Now that we are all slowly transitioning into our new fall schedules, our lives might become a bit busier, but that does not mean you need to give up on your health goals!
Have you ever been so busy there was absolutely no time to meal prep, so your meals became anything that was available at the time? Are you sacrificing planned out nutrient dense meals for calorie dense quick solutions? If you are thinking, “um every week?” do yourself a favor and keep reading.
Although I preach meal prep because it is the absolute best way to stick with your goals: I also understand that every day/week can not be perfect. Not everyone can make the time to plan and prepare a week’s worth of food. If you are the person who does make the time every week (I applaud you), but has your family ever eaten everything by Tuesday afternoon; leaving you to scramble and throw meals together midweek?
Maybe you are just tired of cooking every single meal for your family especially since March (YIKES). School has now started so your focus may shift away from planning meals, and your attention may be on virtual learning, and balancing this new life for your family.
Any way you spin it, the meal prepping might not be a priority at this time so how can someone stick with their health goals with little time to focus on the food they are eating?
We all have busy lives, the good news is, there are still ways to get nutritious meals in a quick and easy way.
When you are in a pinch, what types of meals do you eat? Fast food? A frozen pizza? Boxed pasta with jar sauce? A can of soup? All of these foods have one major thing in common: convenience.
Prepackaged foods are certainly the most convenient for those of us with busy schedules or just sick of cooking. If you have read any of my previous blogs, you may have noticed that I encourage readers not to buy or consume prepackaged foods because they are often calorie dense and nutrient poor. So you may want to be sitting down when I tell you that today I am sharing the BEST PREPACKAGED FOODS to consume while still staying on track with your health goals.
Before you start writing down a list to run out and buy, remember that packaged foods are a quick fix for those busy days, not to be substituted for every meal. Reason being, these meals will NOT provide you with all the necessary nutrients your body needs.
Before you buy ANY prepackaged food be sure to read every single ingredient.
Also take into consideration a few things: calories and benefits. Spend your calories like money. SPEND WISELY. For example, a single protein bar can be 290 calories, which may fill you up for a snack but wouldn’t an apple fill you the same for 200 less calories? Be sure to consider the benefits of your foods. For example, I could eat a few handfuls of goldfish crackers for my lunch (please don’t do this, it’s just a silly example) which could save me tons of calories compared to other convenient lunches, but what benefits would I get from the crackers? What nutrients would my body get to help give me the energy to get through the rest of my day?
Believe it or not, your coaches at FitGuana don’t live perfect lives that leave us hours of extra time to meal prep every single week. But we don't let the lack of time lead us to poor food choices. Personally, there are weeks where I need to find foods that can be made in under three minutes or eaten on the go. Which is why I want to share your coaches favorite prepackaged foods that we eat, which allow us to save time and still consume beneficial meals.
Starting with breakfast: for me, I typically go with “meal prepped” breakfasts that take all of a few minutes to make. These include hard boiled eggs or overnight oats.
On days when I forget to prep my breakfast the night before, smoothies are a great solution. My best advice for smoothies is ALWAYS add green. Whether your green is spinach or kale, just throw it in with your fruit, nut milk, and protein- trust me when I tell you, you won’t taste the greens but your body will thank you for the loads of nutrients it receives.
Now let’s talk about lunch: I teach and workout in the afternoons and evenings, so my lunch has to be light enough to digest easily- but also enough to keep me full for my night at work.
If leftovers are not an option (because leftovers are the easiest and best choice), salads are my other favorite option (shocking, I know). There are lots of pre packaged salad mixes which may sound boring but truthfully I mix different blends then add in fruits, nuts, seeds, or beans along with what the package offers.
You can also add in leftovers such as chicken, steak, quinoa, or whatever you like! My two favorites are the sunflower crisp mix (pictured here) which is great no matter what season but I like to add spinach, romaine, or kale because I am in favor of bigger portioned salads and more nutrients.
My other favorite is a creation of my own which I call a harvest salad because it is best in the fall and can be thrown together quickly and eaten at a later time. To make: combine kale, a slaw mix (or your favorite lettuce), diced apple, and pecans. When I have the ingredients, I also add havarti cheese, roasted butternut squash, quinoa, or chicken which all add delicious flavors of salty and sweet.
Unfortunately, cheese and I don’t get along so I avoid this ingredient most of the time (but I recommend trying it if you can tolerate dairy). The best part of this salad is it really doesn’t need a dressing other than olive oil (yay for saving calories where you can).
Salads are my go to lunch because this is what works for me, but I also know there are days I need to add more than a salad to keep me going through the night until dinner. This may not be the case for everyone especially if you eat dinner at an earlier hour. This is where snacking is important because it helps to avoid overeating late at night. My go-to afternoon snack is baby carrots because they are easy to bring wherever I go, and cheap to buy.
Some days those carrots are not cutting it because my lunch was lighter, so I opt for protein shakes (like the ones I make for breakfast), bars (with the least amount of ingredients possible), or bone broth. I do not often promote protein bars simply because most have too many added ingredients but when in a pinch I will grab one. Bone broth is my favorite grab and go in the colder months. Tons of protein, and easy to sip when I'm driving or working. I will remind you to check the ingredients if you are buying the premade bone broth (or the powder form) because these typically have lots of sodium. Sodium is not something you have to avoid completely, just be mindful of your overall daily intake.
Obviously, it’s best to make bone broth yourself because you control the ingredients plus it freezes nicely for future uses. So when you do have the time, make a very large pot of broth and save it for days that you need it. Throw it in a thermos and you have a snack to sip on the go.
Dinners are a bit tougher, because there are not many prepackaged dinner foods I would suggest. My number one suggestion is to make as much of your meal as you can prior to, and then keep all preparations in the refrigerator ready to heat and eat.
As we head into the cooler months, take advantage of the slow cookers and instapot. They are truly a lifesaver when you can dump the ingredients in the morning (we are talking two minutes prep time here people) and then dinner is waiting when you get home. These crockpots are like having your own personal chef at home, and gets even better when you force someone else to clean all the dishes. Another suggestion is to make and freeze meals as much as possible. I love to freeze chilis and soups because they are easily portioned for lunch or dinner when you need a quick solution.
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By Deanna Virtue
ACE Health Coach