It would be so easy if it all just came in a pill. Just take it 3 times a day- your “All in one Healthy Living Supplement.” It’s a dream come true. No more planning, thinking, preparing, chopping, cooking or people pleasing. It’s like some of those programs like Nutri-System and Slim Fast were onto something, right? Just spend this money and we will give you what you need to get the results you want. I can see why that was a good business model.
But at some point, it’s not so fun any more. The meals don’t taste good and the shakes don’t satisfy you for long. After a few weeks, you are back to wanting some variety in your choices and crave some of your favorite foods. Foods that you make for yourself.
It seems like what we really want is a happy medium. We want healthy convenience, but ultimately we want foods that we recognize as real food. The reason is that REAL food satisfies. It has more flavor, textures, color and combinations than the health bars that are so convenient. It begs the question: Is it possible to follow a healthy lifestyle with nutritious meals that works even when you don’t have time? Or forgot to plan dinner? Or travel out of town? Or low on groceries? Or eating out at a party/picnic/other event?
The number one question I get from my clients:
“How do YOU do it? What are your solutions to these situations?”
So I’ve created this list to let you know my inside scoop of how I plan (even when life isn’t perfect) to stay on track when any of these situations arises.
I keep “emergency food staples” stocked at all times.
Some people go to the grocery store when they run out of milk, bread or eggs. These are often seen at the staples that we can’t exist without. Now, they are useful, but they don’t guarantee a healthy dinner. Here are my emergency staples: frozen salmon burgers, canned salmon, frozen broccoli, baby spinach, carrots, eggs, frozen berries. It’s not a long list but I can make a few meals out of these ingredients in a matter of minutes. No time to cook dinner? I will steam some broccoli and cook a salmon burger in 5 minutes you can have it ready. It’s not my first choice, but it’s better than the alternative of getting take out or snacking on popcorn for dinner. Eggs make a quick and filling breakfast- make it an omelet by adding spinach. Or go the smoothie route by blending spinach, berries and some almond milk.
I have at least 2 “pick up” dinners that I can get at the store
This is another alternative to take out. But you will be picking it up at the grocery store.
My 2 grocery/deli pick ups are rotisserie chicken and shish-kabobs. If I get the rotisserie chicken- I pair it with carrots that I usually have on hand. In 5 minutes, you can peel, slice and microwave carrots with a little butter and honey to have hot glazed carrots to go with your rotisserie chicken. If you want less work, just grab the pre-made deli kabobs. The ones in my local market are pre-cooked chicken with peppers, onion, tomato and mushroom, so the veggies are ready to go. Warm in the microwave and you can feed a family who is ready to eat now.
I order the same format when dining out at restaurants
So many meals look healthy on menus, but when you get them served they turn out to be not what you expected. The portions are too big (encouraging you to overeat) or the vegetables are too small or they are prepared with too much sauce or fried or just too greasy. Sometimes you get the meal and it’s mostly just a few bites of the healthy stuff and you end up mainly with pasta or rice or potatoes on your plate. I tend to stick with the same format: find a lean protein and pair it with a vegetable side. Sometimes it’s not even on the menu. Sometimes you have to ask for it.
At one Italian restaurant I eat at monthly, I ask for the veggie antipasto appetizer. This is my vegetable (because, like you, I get sick of salads too.) The appetizer is an assortment of peppers, tomatoes, olives, mushrooms and artichokes. It’s enough for two, and I usually split it to last 2 meals. To make a meal out of it, I ask for a side of grilled salmon. Look at the appetizers or sides to find a vegetable. Often you can get steamed broccoli or asparagus or the mixed seasonal veggies. Then ask for an a la carte protein, grilled. Usually restaurants can do this no problem and the cost is comparable to getting the full entree, but you are only getting what you really want on your plate without having to use your willpower to control your intake of the unhealthy stuff. What’s nice about doing it this way is that you are in control of what you order, not victim to what is getting served to you, limited by the choices on the menu. Just make sure that you go to a restaurant that serves vegetables and non-fried proteins. That’s your responsibility.
I use the Plate Method when eating at a party or other event
If you are at a relative’s house or at a dinner party or at a church or work function or any other event where there are multiple food choices laid out in front of you- plan your plate like this:
1/2 filled with vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 starch or carbs. Hopefully you have these 3 choices available to you. But if you can follow the plate portion method, you will not overdo your calories, you will not get overly stuff and you will not feel guilty for indulging in party food. At a barbecue for example, 1/2 of your plate is salad (not pasta or potato salad) but the leafy kind. Then grab a hamburger patty or hot dog or bbq chicken, then 1 corn on the cob is your starch. If you want to eat the bread, that is your starch and you will leave off the corn. If you want dessert, then you will leave off the bread and the corn and have a small piece of the sweet stuff (works good for birthday parties). The toughest part of party food is that most of it falls into the carb/starch category. There might be a dozen choices including all the snack items, drinks and desserts. So it will be hard to just choose one to fill 1/4 of your plate, but it’s really the choice you get to make for that one event.
I carry snacks with me at all times!
It doesn’t matter if I’m packing lunch for work, or going out to TJ Maxx on the weekend, but if I leave the house, I will have something to eat on me just in case. 99% of the time my choice is nuts or seeds. The logic behind this is that nuts (and I mean plain, unsalted, non-chocolate covered, not part of a snack bar type of nuts) are not a trigger food for me. I can pack an empty Altoids tin of walnuts, almonds or pumpkin seeds and will have an option at my fingertips in case I get hungry. But it doesn’t get me to thinking…hmmm…I’ve got those praline pecans in my bag, they are so tasty, I can eat the whole bag. I can’t seem to stop eating these dry roasted almonds. Where’s that trail mix- I need to chew on something right now. See how easy it can be to have a healthy snack food turn into an additional source of extra calories? If you are eating them when you are not hungry or if you are eating more of them than you need to satisfy the initial hunger pang, you are probably eating too many. I like to choose nuts because they are not processed, contain multiple vitamins and minerals, are filling, are portable and can hide in a small container in my bag. But if I don’t get hungry, I don’t think about them.
I carefully indulge in my sweet cravings
I will usually choose something that has a strong taste so a small bite will satisfy. I find that chocolate usually satisfies my cravings and it’s doesn’t need to be very sweet because the taste is so strong, so I will have a square or 2 of a dark chocolate bar. I still like to make my own chocolate, because I always have the ingredients on hand, and it tastes really good. So if I have 5 minutes, I will do this, especially if it’s a chocolate craving and I don’t have a bar of dark chocolate in the cupboard. If my craving is tangy-sweet, I will get some fruit like cherries or a clementine. This works well for wanting something sweet after a meal. Sometimes I want creamy comfort foods and I’ll choose something coconut, like coconut manna on a spoon or warm coconut milk with cinnamon which is really nice in cooler weather. I find it works well to stop and ask: What are you really craving? If you try to satisfy cravings with other stuff that doesn’t work, you will often find yourself eating a bite of everything except the one thing you are craving most. I say, just be done with it with a bite of the real thing. But do make sure that you don’t have lots of easy to eat extra servings lying around because it makes it hard to stick to a small portion. Have your bite, wrap up the rest and put it out of sight.
That’s the real deal. Those short cuts have saved me from falling off the wagon when the going gets tough. It allows me a little wiggle room, but not too much to get me to feel unstable or snowball completely out of control. It’s real life and it’s manageable and this is what has worked for me. So what has worked for you? What are your real life diet short cuts? Please leave a comment below to share. Know someone who needs tips? Share this article with a friend!