Tips on How to fit a Balanced Diet Into Your Busy Schedule

Monday, August 29, 2011 • Chicago, IL 60657

 

Welcome to a typical day at the office. Most of us know it well. You're not even at your desk yet, and your mind is already preoccupied with emails to answer, phone calls to return, and meetings to attend. Before you know it, lunchtime rolls around and you're running on nothing but caffeine. By this point, you're fighting hunger pangs, so you head to the vending machines as a temporary solution, or maybe you grab something unhealthy at a nearby fast-food place or roach coach. Five or six hours later, the hunger hits you again and the cycle repeats itself. Does this day sound familiar? If so, you're not alone.

These days, a mere 8-hour workday is becoming less and less common. A lot of us are working additional hours at home, on our laptops, and via our smartphones. With crazy hours like these, the best way to make sure you stay on track nutritionally is to prepare yourself a week's worth of healthy meals in advance. Here are a few tips for doing just that.

  1. Master the grocery store. When you arrive at the grocery store after work, you're starving and in a hurry to get home. Without thinking, you find yourself drawn into the bright, shiny, end-of-aisle displays like a moth to a flame. Before you know it, you're about to fill your cart with 10 frozen pizzas for $10. 

    Stop! Change direction. Go straight to the produce section and select enough lettuce and fresh vegetables to make a salad that'll last you all week. It's best to avoid the center aisles, which contain all the processed foods you want to avoid, and keep to the perimeter of the store. This path will lead you to healthy choices like veggies, fruit, low-fat dairy, lean meat, and poultry. 

    The items being promoted in the aforementioned end-of-aisle displays are rarely healthy food options. Keeping this in mind will help you walk past these traps and head straight for the good stuff.
  2. Cook out on Sunday. Roast a bunch of chicken, make a big stew, and grill some veggies; you'll have a great meal on Sunday and enjoy the leftovers for the next few days. 

    Another thing to do on Sunday to prep for the week is to wash and chop all that lettuce you bought while strolling the perimeter of the store and put it in a zip-top bag. With this combination, you'll have fresh, healthy food to put into meals all week.
  3. Make over your leftovers. Reinvent last night's chicken (or other protein) for the next day's lunch. Throw it in a tortilla with some salsa for a yummy burrito. Heat it up with some curry seasoning and chickpeas. Put it in a whole-wheat pita pocket or between two slices of whole-grain bread with crisp lettuce and your favorite seasonings for a healthy sandwich. Toss it into that great salad you prepared, along with some fresh or grilled veggies. The possibilities for different, great-tasting meals are easy—and limited only by your imagination.
  4. Prepack your snacks for work. You may not always have time for a full meal at work, and that's OK. The night before a busy day, measure out foods—nuts, dried fruit, baked chips, sliced veggies—you can graze on all day. Measuring the portions in advance helps assure that you won't accidentally snarf down an entire 1,000-calorie bag of trail mix. 

    Another great approach to snacking that'll help satisfy you until your lunch (or dinner) rolls around? Some of that protein you cooked up on Sunday, in convenient snack portions. Quick bites of chicken, beef, tempeh, or tofu with the seasonings of your choice make for a great snack option. And having fresh, lean protein rather than packaged, processed snack items will not only help curb cravings; it'll also give you sustained energy and help you fight hunger throughout the day.
  5. Hydrate in fashion. Instead of going through tons of plastic bottles at your desk, buy yourself a fancy water bottle. Busy people often forget to hydrate properly. In addition, the average American drinks 57 gallons of soft drinks each year! You can avoid the temptation to purchase soda by refilling a beautiful Klean Kanteen® with water throughout your day. On a budget? Wash out a glass water, juice, or milk bottle and make that your go-to reusable water bottle.
  6. Be smart about beverage calories. The average American consumes around 400 calories a day in liquid form! This includes soda, sport drinks, energy drinks, juice, and flavored ice teas. You can be smart by making sure any calories you drink are in the form of a meal replacement rather than a hydrator. (Water's still the best hydrator out there.) 
  7. Combine forces. The total price of ingredients is much higher when you're buying smaller items and amounts. Cooking for one can seem inefficient, especially when your produce is spoiling and you have to deal with the guilt that comes with throwing away a bag of spinach, or a bundle of brown bananas. Combining forces with a roommate, a coworker, or a friend who lives nearby can help cut costs. If your friend is also health conscious, you can gain support from and give advice to one another.
  8. Don't go fad-hopping. Will all the new diets, food crazes, and "miracle" supplements popping up, it's easy to feel confused or insecure about your current choices. If your plan is working, just stay the course. If you want to try something different, it's a free country, but don't hop on the latest trend just because your workmates are all talking about it at the water cooler. Do your homework. Read critiques. Talk to people who have tried it for longer than a weekend. Ask yourself, "Is it healthy? Does it involve whole, real foods? Is it realistic?" Finding and keeping a diet that supports your lifestyle will more likely result in long-term success.