One of the biggest obstacles to a healthy diet is food planning and preparation.  

Most of my patients complain that they don’t have time to cook healthily and eating well is hard. I think that we all feel that way sometimes, but creating a healthy lifestyle is a matter of making certain behaviours a priority.  Here are a few of my personal tips and tricks for organizing food preparation with busy work schedules to make healthy meals a reality.  Of course to implement these steps it helps to have a well stocked fridge and pantry.  Avoid poor quality snack foods like chips and granola bars and stick to the perimeter of the grocery store.  Remember, if it has a nutrition label, it is a processed food!  The next step is to commit to two or three hours to food preparation on the weekend, or when it is convenient for your family.  Making food ahead of time really takes the pressure off those busy school and work nights and saves money that is otherwise spent on eating out.  For practical food preparation ideas, read on!

1. Consider cooking a whole chicken, turkey or roast so that you have leftovers until mid-week.  I often cook a large chicken on Sundays.

2. Once a month, cook several fresh chicken breasts (I typically barbeque a dozen) seasoned to your taste.  Let them cool then cut them into bite-sized pieces and freeze in single servings for the meals to come.

3. Buy pre-washed lettuces (a variety such as spinach, arugula and mixed baby greens) and fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, mint, basil) to make quick easy salads.  The herbs can be washed ahead of time and put in green bags (to preserve freshness) in the fridge.  I also grow sprouts to add interest and nutrition to my salads.

4. Grate carrots & beets, chop onion & celery (or other vegetables) and put in containers in the fridge for quick salad assembly.

5.  Cook a pot of soup/stew/chilli for the week.  Turkey chilli is a family favourite of ours.

6.  Buy a variety of frozen fruits to make breakfast smoothies and have a good quality protein powder on hand.

7.  Boil half a dozen eggs and put them in the fridge.  These are very convenient to add to a salad or to eat on the run when you need a snack.

8.  Make a grain-based or bean-based cold salad that will keep well all week (ie: quinoa salad or 5 bean salad).

9.  Have a variety of raw nuts and seeds in the freezer (yes, freezer for freshness) for snacks.

10. Keep some of your favourite fresh fruit on hand and choose seasonal when possible.

So, what tricks do I use for healthy, quick meals?  I follow a pretty simple plan for breakfast and lunch and incorporate more variety in my evening meal.  Here are my suggestions for stream-lining your meals:

1. Start your day with a protein shake.  Its quick and easy and far more nutritious than any breakfast cereal on the market.  If you are trying to lose weight, a protein shake is an excellent way to balance your blood sugar and keep you satisfied until lunch.  A protein shake is also a great vehicle for whole food supplements like “Green’s First”, acidophilus powder or fish oil.

2. Have a salad with protein for lunch.  Since you have prepared your salad makings, this should take you about 3 minutes.  Put some mixed greens and fresh herbs in a medium to large  container, add your grated or chopped veggies and maybe some avocado   I like to add a tablespoon or hemp hearts or sunflower seeds for fiber and crunch and finally, choose your protein.  Chicken (the pieces that you froze in advance), canned salmon or tuna, boiled egg, chickpeas (rinsed) etc. – all are good options.  For dressing, consider squeezing lemon or lime onto your salad instead of processed dressings.

3.  Tired of salad?  Create a grain-free lunch wrap by nesting a collard leaf and romaine lettuce leaf together and filling it with grated veggies, sprouts, hummus or avocado, left over bean salad, chicken, quinoa or even chilli.  This is a delicious alternative to a wheat based, glycemic lunch.

4. Pack an easy snack to take to work.  Your afternoon snack should involve no preparation and literally be “grab and go”.  Having a mid-afternoon snack will keep you from over-snacking when you get home from work.  Most people are prone to a blood sugar dip around 4pm, so this is a perfect time for 10-15 almonds and a piece of fruit.  Another favourite of mine is an unsweetened applesauce cup with ground flax or “holy crap” cereal – very filling and a great source of fibre and omega fatty acids.

Dinner should be a breeze with all of your hard work on the weekend!  Throw some sweet potatoes in the oven, pull out your leftover chicken, stew, chilli (etc.), make a quick salad and dinner is served.



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