It's been a lazy Sunday, and after enjoying a few extra hours of time in bed listening to the surprisingly soothing wind and rain and several more watching surreal World Cup action, it's time to accomplish the one thing that can make an unbearably busy week manageable: weekly meal prep.
During the week, after a long day in the clinic or gym, the last thing I want to worry about is food. And I know I won't. If there isn't something waiting in the fridge, ready to be heated and devoured, I already know that the quality (and most likely quantity) of what I will choose to eat is going to suffer. I will eat out or find some sort of other convenient, ready-made solution that bombards my body with sodium, and literally hundreds to thousands of calories in the form of sugar and saturated fat rather than vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
Most of you are in the same boat. In an online survey by the Heart & Stroke Foundation, 41 per cent of respondents said healthy meals take too long to prepare. Too long? That's music to the ears of the suits behind the Boston Pizza's "finger cooking with Bill" ads, and every fast food joint on the planet. They have convinced us that we have better things to do with our time than cook, when in reality planning healthy meals and cooking for ourselves is probably the single best thing we can do for our health (and that's coming from an exercise - not diet - professional).
Aimee Cadieux, registered dietitian at Agassiz Medical Centre in Morden, has a few more creative tips than my primitive "five containers of chicken, noodles, veggies, tossed in some sauce" approach. She has been part of the medical team there since 2007, and has seen her share of culinary challenges. "I see a lot of clients that are mindless about their diet. Our relationship with food is very complex and our desire to eat is not only driven by physical hunger, but also emotions, boredom, consumer influences, and peer pressure - just to name a few."
Her conclusion and constant reminder to clients is that having a plan helps you stay focused, and becoming more aware of your personal-eating triggers may help you better control the routine of your eating habits.
Here are several more tips for successful meal planning:
-- Start with a planning-appetizer: starting small is the key to successful meal planning. If you try and accomplish too much, you may feel overwhelmed. Begin with planning one day of the week, or one meal of the day for the whole week in order to get your feet wet. Once you're comfortable, build from there.
-- High visibility: We may think that putting meal plans down on a calendar or white board is lame (guilty), but this type of practice makes it easier to adhere to plans, meals, grocery lists, etc., especially when an entire family is involved.
-- Make healthy, convenient: If time and availability are your biggest barriers, stock up on things like bagged and pre-washed lettuce or spinach, pre-cut or frozen vegetables and fruit, frozen fish or chicken, and even canned legumes. These items will make it easier to get a healthy meal out on the table quickly.
-- Slow jam your supper: toss your ingredients into your slow-cooker in the morning and come home to an aromatic feast with very few dishes to clean.
-- Follow the 80/20 rule: While dietary routine can be helpful, variety within food groups is important to ensure you don't miss out on any essential nutrients. Follow a regular meal routine 80 per cent of the time and leave the other 20 per cent for situations where you have less control over your choices. When planning, vary protein sources (beef, chicken, fish), whole grains (quinoa, oats, brown rice), and different fruits and vegetables to obtain everything your body needs.
So if meal planning and preparation are arguably our biggest assets to ward off disease and maintain our health and performance, why is every backyard not billowing plumes of BBQ smoke, and every kitchen not filled with families laughing and throwing food at each other while piling high their fridges with stacks and rows of containers filled with healthy meal choices? Your argument may be time, but the real answer is priority. Chatting with a registered dietitian is a great starting point to establish a kitchen routine that can work for you and your family.
Tim Shantz is a certified athletic therapist and personal trainer. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org