During my planning classes I have participants note which balls typically get dropped for them during term time. When I asked how many people noticed that they ate less well or didn’t sleep enough several people on the call responded affirmatively.
Good nutrition is a foundational practice that enables you to sleep better, cope with stress and anxiety better, think better, and so on. Dropping this ball has consequences. (A post on the HBR blog network provides more detail about how that works.)
Here are a few ideas to consider so that you don’t drop the “eating well” ball. They are based on noticing that eating well involves several different kinds of work:
- deciding what to eat
- making sure you have the ingredients
- actually preparing the food
- sitting down to eat it
I assume you get to the last one but tend to default to things that happen to be in your cupboards, are easy to prepare and/or are easy to order from your favourite take-out place.
Here are a few ideas to help you eat well while reducing the amount of time and energy spent. Please share your thoughts and other ideas in the comments section so others can benefit.
- Make a list of easy, nutritious meals with a shopping list to go with each item. This reduces time and energy spent on making decisions.
- You could do this just for the meals you have most difficulty with.
- You could do separate lists for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
- Make a weekly menu. Transfer the shopping list items required to your shopping list so you have what you need in the house. This reduces decision making and ensures you have the stuff you need handy.
- You can do this weekly as part of your end of week ritual, planning food into your following week, and adding some of the preparatory activities to your “weekend”.
- You can do this once for the whole semester and put it on the wall. Create a document for your shopping list and check the cupboards to cross off things you don’t need to buy each week. This also makes it easier to use the store flyers for deals if you like to do that.
- If you like the idea of a repeating weekly meal schedule but are worried you’ll find it boring, create a weekly schedule with limited options. For example, Mondays can be chicken and your menu can have 3 different chicken recipes to choose from.
- Have prepared meals available to heat up, either for days you can’t be bothered cooking, or as part of your regular plans. This reduces preparation time.
- Buy prepared meals from your grocery store, deli, or a local service that specializes in this sort of thing.
- If you enjoy cooking, use some of your weekend or evening time to cook large batches and freeze portions for later use. OR when you do cook, make a double recipe so you have leftovers for another night or can freeze some for later use. (If you live alone or in a couple, you may find that a full recipe is enough for 2 meals and can do this anyway.)
- Plan leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day or two.
- Try local small businesses that specialize in helping with meal prep. These are popping up in some cities and it’s worth investigating what’s available locally.
- Some provide space to do preparation, recipes, and ingredients so you can go in and prep your weekly meals in one session with support.
- Some deliver all the ingredients and recipes so that you can prepare meals yourself.
- Some will deliver meals you just need to heat up.
- Put take-out or eating out into your plans. Eating out is not necessarily unhealthy or expensive. Make a list of good options in advance to reduce the time and energy spent on decision making and increase the chances you will make what you consider good choices (for both health and budget).
You can mix and match from these ideas and add others to suit your preferences and budget.
The most important thing to tackle is probably the decision making. Decision making takes time and energy. Reducing the number of decisions you have to make during busy periods or at the end of a busy day will help you keep the “eating well” ball in the air.
Please comment with your thoughts and suggestions. I may edit this post to add your suggestions (here, on Twitter or FB, or by email) later so it serves as a resource in future.
Thanks to Beverly Army whose tweet prompted this post, my friend Liz Mander who made a weekly meal schedule years ago, and to my many friends on FB and Twitter who share their lunch and dinner ideas. Originally posted August 29, 2014, updated with link the HBR piece and republished. Edited Sept 14, 2015.