Yay! Last Friday we made the big move from Florida to Colorado, and my heart is overflowing with joy, excitement and possibility.
Surrounded by snow-covered mountains and gazing up at spacious skies, I feel home.
I also feel slightly ungrounded.
This Thursday, Randy and I are moving into an adorable house tucked in a quiet alleyway in Old Town, Fort Collins. The house and location are perfect for us—situated next door to a library and within walking distance of a tiny food co-op, cafes and such.
But, in the meanwhile, we’re camping out in a hotel room with two
petulant precious Siamese cats.
As an introvert who very much likes space and routine, living in a hotel and giving up my familiar yoga schedule is not entirely pleasant.
That said, I’m loving this—all of it. (We also found a wonderful yoga studio and primal movement place nearby, and that sort of stuff makes me really, really happy…even amid upturned schedules and cramped quarters.)
As we await our move-in date, one thing I’m sorely missing is the ability to prep and cook our own meals.
Thankfully, there’s the local co-op, a Whole Foods and plenty of hip restaurants serving tasty food. (Eating local and paleo-primal here feels super-easy here—I think I had the best burger of my life last night, served at a place that does their own butchering).
Still. We greatly miss the simple goodness of home-cooked meals made with a smallish number of high-quality, known ingredients. We also miss the routine of food planning, shopping, prepping and cooking.
Sound strange to miss those sorts of chores?
Here’s the thing. Once you have a system in place, those “chores” make healthy eating so, so much easier.
Planning, shopping, prepping. Often, these make all the difference when it comes to eating well,
I’m not necessarily talking a full-on meal plan (which can be nice, but can also be hard to sustain over the long haul).
I’m more just talking about taking solid steps to ensure you have good, healthy, doable food options on hand—enough to last several days at minimum.
In practice, this isn’t always easy—at least not at first. But once you develop a system and have a regular routine in place, it becomes, if not second nature, at least a whole lot easier.
“Hmm, a system. That sounds big and complicated.”
Doesn’t have to be. Here’s where to start—one doable task after another…
Yeah, I know. That may sound hard already. But it doesn’t have to be a ton of time—and is totally doable.
You might have to cut back somewhere else—scrolling social media, for instance, or watching television. But please give yourself the following time each week:
- Planning: 15 minutes for mapping out a rough meal plan and making a shopping list (Ideally, do this at the start or end of a week, before your Big Shop.)
- Shopping: 60 minutes or so for a Big Shop, getting most of what you’ll need in one go (You could also do two shops a week, if one feels too daunting.)
- Prepping & Cooking: 30 minutes each day, including time to pack/prepare lunches while making dinner (You could spend way more time than this, but 30 focused minutes will do—promise. You could also carve out time for a longer weekly cook-up, which will make the daily stuff a snap.)
Ideally, schedule your time systematically, with as much consistency and regularity as possible.
For example: Do 15 minutes of meal planning every Sunday after lunch, followed by your Big Shop. Then, each evening, allot 30 minutes for making dinner, at the same time packing lunch for the next day.
Having a routine in place will take conscious effort the first week or two. But, eventually, it will make making time for planning, shopping, prepping and cooking seem automatic and just “part of your day.”
You’ll save effort normally wasted on procrastinating, or, um, decision-making. And you’ll set yourself up for success with every task that follows.
So you’ve set time aside for planning, right? Well, now decide what the heck you’re going to eat!
This can get really complicated (searching for new recipes and creating detailed meal plans, for instance). Or it can be super-simple (deciding on main proteins, veggies, snacks and perhaps a soup to cover the next few days).
You can also mix it up—getting elaborate one week and going extra-easy the next…or planning on one new recipe but otherwise sticking with what you know.
Whatever your approach, the key is to:
- Have a plan (whether elaborate or simple).
- Make a list.
Please DO NOT head to the grocery store with nothing more than vague ideas.
Once you have your plan and a list in hand, it’s time to hit the store. I recommend a Big Shop once a week (or two biggish shops, if one feels overwhelming).
If you need to pick up something perishable mid-way (fresh veggies or animal protein, for instance), that’s cool. But plan for that and make sure you get as much as you can ahead of time, on Big Shop day.
Along with food for meals, include items that make for easy, healthy snacks—apples, nuts, nut butter, coconut milk and hardboiled eggs, for instance.
If there’s a farmer’s market nearby, that’s another stop to work into your shopping agenda—whether on the same trip as the grocery store or as a separate outing. And, of course, if you have a CSA or other produce delivery service, those are wonderful ways to support local farmers, eat in-season, and save time on shopping trips.
Once again, consistency and regularity are tremendously helpful.
It may seem like a bother to get a solid shopping routine in place. But once it’s established, everything will go so much smoother.
Prep (and cook).
Along with a Big Shop, another great thing to do each week is a Big Cook-up. This is where, once a week, you prep and/or cook lots of food for the days or entire week ahead.
This may take a lot of time—say, a few hours—on the front end. But think of how great you’ll feel in the days following, when you can just reach into the fridge, grab some ready-made deliciousness (or prepped ingredients) and create a wonderful meal without thought or fuss.
If going this route, you could, for instance, cook some “base” veggies, such as cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash, and roasted root vegetables…along with at least one meat or fish dish (enough to last a couple days). To that, you could add hardboiled eggs and plenty of chopped veggies for eating raw or sautéing during the week.
If you want to get fancy, you could also prepare and prep more complex dishes. Melissa Joulwan, author of paleo cookbooks Well Fed and Well Fed 2, is an excellent source of clear guidelines for that sort of thing. She truly has the weekly cook-up down to a tee and offers detailed instructions and an abundance of inspiration in her cookbooks.
Can’t manage a weekly cook-up yet? No worries. Just means you’ll need to allow 30 minutes each day for prepping and cooking.
Here too, establishing a routine will take extra effort at first but will be so worth the payoff.
If you know you’ll be packing lunch as you prep dinner, for example, get in the routine of setting out lunch containers. Then add a helping of all or some of the dishes you’re making for dinner to the containers, along with any extras.
Planning, shopping, prepping and cooking for the week ahead don’t have to be complicated.
Often, simple is better—especially since you want a routine you can stick with over the long term.
Setting up that sort of routine will likely feel tedious at first—taking a bit of effort and some trial and error to get it just right.
But, ultimately, it may be the most important step toward realizing your health and wellness goals.
Keep at it, and eventually it will seem like second nature (and something you’ll miss if stuck in a hotel room with your partner and two cats).