by Catherine King MSc. CSCS
When our lives are busy and hectic, and we are overly tired, the food choices we make can be less than ideal. We will go for convenience or comfort. Decisions made in this type of situation might not align with our goals. We can all agree that grabbing dinner at the convenience store is not the most nutritional choice. Wolfson and Bleich concluded in their research, “having someone in the household cook dinner more frequently is associated with lower consumption of total kilojoules, carbohydrates, fat, sugar and fast food.” In other words, the quality of your diet improves when food is prepared at home more often.
Here is where habits can save the day. Habits are behaviours we perform automatically, saving us from decision making and freeing up time. Implementing food-prep habits eliminates the last-minute scramble and the less-than-ideal decisions that are made when tired and hungry.
When it comes to food preparation, there are several steps involved. The first step is planning, and the first step of planning is to decide when to plan. This step requires a look ahead at your week: decide what day to prep, create a menu for the week and organize a grocery list. Review your schedule for the upcoming week; what days are frantic, and what days are more relaxed? Create a menu to fit your schedule and preferences. Look in your pantry, check the store flyers, and make a list of the ingredients that are required. The next step, of course, is to purchase the items on the list. Nowadays, we have a few options: in-store, online ordering with pick up, or online ordering for delivery. There is even the option to streamline the process and use a meal prep service.
Next, come preparation and storage. There is no right way or wrong way. Experiment to find what works best for you. Ideally, when the ingredients arrive in the kitchen they would be washed, chopped, and stored conveniently in clear sealed containers. Batch cooking and then storing is also a possibility at this point. Choose how many days you want to prepare for. Again experiment, maybe 3 days is perfect, or perhaps 2 is better. This level of organization might not necessarily be realistic for everyone, but it will save time later in the week when things are busier.
Another consideration is evening prep. Preparing the ingredients for a slow cooker meal, placing it in the fridge overnight, and popping it on in the morning as you head out the door can work well. It is hot and ready to eat when you get home from work and leftovers can be used the next day. Additionally, preparing breakfast or lunch the night before can lessen the stress of your morning routine. Overnight oats and Mason jar salads can make good nutrition easy, convenient, and quick. They will also put an end to vending machine meals.
Likely, it is unrealistic that you will suddenly be preparing a week’s-worth of meals: grilling chicken breasts, steaming broccoli and packing them into containers marked Monday to Friday. However, you can make some small changes to improve the quality of your diet and make mealtime run smoothly.
Here are some behaviour options for food prep to consider implementing:
- · Use the grocery store app to create a list and save frequently purchased items as favourites
- · Learn knife skills or cooking skills
- · Create a catalogue of go-to recipes
- · Involve the family in planning the weekly menu
- · Invest in a set of clear containers in various sizes
- · Try overnight oats
- · Make lunches the night before
- · Use dinner leftovers for lunch
- · Make a large batch and freeze portions
- · Pre-wash and chop veggies
When it comes to making a lasting change, it is important to take small steps and avoid trying to change everything all at once. Assess your needs. Look for big boulders versus small pebbles. What will have a greater impact on your life? Work on implementing boulders first. It might turn out that just having a meal plan for the week will improve everything dramatically.
Choose one or two options that you are confident you can implement. Experiment with them. Are these changes working towards your goal of better nutrition and more time, or are they not adding much value to your life?
Change your environment to support food prep habits. Consider having a notepad or whiteboard in the kitchen to write down ingredients you are running out of. Reorganize your pantry and fridge for better efficiency and to reduce food waste. Purchase storage containers or small appliances that will help in your efforts.
Finally, feel good about your endeavours. For change to become permanent, we need to feel good about our actions in that moment.
If you have any questions regarding nutrition coaching and behaviour change, contact Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. New York, New York: Penguin Random House.
Fogg, B. J. (2020). Tiny habits: The small changes that change everything. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Wolfson, J. A., & Bleich, S. N. (2014). Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention? Public Health Nutrition, 18(8), 1397-1406. doi:10.1017/s1368980014001943