Making Healthy Eating Work -
Food Preparation Strategies
by Dr John M Berardi, CSCS
Most people nowadays know at least the basics of what they should eat and what they should avoid to improve their health, their body composition, and their performance. Yet most people are overweight and/or obese.
So what’s the problem? Where’s the disconnect? Why is it so hard for them to make the change? Well, unless they really don’t want to change, the two biggest impediments to their success are:
1.Their habits — or their ingrained set of day to day food and activity related actions — remain poor because they don’t have a conscious, logical plan for changing them.
2.They aren’t ready for the tough times. Things might be getting better; then the tough times hit. They "get busy". Eating well becomes inconvenient. No one else supports their decision to make a change. When these inevitable circumstances come up, they bail.
Habits are more powerful than momentary desire. Habits are more powerful than information. Habits are more powerful than guilt. And only a concerted, conscious effort to override habits will lead to success.
So, in some respects, better nutrition is more about altering lifestyle habits and less about the food. Sure, you’ve gotta know which foods are good to eat and plan to eat them. But, as GI Joe once said, knowing is half the battle. Even if you know what’s good and expect to eat good foods, if the good foods aren’t around when it’s time to eat, you’re doomed. In other words, preparation is the other half. Here are my top food preparation strategies to ensure you win the other half of the battle – the doing part.
Strategy #1 — The Sunday Ritual
No, no, this ritual doesn’t include lamb’s blood or any special Kool Aid. The Sunday Ritual is performed by setting aside 3 hours or so every Sunday (any day of the week will do but Sunday is easiest for most) to write out your menu for the week, shop for the week, and prepare your meals for the week.
First, on your Ritual day, sit down and come up with your meal plan for the week. It should only take a few minutes to lay out 7 different breakfast meals, 7 different lunch meals, 7 different dinner meals, and 2-3 additional snacks for each day.
Next, once the meal plan is laid out, add up exactly how much of each food you’ll need over the 7 days and go pick those foods up at the grocery store.
Finally, once you’ve got all those groceries home, it’s time to start cooking for the week. Some people choose to prepare all their meals for the week on Sundays (excluding shakes). Others prefer to figure out which meals will be easy to cook just prior to meal time and save them for later, preparing only the meals that will need to be eaten during work hours or during busy times of the day when food prep becomes difficult.
For example, some people can easily prepare breakfast meals and dinner meals on demand by setting aside a few minutes each day for meal preparation. Others have a significant other who can prepare these meals for them. Either way, these meals can probably wait until they are needed. However the lunches, 2-3 daytime snacks, and workout shakes usually present a problem for the unprepared so they should be made in advance. Sunday is a good time for most to do this preparation.
So, if it suits your lifestyle, use the Sunday ritual to get these meals ready for the week. Cook all the meat, chop all the vegetables, measure out all the yogurt and/or cottage cheese, and distribute all the powders. Have them ready and set aside so that you can grab them in the morning and bring them with you regardless of what your day or your boss holds in store for you.
Strategy #2 — The Breakfast Ritual
Rather than preparing all their food for the week on a single day, some people prefer to do a little food preparation each day. That’s what the Breakfast Ritual is for.
Using the Breakfast Ritual, simply perform all your cooking for the day each morning. Since you’ve gotta prepare breakfast anyway, make sure you’ve got a couple of meals going while breakfast is being prepared. Again, this need not be a huge production. I can prepare all my meals for the day with a max prep time of 30 minutes.
Of course, as with the Sunday ritual, think about what your day will hold under both the best conditions (i.e. home from work early and a relaxing evening ahead) and the worst (i.e. unexpected deadline, all nighter at work, long day at work and soccer practice for the kids) and act like a boy scout — be prepared.
One great strategy for being prepared is to bring both the meals you expect to eat as well as some "back-up" options, just in case. So, as discussed earlier, even if you expect to grab lunch at TGI Fridays and have dinner at home, bring with you both a lunch alternative and a dinner alternative, just in case something else comes up. If you don’t need the meals, that’s fine — just eat them another day. But if you do need them, you can chow down without skipping a meal or choosing a poor alternative.
Here’s another idea for you. If you don’t want to bring several full meals that you’re unlikely to eat, another great option is to bring some homemade snacks with you. Things like homemade protein/energy bars are a fantastic alternative to the mostly crappy, store bought, sugar laden, artificial ingredient containin’, protein bars.
Strategy #3 — Have Others Cook For You
If you love the idea of having 5-6 ready made meals always available yet can’t see yourself using the Sunday or the Breakfast Rituals above or buying all the Tupperware, there are a number of options at your disposal.
First, you can hire commercial food preparation services to do all the cooking for you. If you’re anywhere near a metropolitan area, you’ll be able to find dozens to choose from. The two biggies nowadays are Atkins At Home (Atkins Diet) and Zone Nation (The Zone Diet). The Atkins At Home company delivers 3 meals and 1 snack to your door by 6 AM each morning. The cost of this is between $35 and $40 per day. Alternatively, the Zone Nation company delivers 3 meals and 2 snacks to your door by 6 AM each morning for the cost of $35-40 per day, just like the Atkins company. I hear good things about both services.
Now, if you’re not interested in supporting the Atkins or Zone programs, there are many smaller companies who can assist you with your meal preparation needs. For example, when I lived in Miami Beach I found a local woman who provided this very service for $5 per meal. Every day for lunch she brought me an 8oz chicken or turkey breast, a baked potato or serving of rice, and a large serving of steamed veggies. Other days, I’d have her bring me 2-3 meals just like this.
Here’s another tip. Pick 4 restaurants in your immediate area (2 fast food places, 1 medium-priced restaurant, and 1 higher priced restaurant) that prepare meals in a way that conforms to your nutritional plan and have them prepare the food for you when necessary. Of course, you’ll have to do a little research on your potential eateries by collecting hard copies of their menus or visiting their web sites (if they’re online).
If you’re looking for a few examples, here ya go. Dave Thomas’ Wendy’s makes a couple of tasty chicken salads and a chili that you can eat when on the go. Even McDonalds is offering healthier meal selections — I’m lovin’ it.
Choose healthier fast food meals that conform to your meal plan when you don’t have much time or much money for a meal and choose a medium-priced restaurant like TGI Fridays (US) or Kelsey’s (Canada) for a better quality menu to provide you with a solid daily lunch. TGI Fridays, for example, has a great list of Atkins-friendly selections.
Finally, choose higher priced restaurants if it’s time for a power lunch to impress colleagues. Since most people don’t really know where they want to go eat anyway, if you get roped into a business lunch, you can be the one to make the definitive decision as to where the group is going to eat. Your decisiveness will win you big points with colleagues and you’ll also be able to control your eating habits.
Of course, if you don’t have the resources to entertain strategy #3 and pay others to cook for you, consider the fact that if you use the first two strategies to effectively build a lean, muscular body, you might just be able to convince attractive members of the opposite sex to take over for you. However, getting them to drop them off at your place by 6 AM every morning is a trick I’ll teach you in a later article.
In the end, whether you choose to regularly prepare your own meals by using the Rituals described above or you regularly choose to have others prepare your meals for you, circumstances will arise in which you’ll have to "cross over" and use a different strategy than you usually use. It never ceases to amaze me how much time those interested in health and fitness spend seeking out "the perfect plan" and how little time they spend figuring out what they’ll do when life’s circumstances prevent them from following it.
Side Note: Food Support Systems
In order to make the Sunday Ritual and the Breakfast Ritual work, it’s important to pick up a few items — nutritional support systems, if you will. Here’s what we recommend picking up before you start using either of the two Rituals:
- A good countertop grill. Since you’ll most likely need to cook relatively large batches of lean protein, it’s important to have a quick way of doing this. If you’ve got a great backyard grill that you can use year-round that’s great. If not, pick up a Foreman or Hamilton Beach grill and you’ll be all set.
- A good cooler in which to store and carry your meals for the day. Coleman makes a few good ones. Before buying one, however, make sure there’s enough room to carry a few meals and a few shaker bottles.
- 5 small Tupperware-type containers. These containers will be for storing and transporting your daily meals. Make sure they are small enough to fit into your cooler but large enough to accommodate a full meal. Your choice of glass or plastic is up to you.
- 5 large Tupperware-type containers. These containers are for storing larger quantities of food. For instance, if you chop your veggies for the week or cook all your chicken breasts for the week, store them in one of these. Again, your choice of glass or plastic is up to you.
- 3 Rubbermaid Chuggable drink containers — 1L size. These containers are for your liquid supplements. Be sure to choose the blue top variety as these are far and away the best drink containers out there. Most others leak.
Follow the guidelines in this article and you’ll be able to display the adaptability necessary to move from nutritional novice to "seasoned" nutritional veteran.