and whirl away. My smoothie bags have about two leaves worth of chard leaves and stems, a stalks worth of celery, cilantro, parsley, nub of turmeric root, nub of ginger, a half a lemon and a quarter of an avocado. In the morning I just pull out the lemon, dump the bag contents into the nutribullet, squeeze in the lemon, sprinkle in some flax or chia or hemp seed or all three. DONE!
By now I’m cranky because I hate chopping vegetables. At this point I like to turn up some music and pour a glass of wine. Now I make 6 salad jars and 12 egg cups. Don’t ask me how to make a salad jar. If you don’t know what a salad jar is then google “salad jar” and click on one of the first 300 results and you’ll get the idea. Same thing with the egg cups.
It IS a lot of work. I wasn’t entirely sure it would be worth it. But just wait til you get home from work at 6pm on stirfry night and all you have to do is heat up some coconut oil and throw pre-chopped vegetables and pre-cooked chicken into a skillet with a clove of garlic, pre-minced ginger, a squirt of Bragg’s aminos and a squeeze of lime. Dinner in 10 minutes and it’s almost like you got to come home and someone else cooked for you. It has been so worth it.
Our morning routine has gotten so easy and streamlined, I’m spending less money on grabbing lunch out and I’m eating healthier because I have my salad jars with me (Someday I’ll tell you about healthy Thermos cooked ramen for days when it’s too cold to eat salad) And dinner practically makes itself. We’re exceeding our vegetable quota most days and I’m spending less time in the kitchen on the days when I don’t have time to be in the kitchen.
This method is completely customizable. If you want to meal plan and shop but not pre-chop your vegetables go for it! If you like the idea of prepping lunches to go but not dinners that’s fine too. Find what works for your family and schedule. A little planning makes a big difference.