Category: Wellness Tips

budget meal planning bulk shopping

 

Last week, I walked you through how I meal plan on a budget of $100 per week for a family of four. I’m going to walk you through my meal-planning process again, this time for a stock-up week. If you haven’t read that first post yet, start there, because I’m not going to explain each step this time. I am going to show you how I stay within budget, even when I need to stock up on more items than I did last week.

 

Besides the amount that I’m buying, the main difference between a “stock-up week” and a “top-off week” is that I make sure to go to a store with an excellently-priced bulk section (Winco) for a stock-up week. Buying items in bulk is not only cheaper, but more customizable, and prevents food and packaging waste. Buying food in bulk allows you to select the exact amount that you need, want, or can afford, and can help make staying within budget much easier. I’ll start with a quick walk-through of the meal-planning process, then I’ll show you how bulk buying makes my $100-per-week grocery budget possible.

 

save money bulk foods

 



 

So here we go! Follow along with my budget-conscious meal planning process this week:

 

Know your budget

If you read last week’s post, you’ll know that my grocery budget last week was $85 for a “top-off week.” Since this week is a stock-up week, my budget will be higher. Today I’m working with a budget of $115. That gets me to an average of…you guessed it! $100 per week.

Utilize food distribution programs, if you can find them.

 

This week, pickin’s were more slim, so I only ended up with a nice little green bell pepper and a bag of chips.

 



 

Shop Your Cupboards/Pantry/Fridge/Freezer

Here’s where I’m at this week:

Need to use up:

  • mozzarella cheese sticks
  • a few random Swiss cheese slices
  • leftover tomato sauce
  • lots of dinner leftovers – I won’t need to buy any lunch stuff for this week
  • salad
  • baby carrots & other snack veggies
  • deli meat

Available:

  • dried grains: pasta, rice, quinoa, oats
  • dried chili beans
  • trail mix
  • lots of canned goods
  • cheese
  • 1 gallon milk
  • potatoes, onions

 

Use a master list

For stock-up weeks, I use a “supermarket staples list” that I modified from a post on Pinterest.

 

meal p

 

This lists all of the things I like to always have in stock (plus a few that I rotate through, like snacks). On stock-up week, I skim through the list and go through my kitchen to make sure I don’t miss anything that we might need or might be out of. Add them to the list!

Take stock and decide what to make

Tonight is our monthly “family fun night,” where we go to a local restaurant/arcade and hang out, so that covers dinner. Since I need to use up tomato sauce and cheese sticks, I’ll make a family favorite – pizza rolls – that uses both of those. We haven’t had fish in a while, and Winco has some really affordable salmon, so I’ll grab some of that and we’ll have steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes with it. Thursday’s a busy evening so I’ll make that a crock pot meal. Maybe a pot roast with some of those baby carrots. Friday I know we will be at a high school football game, so we’ll probably snack at home beforehand and maybe grab some snacks at the game.

That’s okay to do, by the way, just in case any clean-eating policeman ever told you it wasn’t. 

Aaaand for breakfasts I’ll use that lunch meat and extra cheese to make some breakfast sandwiches.

 



 

Make your shopping list (include estimated prices)

After going through my stock-up list and the meals for the week, here’s what my list looks like:

 

affordable healthy food meal plan

 

Click here for a copy of this shopping list/meal planning template.

On a stock-up week, I try to leave a bit of budget room for whatever meat might be on sale that week. Sale meat at Winco can be a heck of a deal, so Winco trips are good opportunities to stock the freezer.

My estimated costs for this grocery trip were only $92.50, so I’ll add ~$23-25 worth of sale meat to the list. If we weren’t going to be eating out of our restaurant budget for two meals this week, I probably wouldn’t be able to do quite so much but in this case it worked out.

 

Shop!

As I was shopping, I had some extra room in the budget, so I tossed in an extra dessert and a few snack foods that I’ll save for next week. We have a part of our pantry where I save up food when I get a good deal or have extra room in the budget. That helps each week be a little easier budget-wise, since I’ve always got odds and ends saved up in there.

 

cheap healthy food for a family of four

 

Here’s my haul, for the grand total of $114.04! I love when it comes out so perfectly. 

If you haven’t already, go check out part 1 of meal planning on a budget – both posts are important to understand the whole picture! And stay tuned for more tips on eating well on a budget!

 

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Eating Well on a Budget Wellness Tips

reduce food waste

 

Today we’re talking about one of the most infuriating things that can happen to you when you’re working hard to stick to a food budget: food waste! You’ve been there – you take all the time to meal plan, budget accordingly, shop carefully, and then…10 days later, your beautiful broccoli is limp and gray, your spinach is slimy, and – do you smell that? Yep, it’s half of a tray of raw chicken leftover from Monday’s meal. To the trash it goes!

Few things are as obnoxious and maddening as tossing beautifully budgeted money and carefully chosen nutritious food into the trash because it made its way to the depths of the fridge and was forgotten. All those good intentions, covered in fuzz…

A few years ago, when we were really focusing on getting our household budget zeroed in (here’s lookin’ at you, Dave Ramsey!), I was working so hard to get our food budget down that I would about lose it if I had to throw food away. Especially – and Heaven forbid – expensive meat! I had to come up with a solution to stop wasting food and money. So I played around with a bunch of different options until I found a flexible fix that actually takes less work than what I was doing before. It is definitely worth a try if you, too, are sick of tossing good money in the trash.

 



 

If you read my meal-planning-on-a-budget post, you may have noticed that there were two dinner plans that might seem a little strange: “scrounge” and “whatever.”

 

budget meal plan

 

These are two days that I schedule into every week’s meal plan as built-in “use up” days. These dinners are specifically set aside for the sole purpose of eating up food that is already in the fridge (in our house, we affectionately refer to them as “Whatever Wednesday” and “Scrounge-It Sunday”).

Use-up days serve a few purposes: 1) it gives the chef(s) in your house a day off, 2) it pleases the free spirits in the family who like to eat what they “feel like” eating, and 3) it gives you the chance to dig things out of the dark corners of the fridge and pantry before they start to become fuzzy.

Because fuzzy food = dollars wasted.

So plan at least 1 (possibly 2) use-up days into your regular routine. Trial-and-error will help you figure out how many is the right amount for your household. Too many and you’ll be short on food, too few and you’ll be tossing fuzzy food (aka money) right in the trash.

 



 

When a use-up day rolls around, we usually approach it one of a few ways:

  1. If we have a lot of leftovers that need using up, we dig into all the corners of the fridge/pantry, pull out all the stuff that needs to go, and put it on the island/bar/table. Then it’s a free for all!
  2. If there’s a variety of leftover options but not so many that we desperately need to eat certain things, then everyone just gets what they want to eat for dinner out of the fridge.
  3. If there isn’t much already made or if I have a hankering to be creative, I will sometimes use leftover ingredients to toss together something easy. This can lead to some interesting combos, but they usually turn out tasty! Chopped-up cheeseburger patty with roasted vegetable garlic pasta, anyone? 🙂

Ultimately, the goal is that your perishable ingredients basically get wiped out every 1-2 weeks. This keeps you from having to toss all that great, paid-for nutrition, and keeps your fridge tidy and fuzz-free!

Sidenote for those with kids:

Depending on how old your kiddos are, use-up days can be a fun opportunity for them to learn and practice nutrition and balanced eating.

  • Ages 4-8: Sort the options into piles based on their food group (fruit, veggies, dairy/dairy alternatives, protein, and grains). Challenge your child to eat one from each for a complete meal! This also helps assuage the inevitable mom-fear that your one child (you know the one) will eat 7 yogurts and nothing else. Sometimes I offer a special use-up day dessert for those who choose something from all 5. This gives them a chance to learn and think about food groups, and you a chance to see what they tend to choose on their own!
  • Ages 9+: You can still challenge your kiddos to hit all five food groups, though they likely won’t need the visual of the sorted groups at this age. You can take advantage of use-up days to host your own cooking show-style challenges using the ingredients that need to be used up. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just throw something together as a family with the ingredients you have. This helps kids enjoy and be creative with food, all while learning to cook!

 



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Eating Well on a Budget Wellness Tips

healthy meal plan on a budget

 

To kick off my series on Eating Well on a Budget, I’m going to start off by showing you how to meal plan on a budget. The easiest way to do that is to show you as I do our meal planning for the week! I’ve been feeding a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 currently 15- and 12-year-old boys) on an average budget of $100 per week for about 4 years now.

At first, it was a struggle and required a lot of work, but after a few months it became much easier and now I would venture to say it’s second nature. Don’t feel like you have to incorporate every money-saving tip all at once. Add in one at a time. Every little bit helps, and taking it on all at once can be overwhelming.

There are a few clarifications I should give on this:

  1. This does not include non-food household items (toilet paper, aluminum foil, hygiene products, etc) – we have a separate budget for those.
  2. This does not include our boys’ school lunches. That comes out of a separate budget. During the first couple of summers, we stuck to the $100 per week budget during the summer without much trouble, but in the last couple of years we’ve had a teenage boy so…we upped it to $125 per week. 🙂
  3. Some of the things that help make this budget easier require a bit of advance planning (canning and freezing food in the summer, for example). At first, I only dabbled in these (and still stayed within budget – it just took more work to do so). I have a decent routine for these now and hope to add more (garden, here we come!) in the future. When you first start, it’s unlikely you will have these benefits right off the bat, so keep that in mind. It’s a little easier for me now for these reasons, but throughout the course of the next few weeks I’m going to teach you how to do all of the things I do to save money on food. Yes, we’re going to talk about canning!

Previously, I did a post on how to meal plan (including a free printable template!). That is an excellent supplement to this article – in fact, you may want to start there, read through step 2, then come back here and continue on. This post will be a much more in-depth look at using your budget as a jumping point, as is mentioned in that article.

 



 

So here we go! Follow along with my budget-conscious meal planning process this week:

 

Know your budget

You can’t very well eat on a budget if you don’t know what your budget is! Decide how much you’re going to spend. For us, I tend to alternate between “stock-up weeks” where I go to Winco and buy regular groceries as well as bulk dry goods to top off our supplies, and “top-off weeks” where I fill in the gaps with produce and/meat/whatever else we need. Winco is the cheapest option in our area, but it’s a bit farther away from us than some other stores, so my top-off weeks are sometimes done at a closer store like Fred Meyer. I spend more on stock-up weeks (typically about $120-125) and less on top-off weeks (about $75-80).

This particular week is a top-off week, so this week’s budget will be $85.

Look for food distribution programs in your area.

I’m not referring to food banks or need-based programs (though please seek those valuable resources out if you need them), but rather food waste prevention programs. In my area, for example, there is a large warehouse where loads of nearly-expired food and produce collects every week. From there, people deliver it to different food distribution locations around the area. These programs are a win-win-win. Grocery stores have a place to send food they can no longer sell, landfills avoid thousands of pounds of food waste, and we get the benefit of free nutritious food! Search for food waste prevention programs online to see what might be available in your area.

Since this food source is not predictable (some weeks there is a lot, and other weeks, nothing at all), I do my meal planning after I go, so I know what I will have. Here is this week’s food distribution haul – totally free!

 

free healthy food

 

There was quite a bit available this week, so this will help my grocery budget a lot! Keep in mind though, this food is nearly expired, so you’ll want to plan to use it soon. Don’t dilly dally with this stuff – it’s on its way out!

 



 

Shop Your Cupboards/Pantry/Fridge/Freezer

One of the greatest contributors to high grocery bills is buying duplicates of things we already have, then trashing wasted extras. You’ll notice that a lot of money-saving tips are also food waste-prevention tips because, well, food wasted = dollars wasted.

Do a quick skim of your fridge, produce, cupboards, and freezer before even starting your meal plan. Take special note of the things that need to be used up soon, particularly meat and produce. Here’s my list for this week (not counting my food distribution goodies):

Need to use up:

  • cilantro
  • avocado
  • apples
  • cauliflower
  • spinach
  • fall harvest muffins (leftover)
  • chicken breasts (4)
  • mushrooms

Available:

  • dried grains: pasta, rice, quinoa, oats
  • baking stuff (flour, sugar, etc)
  • dried chili beans
  • clementine oranges
  • yogurt
  • trail mix
  • whole grain crackers
  • mozzarella cheese sticks
  • lots of canned goods
  • cheddar cheese
  • lunch meat
  • eggs
  • 2 gallons milk (we go through 4 per week usually!)
  • fresh-pressed apple cider (YUM)

I don’t usually write them all out like this, but for the sake of walking you through the process that happens in my head, here it is. Be aware that since this is a top-off week, I have more available than I will on stock-up weeks.

 

Check for sales and coupons

I’ll be providing a lot more detail about this step in future posts, but for now I’ll run you through the basics. Either find a store that puts out a weekly ad, or a store that has killer prices all around (yay Winco!). If there’s a weekly ad, check for the best sales, especially on meat and produce, and make a list of those. What’s on sale and healthful is what you’re making! Use any coupons you have to create more good deals.

 

Take stock and decide what to make

Look at the list what you’ve got available and what’s a great deal at the store. What can you make with these? If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, use a search-by-ingredient database  to help you find recipes.

This week, we have several Mexican-type ingredients (tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, green pepper, onions) so I think I’ll make an enchilada quinoa casserole with those. My kids have been requesting mac and cheese (I have a recipe that uses an entire head of cauliflower and a butternut squash in the sauce!) so I’ll put that in there too. My husband loves Vietnamese steak sandwiches that use the cucumber I got from the food distribution, so I’ll include those. I’ll round out the week of dinners with pork chops and chicken parmesan.

 



 

Make your shopping list

Go through your planned meals and add to your shopping list anything that you don’t already have and need to buy. I like to divide mine roughly by sections of the grocery store just to save time wandering. Include a rounded-up price estimate next to each item.

For us, lunches are typically dinner leftovers, and/or salad with canned chicken, so I’ll put salad and chicken on the list. I usually make sure we have two different types of breakfast options besides eggs, and oatmeal. This week, I have the bagels from food distribution and my fall harvest veggie muffins, so I’ll just make sure to pick up another type of breakfast protein to pair with those. We have quite a few fruits, veggies, and snacks already, and plenty of smoothie ingredients. I also typically plan to have dessert once or twice a week, so I’ll toss in some ice cream as well. Here’s my completed list:

 

food budget meal plan and shopping list for family of four
I will explain “scrounge” and “whatever” in a future post!

 

Click here for a copy of this shopping list/meal planning template. And to answer your question, no…my grocery list is never this neat. I used my best penmanship and avoided using too much of my made-up shorthand for your sake. You’re welcome. 🙂 

Quickly tally your estimated prices to make sure you’ll be within your budget. If not, drop off unnecessary ingredients (garnishes, extra snacks/desserts, etc) until your estimate is within your budget. You’ll notice that there are a few ingredients on my list that are not particularly “low cost” items, like flank steak, Dave’s Killer Bread, and vermouth for my pork chop recipe. Regardless, we want to eat these and my estimate is still at budget. If I cut those or swapped them for cheaper alternatives, I could bring the cost down even further!

 

Shop!

Take your budget-conscious shopping list to the store and get the goods! If my estimate is very close to my budget, I like to keep a quick, rounded-up tally on the calculator on my phone as I put items in my cart to avoid overspending. If I have a bit of a buffer, I don’t bother with this. You’ll notice that I underestimated the costs of some things (hello, $13 PER POUND flank steak! Sheesh!), but rounding up on my estimates usually gives me some wiggle room.

So here’s my haul and the receipt for it – I spent $81.06 on all of my “top-off” items.

 

cheap healthy grocery haul

cost of healthy food

 

 

Combined with (most of) the ingredients I had from food distribution and my pantry/refrigerator, here’s a look at our food for the entire week.

 

affordable healthy food

 

Even if it seems overwhelming at first, this process gets easier with more practice. Now it only takes me 10-15 minutes to make my meal plan and stay in budget. Plus, we eat healthful, tasty food – all for an average of $100 per week!

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more tips on eating well on a budget – I have a lot of exciting posts planned to share with you! I’ll walk you through a stock-up week as well, so you can see what one of those looks like. Comment below with your favorite ways to keep grocery costs down!

 



 

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Eating Well on a Budget Wellness Tips

 

One of the biggest time wasters we struggle with involves our response to daily obstacles. The things that can stand in the way of our best-laid plans. My clients are often eager and ready to come up with their “plan A.” The “if everything works as it should” plan. The “this is how I really want things to go” plan. I also encourage them to come up with contingency plans. What if everything doesn’t work as it should? What if things don’t go how you really wish they would?

Having a contingency plan helps prevent the all-or-nothing feelings that can come into play when we don’t seem to be able to make plan A work. If plan A is all we have in our healthy tool belt, then we end up defeated when it won’t work for one reason or another. Your plan failed…guess you can’t be healthy today.

Not so!

Life is often not going to work out the way you hope, so be prepared! Have a plan for when the plan doesn’t work. It’s not defeatist – it’s realistic. Have a contingency plan. This is how I usually describe them:

Plan A: This is your best-case scenario. It is the plan that is designed to help you meet your health goals and fit into your (and your family’s) lifestyle at least half the time. If you make a plan A that rarely ends up ever working, it’s probably not the right plan A for you. Remember that it’s okay to try changes out before committing to them (in fact you should!) and it’s okay if a change doesn’t work for you. Keep looking for your best fit!

Plan B: This is your “oh shoot, I didn’t have time for plan A” or “we can’t afford plan A right now” or ______insert reason plan A doesn’t work this time_____. This is not as ideal of an outcome as plan A, but still keeps you on track with a decent second-best. Ask yourself what might stand in the way of your plan A, and consider how you might adjust.

Plan C: This is your hail Mary. The “well…nothing went the way I planned so we will do the best we can with what we have today.” Sometimes you actually have a third-best option, and sometimes your plan C is just to let it go and try again tomorrow. Either way, make it an intentional choice, not an automatic response to a plan A roadblock. Plan to take a day off if plans A and B fall through, and don’t feel bad if they did. This mentally helps us stay away from thought patterns like “well, I didn’t complete plan A today, so I guess I’m not being healthy anymore.” It sounds dramatic when you say it out loud, but it’s the way a lot of our brains think. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from clients about healthy changes they did great with…until that one day, then they gave up since they had “broken their streak.”

 



 

Here are some examples of contingency plans my clients have made:

Cooking at home

Plan A (best-case-scenario, works at least half the time): Make a meal plan each week and cook at least 5 dinners at home.

Plan B (second-best option): This client felt her most likely roadblock would be not having time to make the dinner on her meal plan, so her plan B was to buy pre-cooked salmon fillets and a vegetable/red potato medley to keep in the freezer so she could always have a microwave back-up option if she got stuck in traffic on the way home from work.

Plan C (do the best you can with what you’ve got): If she comes home late and her kids have a nighttime activity, she usually needs to bring something home or take the kids out on the way. We selected 3 different restaurants (Subway, Chipotle, and Miso) that her kids would like and where everyone could customize their own healthful option.

Strength Training

Plan A: Go to the gym before work to strength train three times per week.

Plan B: This client’s gym is very busy in the afternoon, so his biggest roadblock would be getting his workout in if he missed going in the morning. If he didn’t make it to the gym before work, we selected a Youtube body weight workout he could do at home in the evening.

Plan C: If he did not want to work out in the evening when he got home, he could either try going to the gym a different morning that week, or take a day off and try again on his next scheduled gym day.

 

The point is, that making the plan ahead of time helps prepare you for challenges and makes any of the options okay. It allows you to realistically navigate life’s curve balls while still keeping focus on your goal. All while avoiding a defeated attitude when life just doesn’t play nice. So hang in there! Make a plan, and another, and another. And don’t beat yourself up when plan A and plan B don’t work! It happens to everyone – now you can be prepared.

 



 

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Eating Well in Less Time Wellness Tips

 

You asked, so here they are! My top tips for getting in the all-important, nourishing breakfast, even on a tight schedule. Eating in the morning helps reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) that climbs throughout the night. Breakfast also fuels our bodies and brain for the day ahead. Breakfast is a great protector against nagging nighttime snack cravings too, since often our bodies are trying to catch up from nutrition missed in the morning. Even if you feel like you don’t have a morning minute to spare, you can have a quick healthy breakfast!

 

1. Get the Good Stuff

First thing’s first, what constitutes a nutritious breakfast? There are many ways to answer that question, but as a general rule I boil it down to this: include at least three different food groups and make one of them protein. That ensures that you are getting energy-rich carbohydrates, satisfying protein, and several vitamins and minerals along the way.

For more explanation and examples of building three-food group breakfasts, check out this (very old) video post. Please look past my amateur editing – the content is good! So include a protein plus at least two other food groups (or more if you want, you overachiever, you).

2. Find your “Formulas”

Keeping our three-food-group goal in mind, use these basic “formulas” to select a handful of breakfast ingredients that you enjoy and can mix and match. Here are a few of my faves for examples:

Sweet breakfast: whole grain + fruit + protein source

> oatmeal + berries or apples + PB (and cinnamon, because…cinnamon)

> whole grain bagel + sliced bananas + peanut butter (and you guessed it, cinnamon!)

> granola + strawberries + low fat vanilla Greek yogurt

 

Savory breakfast: protein source + vegetable + whole grain

> scrambled eggs + peppers/onions/mushrooms + whole grain toast

> poached egg + spinach and tomato + whole grain English muffin (+ sausage and cheese if you want!)

> sliced ham + tomato/avocado + whole grain toast

These are just some examples – play with them to find combos that work well for you!

 



 

3. Blend, baby, blend!

Smoothies are some of the most versatile and efficient ways to sneak in a quick healthy breakfast, particularly if you are time-crunched or aren’t hungry in the mornings. It’s usually easier to drink than eat if you aren’t hungry, and you don’t have to take the time to sit, chew, and swallow. Your smoothie goes with you to carpool, work, or school, and you can take all morning to finish it if you need to. Boost breakfast nutrition by including greens, fruit, and a protein source like peanut butter, Greek yogurt, or whey protein. There are tons of delicious possibilities – piña colada, triple berry, pumpkin pie, or chocolate peanut butter anyone?


Make your smoothie even faster: ask yourself honestly – am I more likely to spend a couple of minutes in the morning or in the evening to prepare my breakfast? If your answer is evening, load your blender the night before and place it in the fridge or freezer. In the morning you can grab, blend, pour, and go.

4. Consider convenience

Be realistic about what you will be able to add to your morning. If you have exactly 10 minutes to spare most mornings, it’s not likely that you’re going to be cooking up a veggie-loaded omelet. Simple can be okay and in most (seriously, just about all) cases, something in the morning is better than nothing.

Grab a handful of nuts or a granola bar with a few recognizable ingredients, like oats, nuts, fruit, and honey. KIND and Nature Valley have some good options. Pair those with a piece of fruit, a hard-boiled egg, or a yogurt for an on-the-go breakfast. Or pour boiling water on some quick oats and add a dollop of peanut butter, some berries, and a teaspoon of brown sugar for a delicious PB&J oatmeal.

Prefer something savory? Some of the frozen breakfast sandwiches actually aren’t bad – look for one with Canadian bacon or turkey bacon/sausage, low-fat cheese, and/or a whole grain English muffin. These include protein, dairy, and grains, and some even add veggies! Just because it comes from the freezer doesn’t mean it’s off-limits, but choose wisely. Some of these pre-made goodies can be higher in sodium or saturated fat than you might like.

5. Dare to Be Different

Depending on where you live, this tip might blow your mind a little. In the US, we tend to have very defined boundaries around the types of foods that are considered “breakfast foods.” Pancakes, cereal, bacon, eggs, and toast? You’re welcome to join us in the morning. Salad, soup, or dinner leftovers? Come back at noon.

That this assignment of foods into time slots is strange never occurred to me until I spent some time in other countries. When I traveled in Japan, my friends served me a sandwich with salad in the morning. In El Salvador, I had tamales and refried beans for breakfast. I couldn’t believe it – is this even allowed? Turns out, it is! And much of the rest of the world is doing it. So unless it weirds you out (you know who you are), consider “unconventional” breakfast foods. Got a turkey leg, mashed potatoes, and veggies leftover from dinner? That’s really easy to heat up for breakfast. Why make something new? This can totally change the morning game, because it opens up so many possibilities.

 

I hope these tips will help you navigate that tricky morning time and find a way to incorporate some much-needed brain and body fuel into the beginning of each day. Let me know which tips you liked the best, or what ways you make sure to get in some tasty healthy breakfast in the comments! Oh, and comment if you want me to post the recipes for any of the smoothies I mentioned!

 



 

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Eating Well in Less Time Wellness Tips

Finding healthy strategies that are actually sustainable can be a challenge. How many times have you tried to drink more water, exercise more, or eat more vegetables but just can’t seem to stick with it? The first (and most important) step is that you must test drive new healthy changes to find the ones that are right for you. Don’t commit right away! Find changes that work with the strengths of your personality, and also help keep your weaknesses in check.

Everyone falls on the spectrum somewhere between a type-A (numbers, details, budgets, lists, organization) and a type-B (free spirit, go-with-the-flow) personality. Someone on the more extreme end of the type-A spectrum might be very good at self-discipline. Too good, in fact. If they choose a very detailed, overcomplicated-because-they-love-control method of keeping their food in check, they may tend to become obsessive. They track grams of carbs, proteins, and fat, and monitor every calorie down to the very last crumb. They thrive on this control until one day – whoops – we pass over healthy and slide down that slippery slope into disordered eating. Eating is no longer fun but a competition. A highly structured eating plan may not be a good idea for someone who is ALL the way at the type-A end of the spectrum.

Let’s try the other end of the spectrum. An extreme type-B may avoid the control of number-tracking like the plague, so they go for a much more flexible method. Too flexible, in fact. So flexible that they free-spirit their way in the opposite direction of their goals. Their personality is so extremely type B that they need a more structured (but not overly restrictive or controlling) method if they’re going to get anywhere. They just need a little more accountability.

 



 

In reality, most people do not fall at either extreme but instead somewhere in the middle. When you’re in the middle, you have some of the strengths of each personality and possibly some of the weaknesses too. No matter where you are on the spectrum, it takes a little honest introspection to know which might be some of the best approaches for you.

Use this flowchart to help you decide which strategies might work well for you:

 

how to make realistic healthy changes

 

Daily Food Group Checklist

Using a daily food group checklist can help you make sure you’re getting a wide variety of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber in the right amounts, but without the detail of a food tracker. Visit this website to calculate your daily needs and get a list of your personalized daily goals for each food group. Make a simple checklist or tally mark for each group each day so you can meet your goals without too much time investment.

 

Healthy Meal Plan

While I’m not a huge fan of meal plans made by people other than you, getting into the habit of making your own regular meal plan is a great way to set yourself up for success. If you already have the plan and the ingredients (possibly prepped and ready to go!), you are much more likely to eat more healthfully than if you were playing it by ear. Check out this post for a step-by-step guide and free printable to help make meal planning simple and easy.

 

Food Trackers

Food trackers are some of the most detail-oriented options for providing structure, accountability, and awareness. They can be as simple as a food journal with pen and paper or as complex as some websites and apps that have barcode scanners and track your calories, macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. While these tech marvels are nifty, they have their pros and cons, so make sure to test it out first to see if it’s a good fit for you. This post has some reviews of apps and websites to help you create healthy habits. One important thing to remember for tracking: it’s a tool for you, not a rule you must follow. Only track for as long as and to the extent that it is useful and helpful to you – and absolutely no farther! Most of my clients end up settling in to a routine of tracking every other week or a few days a week. Tracking every day forever is pretty exhausting!

 



 

MyPlate

MyPlate is the visual put forth by the USDA to provide nutrition recommendations, and it replaced the Food Guide Pyramid in 2010.

 

Personally, I feel that MyPlate is much more user-friendly, since it does away with memorizing portion sizes and numbers of portions. Instead, it provides a evenly divided plate that builds in a bunch of nutrition recommendations in (so you never have to think about them!). It balances your carbs, proteins, and fats, while helping ensure you are meeting vitamin, mineral, and fiber goals. And you can do this anywhere – you can hit every food group at a fast food restaurant, mini mart, grocery store, or in a packed lunch. It’s so simple my kids have been doing it for years! Just take this mental picture with you and try to make as many of your meals (especially lunches and dinners) resemble MyPlate as possible. A good rule of thumb for breakfast? Include at least 3 different food groups and make one of them protein. You can read about my experience following a MyPlate plan, as well as some of my tips for following it starting with this post.

 

Intuitive Eating

This is a method of allowing your body’s hunger and fullness signals to guide what you eat. Often this begins by practicing mindfulness of your body’s cues. This approach helps separate moral feelings (like guilt or pride) from simply honoring your body’s needs for fuel. You can read more about intuitive eating here.

Hopefully these guides and resources help you find the best healthy changes to test drive for your life. Let me know if you have other ideas of healthy changes, or which strategies have worked the best for you!

 

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Eating Well in Less Time Wellness Tips

best ways to save time and be healthy

 

In this series, we’ve covered several tips that can help make eating well simpler and easier. From meal planning to food prep, these strategies can help you make the most of your time. There is one more thing that is absolutely vital to finding the most efficient, time-saving way to be healthy. Without this, you may be able to bumble along, finding some success along the way, but never truly be healthy or happy, and certainly not save yourself any time.

When I work with clients, I always try to help them find skills and strategies that are sustainable for them in the long term. By long term I mean lifelong (or at least until a major life change comes along). To do that, we test changes one at a time to make sure that they actually fit that client’s life/personality/budget/preferences/family/etc.

I encourage clients not to commit to new health changes right off the bat – don’t get married, date first! There are several ways to approach being healthy, just as there are many fish in the sea. Don’t just find any old fish and marry it! It might be smelly or taste too fishy or its scales may clash with your décor. You have to get to know it first and spend time with it in a lot of different situations before you know if that fish is the fish for you. If it’s not, toss it back and find another. This process of trial-and-error is key to your long-term success.

 



 

You might think:

That sounds much more time-consuming than following a plan I found online/10 years ago/on a commercial/from my co-worker, friend, or family member.”

You might be right, in the short term. Complete ready-made plans are very appealing. You don’t have to think about them – just follow the meal plans they give you and it will seem so, so simple. You’ll start moving toward your goals and feeling well. You can fight, claw, and scratch for weeks, months, or sometimes even years. But then…the meal plans get boring or expensive, you get tired of making yourself different food than your family, or you just want a single darn slice of bread! Following restrictive plans designed by strangers (who didn’t have you in mind) only works for so long.

I can not stress this enough:

You can not succeed forever with a cookie-cutter plan.

You must test drive individual changes to see how well they fit all of the factors that make up your individual life. Date them. Don’t get married blind!

 



 

So now you’re thinking:

Okay, I get what you’re saying, but how is this going to save me time? Test-driving individual changes sounds like a long process.”

It certainly can be, and I won’t sugar-coat that. But I can promise you that in the long run, it is a straighter line to lifelong health, happiness, and weight maintenance than using diet plans that you can’t (and shouldn’t!) continue forever.

The effects of these diets on your metabolism and your mindset can create a physiological cycle that works against you for the rest of your life. Unsustainable restrictive diets are training your body to store fat,1 and training you that being healthy is a miserable process. I can’t even begin to count the clients that I’ve seen who are chronically undereating (a sad lesson taught by a myriad of ill-fated diet plans) and have lost x numbers of pounds and gained x + 20 over and over again throughout their lives.

Research documents this. Restrictive, not-tailored-for-you “diet plans” consistently lead to weight gain.2

 



 

So how does fiddling around with these diet plans save you time in the long run?

Resist the temptation for a “quick fix.” Daily at my practice I see the results of years and years of “quick fixes” that never actually fixed anything in the long run. It takes work to heal their metabolisms and get them on a healthy, realistic track. One of my clients spent years exercising and following a low-carb diet (that he despised, by the way). It is taking months of proper eating to get his metabolism convinced that it’s safe to lose his 80+ pounds of extra body fat. I am certain that he would not say that his time on that diet saved him any time in the long run.

In fact, I am certain that every single one of these clients would tell you the same thing:

Stay away from restrictive diets. Test out individual, realistic, and sustainable changes that work for you.

If you need help finding realistic changes to make, stay tuned! I’ll be posting tips about finding changes to test drive that are most likely to work with different personality types. If you’re still overwhelmed, find a dietitian to help guide you through the process! It’s what we’re here for. Don’t waste your time with tantalizing promises of quick weight loss that are ultimately followed by disappointing regain and a messed-up metabolism. Invest your time now in a life that is much healthier and much happier down the road.

It can save you years – and that is quite a lot of time, don’t you think?

 

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References

  1. Cooper, E. The Metabolic Storm: The science of your metabolism and how its making you fat. Seattle Performance Medicine. 2015. 2nd edition.
  2. Lowe, M., et al. “Dieting and restrained eating as prospective predictors of weight gain.” Front. Psychol. Sept 2013. Accessed August 12, 2018. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00577/full.

 



Eating Well in Less Time Wellness Tips