One misconception people have is that eating healthy takes more time and effort. Ok, I will concede that in some ways it does. Our culture is a food toxic environment and is designed to allow us to get the most amount of pleasure for the least amount of energy. Fast food, packaged foods, gas station food and airport food all conspire against the best of intentions. But once people make the commitment, they often say it is easier than they thought. Yes, initially it does take more energy. So, how to make it energy efficient?
- Commit. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to executives and they tell me they eat well at home but that their diet falls apart when they travel. When I probe a bit more, however, I learn that the reason they eat well at home is by default—because their spouse or significant other prepares healthy meals. It isn’t because they’ve made a serious commitment to eating better! However, once you commit, you open your eyes to the possibilities, there are more choices in airports and restaurants than you think. At the very least, while there might not be a great choice, there are always “better” choices. When you make the commitment, requesting restaurants to prepare a veggie dish or asking them to leave off the cheese is easier. Just get over the guilt of feeling like you are high maintenance. It is your health, not their convenience that is important.
- Make it a habit. Learning a new habit does take more energy. It takes practice and persistence. But once you are there–once it becomes second nature–it takes a lot less discipline and mental energy.
- Eat more fruit. Fruit is nature’s perfect grab and go food. It doesn’t need cooking and, apart from the occasional peeling, requires little preparation. What could be easier? It is high in water, fiber, vitamins and antioxidants (it even has protein). It is also satiating. At 300 calories a pound you can literally pig out on it and not gain weight. Have a fruit smoothie for breakfast, and an apple, banana or orange for a morning snack. Eat some after dinner in place of dessert. Find fruit that you love. My favorite fruit is papaya, so I ignore how pricey it is and buy it. Plus you can always find fruit in airports and even at gas stations. Have a big bowl of fruit at home (where you can easily grab some) and at work. Buy frozen fruits for your smoothies and to add to cereal. Buy pre-cut and peeled melons and fruit combos at the store–whatever makes it easy.
- Buy pre-cut, pre-washed vegetables and leafy greens. Yes, this is a tad pricier, but there is nothing easier than throwing these into a big bowl to create a wonderful salad, stir-fry or soup. I even buy peeled garlic.
- Buy canned or food in jars, such as beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, artichoke hearts, lentils, refried beans, salsa, green chilies and hearts of palm. These can jazz up salads. Beans, along with olives, spinach, salsa and chilies make for quick and easy burritos or a Costa Rican style beans and rice. Tomatoes and lentils with added veggies make for a quick soup. Just open and heat.
- Have frozen vegetables on hand. Towards the end of the week when you are running low on fresh veggies, turn to frozen spinach, kale, collards, broccoli, corn, edamame and brussel sprouts for soups and stir-fries.
- Seek out healthier fast food options, but be picky. When I have to eat lunch at an airport, I usually seek out a burrito or Chinese restaurant. At the Chinese restaurant I always order two servings of stir-fry veggies and maybe a small serving of tofu. At the burrito place it is always a veggie burrito with black beans and lots of salsa (I always get extra), oh and hold the cheese and sour cream. Black beans have the highest antioxidant content of all the beans, plus I like them better than pinto. But I have them pack on the lettuce, guacamole and the veggies. Often I will do the naked bowl choice as well (the large tortilla is about 300 calories). There are fast food restaurants popping up all the time that have healthier, more veggie options. Even Subway has a veggie patty that can replace the deli meats. Google vegetarian friendly restaurants (they always have more vegetable options) when you travel. If I don’t have a dinner commitment on the road, I will find the nearest Whole Foods and eat from their salad bar.
- Use quick-cooking whole grains. Quinoa, quick oats, bulgur wheat and whole wheat cous cous cook up in minutes. Serve with lots of veggies or as a salad with cilantro, avocado, tomatoes, parsley and cucumber. Cilantro, mint and parsley all count as leafy greens.
- Experiment with faux meat. A lot of people are a bit freaked out by faux meats. While they are not as nutrient packed as fruits and veggies, they can help you transition away from red meat and/or chicken. They certainly don’t come with the same baggage as meat. They are cholesterol free, lower in fat, and are sometimes higher in protein then their real meat counterparts. They also don’t come with the contaminants and fecal bacteria that are so endemic in beef and chicken (even organic chicken). They are easy to prepare, just heat (or add to a recipe) and serve. Here is a quick comparison of ground beef to Smart Ground.
10. Have fresh raw nuts available to snack on (but keep it to a couple of handfuls). Don’t buy the salted, roasted kind; the salt makes them too addicting and hard to stop at a couple of handfuls. Walnuts are one of the best nuts around (high in antioxidants and omega-3s). And if you are worried about the extra calories that nuts provide, watch this clip that reviews the research on nuts and weight gain.
In conclusion, find pleasure in eating healthy foods and discover ways to get the food quickly and easily.
What tricks have you tried for eating healthy while saving time and energy?