Sue asked last week, “How difficult is eating healthy for an individual? Exercise is not as difficult, it’s just being motivated enough to do it. In my honest opinion, I think eating healthy is really difficult because a lot of us are busy people, and eating the right foods are not as convenient as eating the foods that are readily available. Also, if there are healthy foods readily available, it’s hard to come by and costs a lot more.”
I do not believe that eating healthy is all that difficult, nor does it have to be very inconvenient or expensive. With a little planning ahead, you can easily provide yourself with plenty of healthy snacks, meals and leftovers with which to fuel yourself.
I actually think that eating healthy can be easier when you are busy because a small amount of time up front can prevent you from wasting a lot of time throughout the week.
You will not have to worry about going out to a restaurant or fast food establishment for your lunches, you will not have to go to the grocery store every day or two to get the staples that you need to prepare dinner, and you won’t have to waste time by going out to eat when you don’t have anything to cook.
In my household, we are the definition of being busy. I work full time, run part time, and am trying to start a home business. My wife goes to law school full time, works part time and spends almost all of her free time studying. My cat, well she mostly just alternates between sleeping and running around like a mad-woman, although she does her best to help my wife study (as long as the books are not in my wife’s lap that is.)
My wife constantly tells me that we need to eat healthier, and every time I have to remind her that I am perfectly content with the healthy content of my diet. The difference between our two diets are that I have more of an opportunity to snack throughout the day. Our dinners are the same, our lunches are usually similar, and if anything she eats a healthier breakfast than I do.
I cook most of our meals, and when I cook our meals tend to be a bit healthier than when she does. Every week, we usually eat some sort of fish or other seafood once or twice, eat a vegetarian meal at least once, and try to mix up our chicken, pork and beef throughout the week. Many of our meals include some sort of pasta, rice or quinoa.
Throughout the week, we keep a list of the meals that we are going to prepare that week, and what we want to eat the next week. Individual meals may change for which day we are actually going to cook them on, but by having our list we can make sure that we have everything we need to make those meals on our one shopping trip each week.
When I am preparing dinner, I usually cook for 6 to 10 people unless we are eating fish. This provides ample leftovers for lunches throughout the week. My wife eats a normal portion, I usually eat 2 normal portions, and the rest feeds us for lunch. When we make something like quiche or ghoulash, we will freeze some of it for later meals.
It used to be that if we ran out of leftovers and I didn’t have time to go go home for lunch and needed to buy it, then I would go to one of the local delis or butcher shops for a sandwich where they slice my meat and cheese and bake my bread locally.
These days, I can’t afford the time for that, mostly because I usually run at lunch time. The fastest and cheapest meal that I can get is a double egg and sausage sandwich on an english muffin at a small deli on the way back to work that only costs a couple of dollars, which is cheaper than driving home for lunch right now given the price of gas and the poor mileage of the vehicle I’m currently commuting in.
My wife will usually get soup pretty cheaply at the law school on days that we don’t have anything prepared, although she usually gets dibs on any leftovers because she has less time than I do to stop.
Eating every 2 to 4 hours is important, so I tend to snack throughout the entire day. It is also the only way for me to get anything done because I am always hungry. To start with, I always bring a banana to work with me, and often bring an apple as well.
Any time that we eat carrots at dinner, which is at least 3 or 4 times per week, then I will slice up a few extra and put them into baggies to snack on at work. They stay fresh cut up in the fridge for at least 2 or 3 days, so the trick is just remembering to throw a baggie of them in my lunch bag in the morning.
My desk drawer also has a 5 gallon tub of pretzels and a 2 pound container of either almonds or mixed nuts that I snack from throughout the day.
My favorite snacks that I eat throughout the day are all home made and cheap. I have a food dehydrator, and make apple leather and jerky on a regular basis. I normally use beef these days, but I taught myself to make jerky using deer meat that my uncle provided. Hopefully he manages to shoot another one next Autumn. I have tried making fruit crisps, but haven’t quite perfected that.
I also make my own protein/energy bars, which may not last as long as store-bought ones but I can get through a batch in about a week or 10 days so it doesn’t really matter. They are healthier than the ones that you buy prepackaged because I don’t use any preservatives, and the raw ingredients are much less expensive per bar than anything from the name brands. Tastes better, too. If you do have trouble eating them before they go stale, then bring them to a group run and they’ll disappear pretty quickly.
How long does all of this take?
When we shop, we tend to buy in bulk. We buy eggs by the 5 dozen (although I probably eat 85% of them), always have plenty of flour and oats on hand, and I go through pretzels and nuts fast enough that it makes sense to snack directly out of the huge containers rather than paying for just a box or bag at a time.
Once per week, we buy the perishable goods or anything that we might need for that weeks meals. Every couple of weeks we go to the local butcher and stock up on whatever is on sale, so other than fish most of our meat comes from out of our freezer. Since we know approximately when we are going to eat something, we’ll pull it out a day or a day in a half in advance so that it can slowly thaw in the refrigerator.
Many of our meals involve multiple vegetables, even our sandwiches and wraps.
When we cook, we prepare extra because it usually doesn’t take much more time to cook for the week than it does for the meal. For example, a cup or two of quinoa will only take about 12 minutes to cook, whereas half of a cup will take 10 minutes.
I will usually do anything that involves long bake times, such as a turkey or ham, on the weekends. I will also take the opportunity to cook any protein bars or bake any bread while the oven is still hot. Baking your own bread isn’t that time consuming and can be much tastier than what you buy in the store. Tends to last longer, too. It can be difficult to get the dough to rise in the winter, though, since we keep our house at 55 degrees.
Anything that I make in the dehydrator takes very little effort to prepare, but takes a lot of time. It will take between 5 and 15 minutes to prepare the apple leathers or to slice up the jerky, and then it will take another 5 minutes to take it out of the dehydrator when it is done. So 20 minutes of labor tops, plus 8 to 12 hours where we just make sure that we will be home and let the dehydrator do its thing. (The jerky also takes 12-24 hours to marinade in the refrigerator, although we don’t need to be home for that.)
If you want to eat healthier, the first thing to do is just plan ahead a little. I may not know what I’m cooking for dinner each specific night, but I have a list of meals for the week before I go to the grocery store (with the exception of the fish, which depends upon what is available and is spur of the moment.) Having a grocery list makes shopping faster, only having to go once means less driving around, and having plenty of leftovers to reheat means more meals are ready to go in less time, both for lunch and dinner.
So quit worrying about how busy you are and how unhealthy your diet is. Find some cheap, fresh snacks and then start planning your meals ahead of time.