My #1 patient recommendation - one of the most effective strategies to achieve with your health goals - is the practice of meal planning and food preparation.
The obstacles we all have to healthy eating - like grabbing fast food, or skipping meals only to binge on nutrient poor but calorically dense foods later - make us feel less well, and can be prevented by preparing foods that provide us with sustained energy in advance.
I give most of my patients detailed nutrition prescriptions that include suggestions like "eat fish >2/week". In order to follow through, it really helps to have a system in place. Here's a look at mine:
The Foundation of Success: Strategic Grocery Shopping
1.Designate one day/week to make your meal plan for the following week. I get my groceries on Saturday morning (we have a fabulous Farmer's market open that day), so I plan my meals on Friday after work, to complete my grocery list.
Create a detailed shopping list based on your meal plan to avoid impulse purchases and ensure that your kitchen is stocked with wholesome, nutritious ingredients.
2. Make it visible. I used to write our family's meal plan on kitchen cupboards painted with chalk paint (you could also use a dry erase board), but now that my kitchen is under renovation, I'm using this awesome handout from my online dispensary, Fullscript. You can post it on your fridge, or on a clipboard on a shelf - as long as everyone benefiting from it and contributing to it can see it easily.
One of my favourite things about this list is that it includes Items To Use Up. Choosing recipes that incorporate perishables to reduce food waste is super helpful for both our wallet and our climate. (Check out this blog from my group of NDs for Environmental and Social Trust).
The Game-Changer: Food Prep Hacks
3. Pre-Cut and Wash Produce. Spend 10-20 minutes washing and chopping your produce as soon as you return from the market or grocery store, before putting them in the fridge. This makes it easy to grab a nutritious snack or add veggies to your meals without any hassle.
4. Batch Cook for Efficiency. Spend a few hours on a designated day preparing large quantities of staple items like grains, proteins, and roasted vegetables. This provides a foundation for creating meals that are nutritious and convenient. I recommend having a big leafy salad in the fridge that you can take with you if you work outside your home, that includes protein sources that you've pre-cooked. For example, Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs in less than 10 minutes and Easy, Juicy & Flavourful Chicken Breasts.
I also often recommend keeping protein packed smoothies ready to go, to help up patients achieve their macronutrient requirements and balance their blood sugar.
5. Get in the mood. One of the ways I make meal prep a more meditative, pleasurable experience is by playing music. I recommended this to one of my brilliant patients who was not enjoying meal prep, and she started listening to this playlist - to vibe with Stanley Tucci as he travels Italy taking in its regional cuisines - while she cooks.
Do you have a favourite playlist you listen to while you meal prep? One that gets you singing or dancing in the kitchen?
6. Stay Flexible. My family's meal plan is never executed perfectly. While planning is crucial, life is unpredictable. Be prepared to adapt your meal plan based on unforeseen circumstances. Having a backup plan or a selection of quick and healthy recipes can prevent you from resorting to less nutritious options.
This effortless chickpea curry is a classic that my family falls back on when we're short on time, or don't end up having the ingredients for what's supposed to be made according to our meal plan. It takes no time, there are only a few ingredients that are pantry staples, and it's so delicious we'd never get sick of it!
7. Mindful Eating Practices help us enjoy our meals and optimize digestion. Practice mindful eating by savouring each bite, listening to your body's hunger and fullness cues, and eliminating distractions during meals.