In a previous newsletter, we introduced the role that environmental factors (e.g., package size, plate shape, lighting, variety, and even the presence of others) can have on food intake. The concept is simple: You have to shape your path to ensure that you consistently make the best possible choices for your health and weight management goals.
Along those lines, you can’t make good choices if you don’t have healthy foods available. Think about how many times you’ve made less than stellar food choices because they were convenient or you were short on time. Well, today I’m going to share some strategies with you that I’ve used with nearly every coaching client to help them positively shape their food environment.
Enter the Food Prep Ritual. The Food Prep Ritual involves planning and preparing some healthy food in advance, so that it’s easily available when you want and need it. This can include:
- Grocery shopping (or arranging to have food delivered)
- Menu and meal planning
- Washing and chopping vegetables
- Cooking/preparing protein (e.g. cooking up some chicken breasts)
- Cooking meals in bulk (e.g. casseroles, soups, stews, chili)
- Preparing the dry ingredients for things like Super Shakes
- Soaking grains/beans beforehand so that they’ll be ready to cook later
- Sorting foods into smaller containers or baggies
- Freezing and refrigerating food for later
- Planning healthy meals that someone else cooks (e.g. meal delivery service)
- Looking ahead to ensure healthy eating strategies during the next few days,
- especially during difficult times (e.g. a busy week, traveling, dealing with a family crisis, etc.)
Here are some examples of how to apply the Food Prep Ritual concept.
The Sunday ritual. This doesn’t have to be a Sunday. It can be any day where you have a few hours to shop, cook, and prepare some food in advance. On this day, you can do things like:
- Buy groceries for the week (or at least the next several days); stocking up on easy staples such as canned beans, pre-washed veggies, etc.
- Cook large meals that can be refrigerated or frozen in smaller portions (e.g. chili).
- Cook lean protein in bulk (e.g. roasting a couple of chickens, boiling several eggs, etc.).
- Wash, peel, and chop veggies.
The evening ritual. If you are willing to take an extra 15 minutes in the evening, you can often prep enough healthy food for the following day. This can include:
- Making extra dinner so that they have leftovers for lunch the next day.
- Putting a bowl of steel-cut oats on the counter to soak overnight; in the morning,
- the oats will cook in no time flat.
- Doing a little extra veggie chopping or protein prep while dinner is cooking.
- Chopping some veggies and meat, putting it in a slow cooker dish, and refrigerating
- the dish; the next morning, you can pull the cooker dish out of the fridge, pop it into the cooker, turn the cooker on, and enjoy coming home to a delicious home-cooked meal.
The breakfast ritual. This one is for the morning people. If you are willing to take an extra 15 minutes in the morning, you can prep healthy food for the rest of the day. This can include:
- Making a Super Shake to bring with you to work.
- Packing a lunch (e.g. pre-frozen chili or other bulk meal, dinner leftovers, a wrap).
- Doing a little extra veggie chopping or protein prep while breakfast is cooking.
- Chopping some veggies and meat, putting it in a slow cooker, and the next morning, turn the cooker on, and enjoy coming home to a delicious home-cooked meal.
The 1-minute ritual. Even if you feel you can’t spare 15 minutes, you can at least spare one minute. One-minute “plan and prep” actions can include:
When you’re already at the store:
- Pick up a rotisserie chicken.
- Pick up pre-washed vegetables or pre-made salads.
- Think ahead to the food prep sessions and buy in bulk.
- Grab an apple or bag of baby carrots to snack on as you peruse the aisles, so you
- don’t make decisions while being insane from hunger.
When you’re out for dinner:
- Check out the restaurant’s menu in advance and decide beforehand what to get.
- Grab a doggie bag.
When you’re already cooking:
- Chop, wash, or prep one extra item.
- Put away leftovers immediately into a container for later.
- After dinner, dump leftover meat bits (e.g. chicken or steak bones, ends of cooked meat, etc.), veggies, grains/beans, etc. into the slow cooker. Cover with water, turn the pot on low, and leave it overnight. In the morning you’ll have delicious soup broth that you can then use as the base for quick soups.
- Think “one meal ahead” and “one behavior ahead.” In other words, anticipate what you might need, want, and/or feel in 2-4 hours from now.
- Anticipate hunger levels and food needs; anticipate feelings like “At 3 pm, I know I’ll want to eat ____.”
- Call or place an internet order with a healthy meal or grocery delivery service when you know you’ll otherwise struggle to find healthy options.