“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
One of the hardest things about eating well and developing healthy habits is finding the time to do so. Time definitely feels like a luxury these days. Family, friends, work, commuting, and many other factors seem to zap the hours from our days.
How the heck are we supposed to also squeeze time in for exercise and preparing meals?
One of the biggest hurdles for those looking to change their nutritional habits is cooking and being prepared. An excuse I consistently hear for not choosing a healthy meal is that there was nothing else to eat so you opted instead for whatever was available.
I’m going to be honest here, this is your fault. It is up to you to be prepared.
Granted, there may be some circumstances that you will not be prepared for, but as you’ll see, there are ways to make sure you limit those instances as much as possible.
Cooking does not require a ton of time. Sure, whipping up fancy recipes is always nice, but if you have a tight schedule a simpler approach may be best.
You probably already know that you need to be eating more grass-fed animal proteins, vegetables and healthy fats while cutting back on some of the processed carbs, grains, and sugars that are so easily accessible.
Today’s article is all about how to create a simple food prep ritual that isn’t time consuming, boring as all get up, and is easy to follow.
WHAT “I DON’T HAVE TIME” REALLY MEANS
Failing to plan really is planning to fail.
I don’t have time really means: “It’s really not that important to me.”
I apologize if that’s brash, but it’s true. It’s up to you to develop strategies based upon your lifestyle that will allow you to succeed with regards to your health and wellness goals. You know you better than anyone else.
Take time right now to come up with a strategy that will make it nearly impossible for you to not have healthy meals ready to roll for yourself each day.
Set aside some time to ask yourself these questions.
- Can I set time aside once a week to cook in bulk and prepare meals for the upcoming week? I like to do this twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday. If I keep it simple and focus on my all day plates this usually ends up being an hour of my time.
- Can I get up 30 minutes earlier or go to bed 30 minutes later to prep meals for the current or following day? You should never sacrifice sleep so only do this if you are capable of it.
- Do I have the finances available to hire a service to prepare healthy meals for me in advance? There are some awesome meal planning services out there now: Freshly – Plated – Blue Apron – Sunbasket – Hello Fresh
- Am I spending an hour or two in front of the TV when I could be preparing food? Remember way back to your first week when you filled out that time log? Where could you save some time so you could get more meal prepping in?
- What are my priorities? Am I emphasizing other things over my health? You may say that you want to get healthier but are your behaviors displaying that?
Gut check time: Take a few minutes and jot down a few ways that you're prioritizing other things over your health. An example might be; I chose to watch my favorite show instead of preparing a healthy meal for tomorrow. Or, I chose to stay late at the office "working."
Take a look at your schedule on a day-to-day basis, hour by hour if you need to, and really assess how you are spending you time.
- Are there any holes in your day that you could use to prep food or go grocery shopping?
- Anything you can give up such as time in front of the television?
- Any household chores you can batch for another day?
- Can your significant other take over one of your tasks so you can cook?
Please do not skip this exercise – It’s also a very difficult one. You’ll need to be very honest with yourself. You’ll need to become aware of your words and whether or not your justifying your actions. Watch for you telling yourself things like, “I have to,” “I need to,” “I’m the only one who can.”
As J.D. Roth, founder of Get Rich Slowly says – ” “It’s not what we say is a priority, but what we actually DO that’s a priority.”
COOKING WITH EASE
Below are a few strategies for prepping meals so that will help you save time.
Strategy #1: Prepare All Of Your Meals For Tomorrow Before Bed Tonight
While you’re hanging with the family, or checking out the boob tube, get your cook on. It’s easy to cook up 3-4 meals in about thirty minutes, if you follow this approach.
If you don’t mind eating the same thing all day (I do not), take out your protein source—let’s say ground beef—and separate it into your servings. If you are weighing and measuring portions, go ahead and do that. If you are eyeballing, that is cool too. Once you have your protein source separated, throw it ALL in a pan. After that browns a little bit add your healthy fat (1 to 2 thumbs per meal).
Now go ahead and throw in some fresh spices. What ever tickles your fancy. The Real Food Chart provides some excellent options.
While your protein finishes cooking, chop your veggies. If using frozen veggies, distribute them into separate containers. You can either throw them in the pan with the protein that’s cooking, into a separate pan, or I like to just throw them in the microwave for easy and quick cooking.
Once both protein and veggies are done add together in Tupperware and distribute into a cooler or bag and place in the fridge for the morning.
Big Tip: Put your car keys or something you always need for the next day in the bag. This way you will not forget to take your meals with you.
I highly recommend making 4 meals for the next day just in case you get extra hungry or something else comes up. Worst-case scenario, you have one left over for dinner at night or the next day.
Strategy #2: Cooking In Bulk
Let’s be honest with one another. We all have commitments and responsibilities, probably more than we should. As humans, we do a great job of over-extending ourselves. So with our limited time, it is very important that we make cooking fast and painless.
Here is how to do just that.
Pick two days out of the week, or one if you really are a time Nazi. I personally like Sunday and Wednesday. So on Sunday, you will prepare meals similar in manner to the steps outlined in Strategy #1. This time, you will be making enough meals to cover you for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Then on Wednesday night, you will prepare enough meals for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Cooking in batches like this allows you to free up more time for yourself and focus on other aspects of your life. It usually only takes about an hour out of your day. I like to do it first thing in the morning so it’s done ASAP.
I’ve found this is a great way to spend time with friends and loved ones. I usually ask them to help chop veggies, spice up food for me, or dish the food out into the containers. It’s a great opportunity to connect with those closest to you, share your healthy habits with them, and get them excited about the nutritious food you are making that also tastes great.
Not to worry, all of your food will stay fresh over the course of these few days. I often cook for the entire week on Sunday and have never had any problems as long as I keep all my food refrigerated.
Big Tip: Store all of your meals in their own Tupperware container. Glad makes a ton of useful containers as well. I recommend the entrée containers and tall entrée containers for dishes that include big ass salads. Also, learn to love Chili.
One of my favorite things to eat is Chili, and it also happens to be unbelievably convenient. Check out this recipe for Paleo Chili. You can easily whip this up in no time, and have it ready to distribute throughout the week if you forget a meal, or something comes up and you cannot cook.
If you happen to have a crock-pot, go ahead and leave your chili in there.
Strategy #3: Don’t Let The Restaurants Get You Down
It’s going to happen from time to time. You’re going to forget a meal, not have time to cook, or want to go out with friends and enjoy a meal you have not slaved over. Dining out doesn’t have to ruin your nutritional approach. Make sure to check out the Eating Out Guide for different strategies you can take with you at each type of restaurant.
But for the most part, here is the down and dirty version. Most restaurants, and even fast-food places, make it pretty easy on you to choose a healthy meal. When in doubt, ask for a protein source like chicken, fish, or beef with a side of steamed vegetables, and then ask the waiter or waitress to bring a side of olive oil or avocado, if they have it.
Most meals will come with rice, a potato, bread, or some other form of starchy carb. Simply ask for them to replace it with double veggies. Unless, of course, you just worked out. This would be a great time to take advantage of a little more carbohydrate. Just watch the serving sizes. Restaurants get pretty loco with it.
Look for meals that include:
- A source of protein: Chicken, Salmon, Turkey, or Beef. Look for grilled, baked, or barbequed. Avoid breaded, battered, buttered, or fried.
- A source of vegetables: Green and leafy, salads, broccoli, asparagus, and use your real food chart and find some of your favorites.
- Zero calorie bevs: Stick with water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee. No sense in adding liquid calories.
- Make smart swaps: 86 the potato and ask for extra veggies. Ask if they can cook your proteins with olive or coconut oil. You can do this with rice and breads as well.
If you go to a restaurant ask them to remove the breadbasket or to move it out of your reach. Sit further away from the buffet line and don’t face it.
WHAT DO I COOK?
Remember, simplicity is genius. There is no need to memorize, or have a million different recipes at your disposal. Pick 1-2 recipes or meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and wear those bad boys out. Once you get sick of them, move on to a couple more. The most important thing is to decide what you are going to eat, and then when you are going to eat.
Just to review your perfect Limitless All-Day Plate includes:
- Zero calorie beverages (water, unsweetened tea, or coffee)
- 1-2 palm-sized servings of protein
- 1-2 fist-sized servings of vegetables
- Swap any grains with greens
- 1-4 thumb-sized (or tablespoons) of healthy fats
- Eat more mindfully (take 20 and leave a little)
Let hunger be your guide this week. Take notice of when you feel hungry, and think about writing down the times you eat each day. You may start to notice a pattern. This awareness will help you prepare or schedule breaks in the future for your meals.
You should be getting hungry every 3-4 hours. If you’re not hungry after 3-4 hours don’t worry, there’s no need to force-feed yourself, just eat when you feel hungry. If you’re getting hungry before 3 hours, you may need to increase the volume of your food by adding some more vegetables or protein, possibly a little bit more of those healthy fats.
Make it fun: Seriously . . . make it fun as hell
Put on your favorite tunes and shake that ass! Get the family involved. Do it outside on the grill. Just make it fun and enjoyable. You’re way more likely to do it, and stay with it, if you actually enjoy the experience. Cooking has fast become one of my favorite stress relievers. I throw on the tunes, get down like Charlie Brown and unleash my inner Bobby Flay.
ALL MEALS & NO SNACK CHALLENGE
If you’re looking for a little extra challenge this week try not snacking.
Say whaaaaaa? I thought eating 5 to 6 smaller meals everyday is how you’re suppose to eat to keep your metabolism humming!
The truth is, the evidence to support that is week at best and in my opinion trying to prepare that much food and eat that often is a real pain in the ass, super time-consuming, oh – and did I say a real pain in the ass 🙂
Focus on eating 2 to 4 Limitless All-Day Plates every day this week and see how you feel. If you’ve been a snack attacker most of your life you may notice your body sending you hunger cues every couple of hours. What’s happened is that you’ve conditioned it to expect food.
It may take a week or two to reset these hunger cues but I know you can do it. Try drinking water, chewing sugar-free mint gum, or going on a brief walk.
Use the Real Food Chart and Limitless All-Day Plate to help you prepare for the week ahead.
Any questions about today’s article? Share them in the comments below or shoot me an email.
PS: If you need some help dialing in your nutrition, are struggling with motivation, or need extra accountability check out Limitless Body Personal Coaching.
8-week transformation challenge and live limitless toolkit
Build a body and life you’re proud of without the gym, kitchen, or overwhelming fitness bullshit taking it over.
As a bonus you’ll get access to my best 12 strategies for living a limitless life.