I am a born planner. If a leap of faith is required or I’m forced to think on my feet I will manage, but I must admit that I much prefer being prepared before entering most situations. I’m a true believer in setting a strong foundation and making sure that I have the right tools for the job. Of course the best laid plans can crumble, however if there is something that you can do to better prepare yourself, why not give yourself the best chance to succeed?
I look at healthful eating the same way. If I don’t have the right tools (don’t know what I’m going to make), ingredients (have to go to the grocery store at the last minute) or time and energy (because I came home late from work) then I will undoubtably make bad decisions. I will pick up fast food or be so famished that I cannot even stand to wait one minute for food to cook (worse yet, if I don’t know what to cook), or I will eat chips or cookies or something that I can grab quickly that is high in fat or sugar (do yourself a favour and don’t even keep these in the house). So again I ask, why not show yourself some love and give yourself the best chance to make good, healthful choices?
I’ve found that focusing my energy and attention on three main objectives help to maximize the return on my investment towards healthful eating. Below are my three objectives and they direct how I fuel my body weekly:
- Capitalizing on time & energy when it is plentiful and conserving time & energy when it is scarce
This starts on Thursday night for the following week. On this night, the next week’s meals are scheduled and the grocery list is made from this menu. As it’s cold out now, I get groceries before work on Friday morning and leave them in the car while I’m at work. Since I have to be up for work anyway, why not maximize my time by waking up a little earlier and getting this weekly task out of the way before the weekend starts? When it’s warmer out I will return to Saturday morning grocery shopping but for now, this helps me get a bit more time out of my weekend.
This week’s menu is as follows:
- Lunches (Monday to Friday) = Chili tomate rice + spicy black beans + avocado +spicy mustard sauce
- Dinner on Monday = Creamy scalloped potatoes + asparagus
- Dinner on Tuesday = General tao chick peas + broccoli + red pepper + rice
- Dinner on Wednesday = Buffalo broccoli + celery + carrot sticks
- Dinner on Thursday = Vegan mac & ‘cheese’
- Dinner on Friday = Butternut squash soup
Some extra notes on planning meals:
Since I’m getting groceries on Friday, meals that require the freshest veggies are scheduled earlier in the week. This is why the asparagus and broccoli are on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday. Meals for which the veggies do not need to be as fresh or that include veggies that will last longer are scheduled later in the week.
As I’m now more comfortable with vegan recipes and balancing my meals so that I’m satiated, I’ve added a new task to the mix: using the same veggies in multiple recipes throughout the week. Broccoli is in two recipes and butternut squash is in three. Not only does this ensure you are using up your veggies before they go bad, it also saves you from buying more items.
I try to prepare as much as I can before actually getting to the cooking process. This can be pre-chopping veggies before cooking; immediately before cooking or even days before. Where possible I will even chop the veggies as soon as I get home from the grocery store and before putting them into the fridge. This week, I did just that and chopped the carrot and celery sticks for Wednesday. It also provides snack-ready veggies. I like to do this with fruit as well (mangos for instance, providing they are ripe). This preparation means that in those times where I find myself heading to the fridge, I have options that are just as convenient as chips or candy (assuming you had those in the house).
The other thing I like to do just prior to cooking is measure out all the ingredients. This is especially helpful for baking which in most cases consists of a set of wet ingredients (which I put into the mixer) and a set of dry ingredients (which I whisk together in a separate bowl). Now in the case of cooking this would mean pre-measuring all of the spices and putting them in a small bowl – great for when your recipe calls for multiple ingredients that use the same measuring spoon. I also pre-measure any liquids so they are ready to be added to the recipe – which again makes the actual cooking process go by faster and avoids having to wash the same measuring cup more than once during the actual cooking process.
Capitalizing on time & energy when it is plentiful and conserving time & energy when it is scarce
I used to prepare just my lunches for the week on Sundays, but lately I’ve been extending that to dinners and sometimes even breakfasts. There are many people that swear by preparing everything ‘fresh’ the day of and eating it immediately after cooking to obtain the most benefit and flavour from food. Well here’s the thing, after a long day of work I am not motivated to spend time in the kitchen prepping and cooking a meal, but I do want to eat something healthful and provide my body with the best fuel possible. It’s great if you are willing to prep and cook everything when you get home from work; but I know that I would not be motivated to do that and would instead make some quick unhealthy meal for dinner. However, I can motivate myself to follow through with my goal by making that healthful meal as easily attainable as possible. I’m far less tired on Sunday afternoon than I am on Monday night and in most cases I have more free time on Sunday afternoon than I do on Monday night. The best return on my time and energy on Sunday is to give myself a fighting chance for Monday to Friday.
On Sunday afternoon for approximately 2 hours, the below was prepared for the week.
- Lunches (Monday to Friday)
- cooked chili tomate rice
- cooked spicy black beans
- mixed spicy mustard sauce
- Dinner on Monday
- chopped sweet potatoes & butternut squash for sauce
- Dinner on Wednesday
- chopped celery + carrots (this was actually already done on Saturday)
- Dinner on Thursday
- cooked ‘cheese’ sauce
- 2 containers were filled – one placed in the fridge for this week, one frozen for a later date
- Dinner on Friday
- cooked butternut squash soup
- 1 large container was filled and placed in the fridge for this week, 3 small containers were frozen for a later date
That 2 hour investment means the meals for the week can be ready in less than 20 mins*
*minus the scalloped potatoes as they have to bake for longer
- Lunches are completely prepared for the week and need only to be packed the night before or morning of (Side note: I used to pre-package in 5 containers for the week but I found it took up too much space in the fridge, plus I like to use my bento box)
- For dinner on Monday the veggies need to be boiled/steamed, potatoes chopped then baked
- For dinner on Tuesday the veggies need to be boiled/steamed, rice and chick peas cooked (Side note: I pre chopped broccoli before but I lost and it got all crumbly so I don’t pre-chop this guy anymore)
- For dinner on Wednesday the buffalo broccoli needs to be seasoned and baked
- For dinner on Thursday the pasta needs to be cooked and the sauce warmed
- For dinner on Friday the soup needs to be warmed
That 2 hour investment also creates some BONUS meals for a later date:
- 3 individually sized butternut squash soups are now in the freezer to be eaten when someone is snackish or to be used as another weekday meal
- an extra container of ‘cheese’ sauce is ready and only pasta needs to be cooked for a quick meal
- Tuesday’s dinner of General Tao chick peas is also likely to yield some leftovers. These will also be individually packaged and frozen like homemade “tv dinners” for a later date
After 2 weeks of prepping, by week three there are enough ready-made meals in the freezer to not have to cook anything new for one week. This results in considerable time and money savings as week three’s grocery trip usually requires only a few add ons. Plus, these extra meals in the freezer mean that any other time you feel hungry but too tired to cook something from scratch, you always have a healthy option at your fingertips that requires little effort, yet maximizes nutritional benefits.
Incorporating these three objectives into my meal planning helps to save time (during the week) and money, but more importantly it provides the right tools to make the most healthful choices when fueling my body. Premium fuel means more energy, more efficient use of that energy and most important; self love and happiness.