You get up extra early to get your kids ready for school, make sure they and your spouse are fed before bolting out the door, and that everyone has a lunch in their hands. Then, you get to hop in what is probably a cold shower because little water hogs emptied the tank and you don’t have time to wait for it to refill. After your shower, you get yourself ready, your lunch in your hand, and you walk out the door to your own job.
Later that day, you return home with the spouse and kids, prepare dinner, make sure homework gets done, laundry is put away, and the house is semi-presentable just in case the in-laws decide to stop by. You spend your weekends at little league games, and family functions, religious assembly, hobby luncheons, etc.…
Or, your week sounds something like this…
You successfully run your own marketing firm, law firm, fitness center, coffee shop, outreach program, charitable organization etc.… It’s what you’ve always wanted to do, and you love the work you do.
Sounds like a dream doesn’t it?
Thing is… You’re an incredibly busy person and you execute your schedule like a boss because you have to. In one way or another, you work over 100 hours a week and some days you’re so exhausted you probably sleep while you work, fold laundry, or walk the dog. So, who has time for proper nutrition, let alone grocery shopping?
Somewhere in all of this, your body is demanding proper nutrition and exercise. Let’s face it, your body is going to win one way or another. Many people treat their bodies like a vehicle. It’s something they got brand new, but as it gets older, they start treating it with less and less care. The problem is that your body can’t be replaced, traded in, or upgraded like a used car- unless you count plastic surgery. What you have is what you get.
If you run your body ragged with your demanding schedule, it’s going to start having problems: Anxiety, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Heart problems, etc. Despite what all of those commercials and images that we’re blasted with on a daily basis tell us, there is no manna, single pill, or one thing you can do with minimal effort to maintain a healthy body. Just like your business, job, and family, maintaining a healthy body takes work and a focus on solid nutrition.
What Is Solid Nutrition?
Diet is a key factor in the development of preventable diseases like Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), High Blood Pressure, Type-2 Diabetes, etc. (Frazāo , E. (1996). The American Diet: A Costly Health Problem. Food Review).
However, with so many different fad diets, specialty cookbooks, and marketing plans out there for you to find, it’s difficult to know exactly what solid nutrition means.
- Is it better to eat more carbs or less?
- Should you focus on a fat-based diet or a carb-based meal plan?
- How many calories should you shoot for, or restrict yourself to?
The problem is that every diet book, cook book, and meal plan is going to have different answers to these and other questions you have. It’s easy to dismiss a single cookbook or diet book author when there’s contradicting research. In nutrition, there is always contradicting research.
A good place to start is with the basics. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide breaks down the very basics of nutrition and its components. However, it’s a behemoth to read, and I’m not suggesting that you devote the next year of your free moments to going through its contents; unless you want to.
On the other hand, the USDA puts out a Dietary Guidelines every five years or so. The most recent one was released in 2015, and the next edition is due to release in 2020. Those food pyramids, and MyPlate (https://www.choosemyplate.gov/) infographics that you see everywhere are based off of the Dietary Guidelines (USDA, 2015).
2 Types Of People
You know how those GIF’s will say, “there’s two types of people in this world,” and it goes on to show some hilarious concept of two radically opposing opinions? Well, when it comes to food, there are two very loud voices expressing two very different opinions.
On the one hand there are those of us who enjoy food. We like to shake up our options, maybe tweak recipes here and there, and we enjoy trying new recipes. We like eating healthy, whole foods, and we love watching the Food Network. As busy as we are, we’d like to have the time to have a decent sit down meal three times a day. We want the texture, aroma, and visual presentation of our food to be appealing and appetizing.
Then, there are those of us who resent the need to eat. In this camp, we have people who prefer meal replacement shakes and protein bars because they’re easy to grab with not a lot of fuss. We get really busy trying to do important things in life, and nutrition just isn’t at the top of our list. We do understand the need for healthy nutritional choices, we just don’t want to go through with all of the effort.
For Those Who Can’t Make Up Their Minds
The one problem with 2 type concepts it that they frequently forget about those of us who feel differently depending on the day. Some days we wake up knowing we have so much to do, that we resent the idea of preparing meals, so we opt for blender options.
On the other hand, some days we’ve had so many smoothies and quick grab snacks that all we want is a decent meal. Then that raises the question of whether we are in the mood to make it, or in the mood to go out.
No matter the type you are, we all make questionable nutrition choices, which is unfortunate because our dietary choices is tied directly to our overall health.
Sometimes, making the right dietary decisions is the most difficult task we’re faced with in a day. It’s unfortunate that our budget, schedule, and nutritional needs exist in contradiction.
Sacrifices in Nutrition
Many working professionals, and busy parents will sacrifice healthy food choices in favor of convenience, and budget. Here’s the thing though. You don’t have to make this sacrifice. These choices and sacrifices are concepts that predatory marketers push in order to get you to choose their convenient, junk filled, pre-prepped food items like ho-ho’s or sodium rich T.V. dinners.
Healthy eating patterns don’t just support healthy bodies. They also support active bodies, and busy schedules by providing you the nutrition and energy you need to get on top and stay on top of your daily game.
Your eating patterns represent the totality of all of the foods you consume cumulatively. Your diet doesn’t exist or affect your body in a vacuum. I wish it did, because then I could fit into that size 2 tomorrow just by eating a salad for dinner tonight.
Planning For Better Nutrition
Luckily, making solid nutritional choices throughout the day that fit into your busy schedules is made super easy with a little bit of planning and effort.
Why shouldn’t it?
You are what you eat. Your body is the only vessel you will ever get. Sure, you can make modifications, but you can’t trade the whole thing up just yet. All of our preventable life-style diseases are rooted in nutritional choices (USDA. (2015). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 – 2020 Eight Edition) and dysfunctional dietary habits. Knowing this, your nutrition and dietary lifestyle has to be a primary focus. It can’t be a hasty afterthought.
Sleep is essential, and so we schedule it. In fact, even us night owls look forward to it, so we accept the reality and adjust our needs accordingly. The same has to be done for nutrition. Luckily, it can be done in such a way that planning and executing solid nutritional choices benefits and supports a busy lifestyle.
The Sanctity Of Sunday
Sunday, for many, is a great day to do menu and meal planning. Sunday is just being used as an example here, but there is probably one day in your week when you can commit a few hours to weekly food prep. Find that time, and schedule it in as you would anything that’s important. Commit to solid nutrition through the week by allowing for success and action.
Use this time to:
- Make a Menu
Taking the time out of your schedule for dietary needs isn’t selfish. Again, it’s important because your productivity and health is directly linked to the food and drink choices you make on a daily basis.
Make A Menu
Make a menu for a regularly divided time frame. Whether this is a week, 5 days, 10 days, or 3 weeks doesn’t matter. The first thing you do is make a menu for your time frame.
Stock your menu with nutrient dense foods. Nutrient dense foods are foods that are high in nutrients but lower in calories. Kale is one example, but many people don’t like thick leafy greens. That’s fine. Fortunately, berries and bananas are nutrient dense foods as well. Kale, and berries go great in smoothies for you movers out there.
Planning your meals ahead of time allows you that comfort of knowing that you can depend on yourself to make the right decisions with your nutrition. It also facilitates your next steps and prevents bad food choices in stressful moments.
In your menu, consider every meal you will have over the duration of your selected time period. This includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks. Leaving one night, every now and then, or adding in an additional emergency meal bridges the gap when you plan to go out to eat, go out without prior planning, or when plans get cancelled.
Shop To Your List
After you’ve made your menu, make a shopping list from that menu. Stick to the items on your shopping list. If you have the discipline to walk into grocery store and only buy the things on your list, then you’re better at this than most of us. Congratulations.
However, if you think you’ll have some difficulty, an added benefit to new technologies and shopping patterns of younger generations is that shopping can be streamlined and delegated. Use the pick-up option that stores and chains like Harris Teeter and Wal-Mart offer.
If you really don’t want to go shopping, but your grocery store doesn’t do pick-up, you might try a shopping and delivery service. Also, there are healthy options like Blue Apron if you’d rather spring for convenience to better suite your busy schedule.
The point here is that solid nutritional choices don’t have to be sacrificed for convenience and shouldn’t be.
When you get home from shopping, or it gets delivered, begin meal prep for the week immediately. Start by cooking your proteins. Chicken stores great in the freezer. You can bake you chicken breast for Wednesday night, while you throw your burgers for Monday night on the grill. After it’s cooked to a safe temperature, simply store in the fridge.
This goes for carbs and starches as well. If one of your dinners includes rice, go ahead and get that cooked and put in the fridge along with some quinoa, mashed potatoes, or roasted cauliflower. Keeping cooked starches, carbs, and select vegetables on hand allows for quick grab and heat dinners throughout the week.
Even if you don’t want to cook your veggies ahead of time, you can still chop and prep them. Asparagus meant for Thursday night can be stemmed and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to add the oil and salt before you roast it. Carrots meant for snacks can be chopped or rinsed then portioned out into storage containers.
You’ll get about 4 hours’ worth of work you would’ve done throughout the week done in about 2 in some cases.
The awesome thing about meal prep is that you can either do all of it or some of it all at once. If you know that your daughter a karate tournament on Wednesday night, you can prep that entire meal ahead of time. On Wednesday evening, rather than ordering a pizza, you can heat a previously prepped meal, and serve it in less the time than delivery would take. Plus, you won’t have to tip.
In your meal prep, include snacks. We all have those days when we just want something extra. Keeping healthy grab and go snacks makes better nutritional choices easier than grabbing fast food. Snack sized portions of fruits, string cheese, nuts, and vegetables are available at every grocery store.
If you have an aversion to supporting the overuse of so much plastic in packaging, nuts, vegetables, and most fruits are available at most Co-Ops and farmers markets. Otherwise, the produce or deli sections of most grocery stores will cut fruits for you or offer a variety of pre-cut selections from their inventory.
Using packaging like wax paper, parchment paper, and re-usable containers cuts down on waste.
The hardest thing about fitting in solid nutritional choices into busy schedules is often the wide availability and convenience of junk food options.
Making yourself an easy to follow menu and keeping snack options on hand will make add to the convenience of better nutritional choices.
Make Good Choices Easier
Meal prep and creating a menu can be made easier by remembering the KISS perspective
Whole foods are always preferred over packaged foods in my opinion. However, somethings really are just better pre-packaged. Frozen vegetables are one such food item. I’m not talking about the microwave ready packages with butter, soybean oil, and pounds of salt and preservatives. I’m talking about packaged frozen vegetables that have nothing added to them.
Most frozen vegetables are frozen and packaged at the peak of freshness rather than shipped across the country, left to mature off the stem and in boxes. Besides, a package of frozen, organic, whole broccoli is much easier than spending 7 minutes of your prep time chopping broccoli for the steamer.
As a general rule, if you plan on steaming it, roasting it, or baking it into something, frozen whole vegetables are a better option. They’re often chopped and cleaned before they’re packaged so you don’t have to spend precious prep time chopping them yourself.
Also, look at protein options. Many of the frozen meats in that part of the grocery store section are something to stay far away from. Again, these prepackaged and processed foods often contain so much sodium and preservatives that there’s no way they’re healthy. Of course, you may be able to find something, just check the labels.
For you movers out there, most grocery stores offer a wide variety of frozen fruits. Some people, who love fruits, really just had cleaning and chopping them. If you prefer fresh fruits served whole, ask your produce section to chop them for you.
Again, many grocery stores will do this, but you have to ask. If you prefer to drink your meals, rather than make them and eat them whole, frozen fruits are a great thing to have on hand.
Look for frozen fruits that are either organic, contain no other ingredients, or both. Read the ingredients label. These options are great to keep around for smoothies, or as snacks.
The only thing is that if you plan to use frozen fruits for snacks, make sure to set the portion you’re going to need for the day in the fridge in the morning so they’re thawed out, but not mushy, when you’re ready to eat them in the afternoon.
Components And Pieces
Every component of nutrition and dietary habits affects you in some way. This includes the ingredients in the foods you choose, the foods themselves, and portion sizes. Before you buy anything, read the nutrition facts label.
Many raw, or whole foods don’t come with labels, but their nutritional values are readily available online. Check what your portion sizes are and pay attention to how much you’re overeating or under-eating. When you go out to eat, remember that you actually don’t have to eat everything brought out to you.
Restaurant portions are over-sized as a marketing ploy. Does anybody need 2 pounds of steak, lobster, and crab in one meal?
A good rule of thumb for healthier nutritional choices, save for some exceptions of frozen whole foods, if it’s a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, avoid it.
There is a lot that goes into successful, functional, and healthy nutritional choices. There are also a lot of roadblocks that life will put in your way to keep you from making solid nutritional choices. One such road block for many people tends to be the part about planning.
Planning a healthy nutritious menu for your busy life, and busy family requires that you know everything that’s going to happen during your menu period, right?
No. Not exactly. While you do have to have a good grasp on what’s on your schedule, and an understanding of the consequences of certain things, this is much easier than it seems on the surface.
For example, you know that every Monday morning your office has a group meeting during lunch. So, you know that in Monday, you’re going to be working through lunch, and your boss will likely order in from Jimmy Johns. Unless you’re avoiding carbs or gluten, Jimmy Johns or Firehouse Subs, or even Marketplace aren’t actually unhealthy options.
Do you really need to plan a lunch for Monday?
Again, unless you’re avoiding carbs, probably not. Your likely choices won’t amount to bad nutritional choices, so go for it. Give yourself a break for prepping that day’s lunch.
On the other hand, you know that you in-laws are coming over Saturday night for dinner. Fine. Plan your menu accordingly. But, what if on Tuesday night you daughter asks if she can have a sleepover the following Friday? You haven’t planned for this in your menu, so do you just bump your plans and order pizza instead.
If you have a son or daughter that does this, chances are she’s likely done it before, so you know this is a possibility. The answer is simple. You understand that this pattern of behavior from your family is likely, so you plan for it in your menu stage by prepping a larger meal. If it becomes unnecessary, that’s great. You have left overs that you can freeze and incorporate into your next menu.
Menu planning and healthy nutritional choices don’t mean you have to remain static and unable to adapt to the ever-changing needs of your life and family. You know what kind of interruptions your family and life are going to throw at you, so plan accordingly.
Finally, try to commit to one sit-down meal each day. This is a major curve ball for a lot of you and that’s okay. Don’t punish yourself if you can’t or get upset at the suggestion.
This doesn’t have to be dinner, or the same meal every day. You don’t even have to accomplish this every day. Just try. Try waking up early or changing up your morning routine so that you can sit down and enjoy some eggs and bacon one morning with our coffee. If you know that your office will work through lunch on Monday, try to avoid eating at your desk on Tuesday.
If you know that you’re eating dinner with your in-laws on Saturday, that’s great because that’s at least one meal you’ll have to actively take part in, right?
Changing Your Outlook
Solid nutrition for your busy schedule shouldn’t be a hassle, though it probably is. This last thing to do is, by far, the hardest for working professionals and busy parents.
Accept nutrition as a crucial factor in your life rather than an after though to which you simply react.
It’s kind of like Christmas. You know its’ coming in December, so you plan accordingly. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you have some major event in your life each year that you know comes due on the same day every year.
What do you do?
You save for it, plan around it, and commit to it every year.
If you can do all of this for that, then you can do this for your nutritional choices and dietary lifestyle? Eating shouldn’t be a burden, but at the same time, it also shouldn’t provide a source of dysfunction in your life. It’s a necessary part of survival, no matter how you feel about it.
Remember that your physical health is tied to your nutritional choices, however, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Sometimes, even the best of us Sunday ritualists just have a day when we’d really rather order in Pizza, and that’s okay. Making the fun and easier choice is sometimes easier even when planning is on point. Serving cake and nachos is great for the kids, so long as the choice isn’t habitual.
The overall effects of our dietary choices are just that: overall effects. You won’t gain 4 pant sizes if you eat that cupcake for lunch, once, rather than the salad you brought. You will, however, push the threshold of preventable lifestyle diseases if it becomes an everyday thing.
The most effective way of incorporating solid nutrition into your busy lifestyle isn’t rigidly sticking to only the best options until you break from tearing yourself down every time you slip up. It comes from creating a generally good habit of making healthier choices more often than sacrificing nutrition because you want that cupcake.
It gets easier with time and practice. Eventually, even if you do occasionally have pizza in or a cupcake for lunch, planning and executing solid nutritional choices and habits becomes as second nature as scheduling your day does.