Save Your Waistline and Your Wallet. Here's How.

February 3, 2015

It’s that time of year again – the resolutions to get in shape, lose the weight gained from the holiday cookies, and stay on track through the new year. I am generally a pretty healthy eater and like to exercise, but during the rush of the holiday season and the cold winter, I find it easier to grab take-out on my way home from work and sit in my PJs on my couch instead of hitting the gym and eating a healthy dinner at home. How do you get back on track?

As we have shared with you before, most resolutions fail. We all have good intentions, but ultimately it is easy to fall back into your old routine. I have found that if I can stay on track for about 2 or 3 weeks, it becomes easier after that. Forbes refers to this as the “fight thru” – the time after inspiration fades and reality sets in, and you find yourself struggling with the new habit that you are trying to form. To survive that difficult time, you must recognize that you are fighting to form a new, better habit, and ask yourself how you will feel if you give up.

To help keep myself on track during this time (or any other busy time), I have a few healthy cooking/meal planning ideas to share.

Plan ahead.

This may seem obvious, but you are most likely to hit up the fast food drive through or stroll by the snack table at work when you are hungry and don’t have a plan. I take time on Sunday to sketch out my meals for the week. I fill out a calendar on my phone (more about that later) so that I know exactly what the plan is for each meal for the week. It’s better to put the more perishable food toward the beginning of the week – those vegetables might not look so good after sitting in your fridge for 6 days.

Shop ahead.

Once I make my Sunday meal plan, I make a shopping list and head to the store to buy everything that I need at once. This saves me time because I know I won’t have to go back to the grocery until next week. It also makes it harder for me to ditch my meal plan mid-week because if I know that I have already spent the money on groceries, I am much less likely to get take-out on my way home from work. The same goes for lunches –if I already bought my lunch food on Sunday, it helps me avoid the lunchtime temptation to eat out. I hate wasting food (and money) so this plan helps me avoid the temptation of fast food/take-out. Your wallet and your body will thank you.

Plan meals that you can cook once but eat multiple times.

I do not mind eating the same thing multiple times during the week, but I know some people do. For me, cooking a pot of chili on Sunday night means that I can have chili dinner for the next four nights. But you might not want to have the same thing over and over. I recommend that you still cook it, and then immediately freeze the part that you won’t eat this week. Both methods will save you time later – either by eating the same thing all week, or by having something to thaw out and eat next week (no cooking requried!). Another good alternative is to plan to have something for dinner that you can slightly alter and take for lunch the next day. For example, I often grill steak or chicken for dinner. I make extra, and then cut it up and put it on a salad for lunch the next day. This will help you feel like you aren’t eating the same meal over and over.

Cook ahead.

This goes with #1 and #2 above, and is also a Sunday afternoon/evening project for me. Since I work full-time, I often don’t have much extra time to cook once I get home during the week. If I already have parts of my meals prepared, it saves time during the week. I like to cook a big entrée on Sunday night (think soups, a pan of lasagna, a whole chicken, etc.) and then use it throughout the week. Another thing I like to do is cook up several chicken breasts on Sunday night, and then use them throughout the week in different meals – on top of a salad, in scrambled eggs, mixed into pasta, etc. Having some foods pre-cooked will save you time on those busy work nights when you are getting home from work, dealing with the kids, the dog, and trying to feed yourself all at the same time. If possible, I make a few of my lunches and pack them up so I just have to grab them on my way out the door in the mornings.

Try a salad in a jar. 

You can make a week’s worth of lunches on Sunday if you use this method. One downside of cooking ahead is that produce doesn’t stay fresh for as long as I would like. I found that making a week’s worth of salad would leave me with wilted spinach by about Wednesday. However, this method works by keeping the lettuce away from the dressing. The glass jar also seems to help vegetables stay fresh longer. A quick spin through Pinterest will give you some good ideas, or I like this blog. The basic idea is to layer the ingredients in the jar so that you put the dressing on the bottom, followed with some hearty vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers, which act as a barrier between the dressing and the leafy greens. Then you can add other veggies, your protein of choice, any cheese or toppings you like, and last put the greens on top. Then seal it all up in a jar. It’s easy to transport to work, and you can just dump it all into a bowl when it comes time for lunch.

Utilize apps to help you.

There are a lot of apps available for your phone that will help you organize your meal plan and your shopping list. I personally use Paprika Recipe Manager on my iPhone, but it will cost you $4.99. I like the app because it allows you to take recipes off of the internet and store them. It will then help you use the recipes to create a grocery shopping list, and it has a calendar where you can plan out your meals for an entire month (if you’re ambitious). Pepperplate is a similar app, but it is free. It has some drawbacks (you can’t email the shopping list to anyone, which is a nice feature to have if you aren’t the one to always do the shopping at your house, and you can’t organize your meals quite as easily). For a free app it’s a good start!

Do you have any meal planning tips or tricks? Share them in a comment!