This month at Thousand Reasons is Nutrition Month!
Nutrition, in my experience, can be a particularly hairy beast to tackle since there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It's so individual, and it's well beyond my expertise to prescribe anyone a diet plan. Having also recently explored the concept of the non-diet approach, I've realised that sometimes, having a diet plan, and food rules at all can do more harm than good.
So how, you might ask, does one do a nutrition month when one is not a qualified professional in the nutrition industry?
Fortunately, I have come across this conundrum many times in my decade-long career as a personal trainer, and have some practical ways to get around the problem! It combines common sense, trial and error, and a little bit of 'do what works best for now, until you find some new research that suggests otherwise and works better for you'!
What I have found works best for my clients (and me) is focussing on what you can do to get more nutritious food into your diet, instead of focusing on cutting things out. So this month, we'll do it together in the fun-est way I know how... A Challenge!! (Check out our Challenges tab on the website to join).
The goal for this challenge is to help you find practical ways to get more nutritious foods into your day in as simple a way as possible. Some ways will inspire you, others might bore you, but that's the great thing about food- everyone is different, so we're just going to try new things, and you can decide what's going to work for you, and what doesn't.
Of course, if you do need someone to help you individualise your nutritional needs, I highly recommend seeking a qualified nutritionist that specialises in helping their clients reach goals that are similar to yours. It is well worth the time and effort if what you have done so far hasn't worked.
In the meantime, this month will give you plenty of tips, recipes, and ideas to get you started towards a more nutritious you! Starting with my favourite tip of all (and our theme for #mealprepmonday ):
When it comes to food, we know it’s much easier to make nutritious choices when we don’t have to exercise our willpower, and the less choices we need to make, the more likely we are to ace a good decision when we are required to use willpower! Planning and preparing your meals and snacks for the week may sound like a daunting task, but it can save you hours every week in cooking, cleaning, and shopping time, plus plenty of dollars on unnecessarily purchased 'hangry' snacks! But there are things that don’t prep well and things that are way easier than you might think.
Below are some of my top tips on the best ways to plan and prep your meals to help you reach your goals!
What kinds of things do we need to plan to make meal prepping a regular and viable thing to do?
Well, firstly, you need to know what you want to achieve. If you’ve set your goals, you might have an idea of what needs to happen with your diet to make it work for you. But we need to get a bit more specific. (Caution: I’m going the whole hog here, you can omit anything that isn’t relevant to you!)
Are you going to follow a particular diet plan, or are you just making life easier for yourself? If choosing one, what kind of diet are you choosing? Do you need to be aware of how many calories do you need per day? Are there any foods that you need to introduce into or eliminate from your diet? What recipes are you going to choose? How flexible do you want your meals to be? Where will you be doing your shopping for the ingredients? What is your budget? How many people are you prepping for? How much time can you create in your week to do the shopping and prepping?
Notice I didn’t ask how much time you have? Just like exercise, you’ll need to make time for this in your week!
I know… that’s a lot of questions! Like I said earlier, I’ve gone the whole hog, but you only need to focus on the questions that apply to you. I would strongly encourage you to take some time to answer all relevant questions because the clearer you are on the answers, the smoother the process will be.
Let’s just assume you are going the whole hog, and you’re becoming an efficiency queen (or king!). Below is a checklist of what to do and where to start.
BEFORE YOU COOK
Identify your goals, and research your dietary needs (if you are following a specific diet)
Work out your daily nutritional needs (are you focussing on calories or more on the variety of nutrients your getting in?)
Find recipes for meals and snacks that fit those needs
Write a meal plan so that you know what meals and snacks you're going to prepare
Write a shopping list with all the ingredients you need to make your meals/snacks (make sure you include in your first shop, appropriately sized, re-usable containers. Doing this regularly, it's best to use plastic-free containers that freeze and reheat well. If space or cost is an issue, find some good, stackable plastic containers, but avoid the disposable take-away containers and single-use plastic snack bags. Used jars can be good too, especially small jars for snacks and dressings etc.)
*Note on shopping lists: If you do your shopping online, you can save a regular shopping list, order it whenever you need to and have it delivered to your door. This helps you stick to a budget, and means that there are no impulse buys when you 'accidentally' go past the more indulgent aisles!
If you know what you buy weekly, save that as one list, and then create another list for the things you don’t need regularly. Call it a monthly list and you can add or remove anything you need to when it comes time to stock up on the monthly items.
If you have a local butcher that does meat in bulk, it’s a good idea to buy in bulk and portion and freeze it until you need it. It means you can buy better quality meats, for less.
The same goes with fresh veggies. I personally choose a fresh green grocer over supermarkets for veggies. I find they last longer and are of better quality, however, they can be more expensive and can be more time-consuming to go to an extra shop each week. Decide what is more important to you. You can always change your mind if it doesn’t work!
And if all of this is too much, then you can look into the pre-made home delivery options like 'Hello Fresh' and 'lite ‘n easy'! That way, all the hard work is done for you, you just need to pick your meals (sometimes cook) and then eat them!
WHEN YOU START COOKING
Plan and block out a few hours when you can get all of your cooking done in one go on a regular weekly basis, and make it a non-negotiable, just like your exercise!
Have your containers ready to go when you do your cooking so you can fill them as you go, and
Store them in the fridge, freezer, or pantry until you need them!
Enjoy! And adjust as you go. I have done meal prepping many times and I always learn something new every time. So keep learning and evolving as you get better at it, and as your needs change.
Now, I don't know about you, but I’m the kind of person that tends to get bored easily with my food. Some people love consistency, and thrive when they prepare the same thing every day if it means they get the result they are after... I am not one of those people, and the thought of not having a choice to have something different puts me off meal prepping altogether!
If this is the case for you, here's my suggestion:
In the first few weeks of prepping, make a few extra meals to freeze so that you have a few things to choose from.
For snacks: have a ‘free shelf’ in the pantry of appropriate snacks, and choose the number of snacks you need for the day.
Warning: this is not a good idea for anyone that struggles with having an abundance of ready-made snacks available at home (like me!)! As I said before, the less choice you have the less you need to use your willpower so make sure you do what’s right for you. It may be a better option to prepare snacks daily instead of in advance.
I find meal prepping a whole lot easier in winter when most of the meals I make are easy to freeze, and I can forget about them until I need to eat them. Summer meals, like salads, are a bit different, and expiry dates need to be kept in mind.
What I’d suggest is to pick ingredients that last a few days chopped, for example, hard veggies like carrot, cucumber, or capsicum. Softer veggies like spinach and avocado are best added at the time you eat, so they don't wilt and brown, and salads keep longer if the dressing is added just before eating.
With cooked meat, you could either prep and freeze meat separately and defrost and add to salads on the day, or cook a couple of batches during the week, and eat everything fresh.
As you can see, there is a bit to think about when it comes to meal prepping, but when you think about how much time and money it can save you every week, it makes a whole lot of sense!
It’s definitely a learning process, but anything worth doing takes time!
Good luck, and enjoy the process!