“If you keep good food in your fridge, you will eat good food.” -Errick McAdams
Once again, health clubs and gyms are full of treadmills roaring under the weight of holiday cookies and champagne toasts. Men and women have the best of intentions - resolutions to make this the year for real change. Soon though, the crowds will disperse and many people will fall back into their old habits. As a CrossFit coach, I can tell you that I see people overcome this loss of motivation, but it is not without real change and hard work. Exercise is one component of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but how we nourish and feed our bodies is a decision we have to make several times every single day of our lives. Many of us have discovered that there is no easy button for maintaining a healthy, real food diet. It takes planning, effort and deliberate dedication.
A realistic, sustainable plan for my nutrition has to accommodate my love for pizza, burgers and Indian food, not to admit our date nights with pints of gelato in the bathtub. I am not a masochist. If I want to create a lifestyle that goes beyond 21 or 30 days, it has to involve some enjoyment, not just hard work and deprivation. During the weekdays, we prep and follow a plan, then we relax on the weekends. Preparing meals from scratch can be very time consuming. Washing, chopping, dicing, roasting, sautéing and simmering can keep you held hostage in the kitchen for hours. Our family developed a plan to manage this time commitment and balance our lifestyles. We only cook twice a week. In the CrossFit world, Sunday is often referred to as food prep day. I cannot take any credit for this concept, but we have found ways to adapt the recipe to fit our family.
We only cook twice a week.
My husband and I divide the workload. He cooks breakfast and often heats dinner, while I prepare our lunches and dinners for the week. If you need creative breakfast ideas, I am not your girl. We eat scrambled eggs, avocado and a healthy protein (sausage or bacon) every single day of our lives. We occasionally throw in extra greens or fruit. Once a week we have hearty oatmeal. We are very boring breakfast people, yet we would argue it is the most important meal of our day.
Breakfast aside, the rest of our meals consist of a fill-in-the-blank grid of vegetables, protein and healthy fats. On Sundays, I prepare three proteins and roast a ton of vegetables and sweet potatoes. For example, I might make shredded buffalo chicken, meatloaf and barbecue as my proteins. Then I will make cauliflower rice and roast broccoli, sweet potatoes, okra, brussel sprouts, asparagus and fingerling potatoes. Once all this food is prepared, it is ready and easily accessible to serve as our fuel throughout the week. We can mix and match proteins with sides to build our meals. On Wednesdays, a day I have a little extra time during the day, I replenish my stock. I might make a soup or stew and/or roast more veggies to finish off proteins for the week. This is also a chance to pick up a rotisserie chicken or additional protein, if necessary, to take us into the weekend.
I understand this system requires that you have the right mindset. Hippocrates reminds us to let our food be our medicine and our medicine be our food. Each thing we decide to put in our mouth is either making us more or less healthy. We eat things all the time that do nothing to support or nourish our bodies (peanut butter pretzel gelato comes to mind), but for us, it is vital that we never use treats as replacements for nutrient dense food. We eat fresh vegetables, fruit, quality protein, nuts, seeds and plenty of good fat every day. This means we do not gorge on crowd favorites, such as macaroni and cheese or donuts, on a regular basis. Our food plans for the week involve the basic greens and nutrients we need to heal our bodies and maintain our healthy, active lifestyle.
I know what you are thinking. “Leftovers?? She makes her family eat leftovers for a week?” My response would be for you to change your terminology. Ban the word leftovers from your vocabulary STAT. If I told my children that we were having leftovers for the next five days, they might also be shocked and disappointed. Instead, my kids normally ask, “What are we eating this week, Mom?” to which I can respond, “Buffalo chicken, meatloaf and barbecue.” They don’t even really care to hear about the sides at this point. They just get an overview of the week. Usually, they will groan about one thing and celebrate another. It’s all about balance, but the food is never considered to be “leftover.” It is simply prepped and ready to heat and eat.
Our family has found countless benefits to only cooking twice per week. This system allows me to divvy up individual servings in glass containers for eating on the go. I pack my lunch every single day for work, and I can easily have that food prepped on Sunday. This plan keeps us on track. The food is waiting for us when we get home in the evening. If I am out late coaching or at yoga, my husband can easily heat up dinner. We do not have to panic and search for options when we are starving and everyone is melting down. Who in the world wants to think about grocery shopping and planning on a weeknight in between practices and homework assignments? I take care of my shopping (aka hunting and gathering) on Saturday or Sunday in my sweats with a good cup of coffee and Spotify streaming happy tunes into my relaxed mind. One reality we come to understand as mothers is that grocery shopping alone can really become enjoyable “me” time. It’s a no-brainer.
Perhaps the greatest tool for sustaining a real food diet is in finding a group of people with similar goals. My CrossFit community has Facebook groups and pages for sharing recipes. I am part of an Instant Pot Lovers group that posts ways to save time and enjoy real food. It is not hard to find recipes online, but if my friend tried it last night and said it is a winner, I trust her opinion and go for it. Quite frequently, my “girl tribe” has a conversation that begins with, “What are you cooking this week?” We all do our weekly “hunting and gathering” and meal planning. It helps to surround yourself with like-minded people. Sometimes we even show up to work with matching lunches. Real food twinning for the win.
It is very doable to maintain a real food diet for your family. You just need to find a system that works for you and your schedule. There is no one right way to do it. The end goal is always the same. We all want to spend our days living, not simply existing, and proper nutrition is the foundation we need to build a healthy life for ourselves and our family.
Here are some tips that keep me on track with weekly food prep:
Use the K.I.S.S. method (Keep it simple sista). Our plates tend to consist of ⅔ plant products and ⅓ animal product.
Use a crockpot or pressure cooker to prepare proteins that will not dry out when you reheat them. (I am a raging, fanatical fan of my Instant Pot).
Get yourself a nice knife and wood cutting board. I chop vegetables like it’s my job, so when wrestling spaghetti squash or root vegetables, it pays to have decent tools.
Invest in quality glass containers to store food to be reheated. I dream of throwing my microwave off a cliff someday, but the truth is, I use it all the time; however, I won’t put plastic in there EVAH. (I bought glass dishes for co-workers who I had to watch pass my office on the way to the microwave carrying their lunch in tupperware. I couldn’t handle that stress in my life.)
Diversify your protein. I wish we ate more fish, but I am freaked out cooking it. If you eat fish, good for you, keep doing it. I usually pick 2-3 chicken, 1-2 pork and 1-2 red meat proteins for the week. Please don’t claim a “Paleo” diet and only eat red meat every day of your life.
Find ways to simplify. I LOVE the frozen organic cauliflower rice from Trader Joes. It is a huge time saver. There are other pre-chopped options that can help you cut corners. Find options to make your life easier.
Keep salads and greens readily available in your fridge. You can always build a salad using a protein you have prepped for the week.
Don’t overthink it. I have a friend who tried to use a new fancy recipe for each meal. Why would you do that to yourself? I do not use recipes so much as just dump stuff on a pan or in my crock pot and stir it up. Remember, food is meant to be fuel. If you want the gourmet route, save that for the weekend or a night you have extra time on your hands.
Lastly, put your foot down. You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit. Do not let tiny, nagging family members negotiate ways to make you cook more food. It is already prepped. Period.