Nourish your body and mind so you can thrive and feel full of energy throughout your day says Lauren Parsons
As a busy professional it can be a constant challenge to maintain good nutrition. Even though you know that plenty of wholesome food will boost your energy levels and keep you feeling great, some days you may hardly have the time to enjoy, let alone prepare, a nutritious lunch. Dinner times can be a rushed affair if you’re home late after work, so how to do you keep yourself (and your family) fuelled well?
There is so much confusion surrounding nutrition that it can be challenging to identify exactly what is best to eat. Rather than dieting or focusing on cutting out major food groups as some approaches take, my philosophy is to focus on the positive. Put simply, focus on eating more nutrient dense ‘real food’. Food that looks as if it’s come off the tree or out of the ground, resembling its natural form as much as possible, without excess salt and sugar or unnecessary additives and preservatives.
Because our time is so precious, this article is designed to give you specific time-saving ways to get more real food in. Trust me – it is so worth investing the small amount of time to instil these new habits as they will give you back so much more energy and time in the long run!
- Set aside a single sized portion of your evening meal as lunch for the next day. The key step, which is often missed, is to do this before you serve up dinner.
- Set yourself up a salad bar to make it easy to throw together a great salad in seconds. Wash, dice, slice and grate vegetables in advance for your salads over the next few days and store them fresh in separate containers or plastic bags in the fridge.
- Or you can even pre-make entire salads in mason jars or containers ready to take with you. Just keep the vinaigrette on the side.
- Get into a routine of never leaving home without your five essentials: phone, wallet, keys, lunch/snacks and water bottle. It’s all about your daily habits.
- Have some healthy non-perishable options on hand such as frozen soup, tinned fish, raw nuts, frozen homemade baking or even breakfast cereal with frozen berries. These can be a great meal at any time of the day, just in case.
- You might like to set up a lunch club with three colleagues where you each have a set weekday to provide lunch for four. Then you get to relax on the other days when they cater in turn for you. It’s a fun, social and stress-free way to ensure a delicious balanced lunch throughout the week.
- Whenever possible, make sure you carve out time to get away from your desk and eat your lunch mindfully (ideally outside in natural light) as this gives you so many additional benefits for your body and mind. You will feel much more satisfied if you can single-task eating and really focus on your meal without distractions. You’ll also save time overall as you’ll have more mental clarity once you get back to your desk, so you’ll be more efficient and accurate for the rest of the day.
Set Up a ‘Freezer-Library’
- To give yourself several nights off cooking, create a library of meals in your freezer by making it your default to always bulk cook a batch of 3-4 meals at a time.
- Making a large batch of bolognaise, curry or casserole for example takes little extra time than what it would to cook a single batch. This way you only need to cook twice a week and you can de-frost your ready meals every other night. For more details on exactly how to perfect your freezer library and plenty of freezer friendly meals see realfoodlessfuss.com
- By freezing meals directly (again before you serve dinner) there are no more ‘boring leftovers’ the next night, but instead a range of options available in your freezer giving you variety throughout the week.
- To get started, do a bulk cook up one weekend making a few batches that freeze well. Then continue to maintain your ‘library’ of meals by cycling through them adding new ones to replaces the ones you use.
- You can also do a weekly batch of homemade natural baking (or raw baking such as blended slices or bliss balls) and freeze these as handy snacks.
- Invest in good quality sets of containers and zip lock bags suitable for freezing individual and family size meals, plus smaller bags or containers suitable for snacks and lunches.
- Keep a permanent marker pen in your kitchen drawer and label and date everything as you freeze it. Use meals within 3-4 months.
- Store similar things together in your freezer to make them easy to find. Designate specific areas for complete meals, meal ingredients and flavour enhancers, frozen berries and vegetables, bread, stock and raw meat. Make sure everyone knows how your freezer storage system works and remember to rotate things to the bottom or the back as you store them so older items are easier to find when defrosting.
- Once heated through serve your ready meals with some fresh herbs, cracked pepper or grated parmesan to amp up the flavour.
- I also highly recommend having a salad starter as a first course (while your main meal is heating through) check out my Sensational Salad Blueprints at bit.ly/SaladsBP. This way you get the most nutritious nutrient and fibre rich raw vegetables in to start the meal off, which effortlessly helps you control portions by ensuing you fill up on good stuff first.
Menu Planning and Shopping
- Plan a weekly menu every Sunday based on the fresh food you have on hand, what’s on special that week and the freezer meals you’ll plan to defrost.
- Save yourself time and money on your grocery spend by shopping online. It allows you to easily price compare, shop for specials and avoid unnecessary purchases.
- Write your weekly menu up on a whiteboard or chalk board ready to display and look forward to throughout the week (this is such a time and stress saver).
- Complete your online shopping at the same time while everything is at the top of your mind, checking the pantry, so you never forget any items.
- If you find yourself stuck for inspiration, turn your weekly meal planning into a game by writing your favourite meals out on cards or ice cream sticks (which you can buy in a dollar store) and draw them out of a jar one at a time to add to your meal plan. If you have children, they are likely to enjoy taking charge of this for you. You could colour code your meals vegetarian, fish, chicken and meat or just leave them all identical so it’s a total lucky dip!
Cooking and Preparation
- Start with as much clear space as you can and always use a super sharp knife.
- Use the chef’s technique of ‘mis en place’, (putting in place) which involves prepping your meal components prior to the busy service time.
- Do one step at a time and work systematically (e.g. halve and quarter all the apples, then de-core them all, then slice them all.) This is how chefs are taught to work as efficiently as possible.
- When you prepare vegetables for your main meal, prepare your salad vegetables at the same time. You could also prep your salads ahead for the entire week if you like.
- Use your food processor to chop vegetables when you are doing a large amount. Get familiar with the different blades or attachments for grating, slicing and so on.
- If you need hot water, fill and boil the jug so you can put boiled water directly into the pot.
- Heat your pans/oven before you start cooking.
- Roast large chunks of pumpkin (squash) with the skin on and scoop out the flesh rather than spending time chopping the skins off.
- Put whole cloves into your garlic crusher skin and all and crush away. The flesh and juice all comes out and it saves time, hassle and garlic flavoured fingers.
- When roasting vegetables, cook extra amounts to store in the fridge for another meal the next day – they are great in salads, served cold or reheated in a frying pan.
- The biggest time saver is of course triple and quadruple batch cooking meals or key components such as sauces, to give yourself entire nights off cooking. Make it your default to do this whenever possible.
By spending a little time setting up new routines and preparing your lunches, dinners and snacks in advance it makes it incredibly easy to enjoy delicious real food meals and snacks that will nourish you to great health.
Why not start a trend in your office (and within your family) and spread the positive ripple, encouraging those around you to boost their health and happiness as well?