One of the most common concerns I hear when talking about eating healthy is the time and planning involved in the process. In an increasingly over-scheduled world full of deadlines, leaving for work before the sun rises, and getting home after the sun sets, it’s no wonder most of us feel inclined to throw a Pop-Tart in the toaster for breakfast and order a pizza every night for dinner.
The reality of constantly choosing convenience over health, though, is that our food choices inevitably determine what kind of life we’re going to live. This may sound like an overstatement, but, the truth is, our food determines our health, and our health determines our quality of life. How often has feeling sick and tired gotten in the way of doing something fun, taking initiative at work, getting in the best shape of our life, ensuring we have clean underwear for the week, whatever? We’ve all been there! More importantly, how often have you told yourself that you want to be healthy, you just don’t have the time?
When I first started changing my diet and lifestyle, I quickly realized how much time it consumed if I didn’t plan and organize accordingly. It really wasn’t until I was working full-time, going to graduate school, and completing an internship that I truly learned some tips and shortcuts to simplify the process, giving me no excuse to stray from my path. Because I so passionately believe that your life can change once you start making better food choices, I am here to share what I’ve learned with you.
- It’s important to schedule shopping and prep time into your week. My shopping day is Saturday because it’s my day off. I can get up after a restful night’s sleep, eat breakfast, make my grocery list, then take my time shopping and prepping my food for the week.
- Never go to the grocery store without a list. Without one, it’s so easy to become distracted and overwhelmed, and before you know it, your cart is full of Cap’N Crunch and pizza rolls (a couple of my pre-plant-loving favorites). Do your very best to stick to your list.
- Before you go to the grocery store for the week, choose a couple healthy recipes and make sure any ingredients you don’t have are on your list. Choose recipes that you’re excited to try, yet are quick and simple to prepare.
- Do yourself a favor and shop after you’ve eaten a meal, or at least a snack. I don’t know about you, but when I’m starving, the last thing I want to do is weave through grocery store aisles and make healthy choices.
Prep and Storage
- As soon as you get home, wash leafy greens before you even put them away. Let them air dry on dish towels or paper towels on the counter while you put away your other groceries, do any chores, etc. Once they’re dry, put them in plastic bags, or in an airtight container lined with paper towels. Store them in your refrigerator.
- You can also keep basic vegetables, such as chopped onions, carrots, bell peppers, celery, parsley, garlic, etc. in storage containers with lids. Now they are ready to use in your favorite salads and meals.
- If you’ve gotten into the habit of making green smoothies every day, which are, in my opinion, the healthiest way to start your day, I like to have a container of greens solely for my smoothies. I usually choose about three types different leafy greens, wash them, and store them together in one large container lined with paper towel. This way, my smoothies have a combination of greens in them. It’s important to rotate the greens you use in your smoothies often, as each green has their own nutritional profile and health benefits.
- Before going to bed, put all your green smoothie contents in the blender container and store it in the fridge. Even on days you wake up late, all you have to do is grab your container out of the fridge, put it on its base, blend, pour into a to-go cup, and you’re out the door – all in a matter of a couple minutes. This is my favorite time-saving tip because it leaves me with absolutely no excuse to skip my morning smoothies.
- When making fresh vegetable and fruit juices, I like to prep all my juice ingredients and store them in their own bags. This is incredibly convenient when you’re going to make a juice in the morning before work. You just have to grab one of your bags out of the refrigerator, juice its contents, clean up, and go.
- Whole grains and beans are a staple in any plant-based diet. Dried beans are significantly less expensive than canned varieties. They should be stored in airtight jars on a shelf or in a cupboard until ready to cook. When choosing canned beans, be sure to give them a good rinse before using.
- Mushrooms should be stored in a brown paper bag in the vegetable drawer of the fridge.
- Fresh herbs will last the longest when kept in a glass of water in the refrigerator, like flowers.
- Once opened, all oils, except olive oil, should be refrigerated. Olive oil should always be kept in a cool, dark cupboard.
- Nuts and seeds should be stored in airtight glass containers in the fridge or freezer.
- Flour should be kept in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Fruits, including tomatoes, and potatoes should be kept in a shady area in the kitchen, or a cupboard, rather than in the refrigerator.
- Beans and grains can be soaked overnight in twice the amount of water to reduce cooking time (for example, if soaking one cup of beans, use two cups of water). Just make sure the soaking water is discarded, and fresh water is used to cook them.
- I like to cook a few different types of beans, such as chickpeas, lentils, and black beans, then freeze them in small containers, usually enough for one meal at a time. When I’m ready to make a meal that requires beans, I can just pull what I need out of the freezer and not worry about cooking them ahead of time. Another bonus to pre-soaking and freezing cooked beans is both processes helps reduce the flatulence-causing agents that scares most people away from eating them in the first place!
- Quick-cooking beans include lentils and split peas, which take 20-30 minutes to prepare. They do not need to be soaked prior to cooking like other beans.
- Some quick-cooking grains are couscous, millet, quinoa, oats, and polenta. All can be prepared in under 30 minutes, versus longer-cooking grains such as rice and barley.
- Grains can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. When re-heating grains, they are best steamed on the stove. I use a stainless steel steamer basket, which can be purchased at most stores for under $10.
- When nuts and seeds are soaked overnight in water, they become easier for our body to digest. Once soaked, rinse them in fresh water, drain them in a colander, and store them in airtight containers in the fridge. Now they are ready to use as a healthy snack, on a salad, etc.
- If you get home and are feeling starved and tempted to order a pizza, eat a palmful of nuts first. This will curb that overwhelming feeling of hunger that makes most of us reach for convenient and unhealthy food. Now that you’ve put that breadstick-dipping demon to rest, you can throw together one of those quick and easy recipes you’ve already shopped for and prepped earlier in the week.
If it weren’t for learning these tips and shortcuts over the years, I likely would have thrown in the towel when it comes to eating a plant-based diet. I’m sure glad I didn’t, because my life has completely changed. Just like any other self-improvement plan, a healthy diet takes planning, organization, and, most importantly, commitment. Once you get into some of these habits, you’ll feel less overwhelmed about eating this way. Not only that, you will begin to see improvements to your health, and ultimately, your life.
Haas, E.M. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. New York: Random House, Inc.