Helloooo, Monday. I had quite a whirlwind weekend and honestly don’t know where the time went. Did Saturday even happen?
Between a birthday dinner, a cookie exchange, a housewarming party, a much-needed massage, and terrible (icy) weather, I still made time to exercise on Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday, plan this week’s meals, get groceries, finish meal prep for both Ryan and myself, AND spend time with family. I definitely didn’t waste a minute of it. :o)
Saturday afternoon, I went to my mom’s house for her annual cookie exchange. (Side note: I took a pan of freshly-made blondies along with me, and they were a total crowd-pleaser. Nobody would have guessed that they were flour-less and dairy-free if I hadn’t outright bragged about it.) The cookie exchange meant I didn’t have my normal Saturday afternoon meal prep extravaganza, so I had to switch up the schedule and fit everything in on Sunday afternoon. To make it even more crunched, I had to do all of my weekly cooking between 12:45 and 3 to make it back over to my mom’s for her housewarming party. We had a little too much going on this weekend.
December is a busy month for everyone, but the extra parties and events (and corresponding lack of spare time) shouldn’t be a reason to let good nutritional habits fall by the wayside. The most widely-used excuse for having a poor diet over the holiday season (or any other part of the year, for that matter) is lack of time. The convenience behind grabbing food from a restaurant or drive-thru is pretty hard to pass up, and it can be nearly impossible to find time on the weekend to brave the cold and hit the grocery store. Believe me, I’ve been there. I was there ALL last winter, working out nonstop, wondering why I was still packing on the pounds, and feeling increasingly uncomfortable in my clothes. (Not a happy holiday at all.)
To boil it down into one sentence: YOU HAVE TO MAKE TIME FOR YOUR HEALTH. Think about how you spend your time. Are you usually glued to the TV on your weekends? Do you spend a few hours shopping online or checking emails? That same time could easily be spent making a list of what you’ll be eating for the next week, building a grocery list, buying the food, and cooking your lunches. We all have the same number of hours in each day; your choice determines how they are spent. If you invest a few hours each week to ensure you’re eating food that is good for you, you’ll add years to your life and save yourself money. Let’s break it down — how long does weekly meal prep REALLY take me?:
- Plan meals for the week: 10 minutes
- Build grocery list based on meal plan: 10 minutes
- Buy groceries: 80 minutes (I’m slow at this because I hate it)
- Unload groceries: 20 minutes
- Cook lunches, chop breakfast veggies: 130 minutes
- Clean up: 15 minutes
Combined, it all takes somewhere around 4 hours to prep for 2 people. It sounds like a lot, but compare that to how much time you usually spend at restaurants throughout the week. I’d bet it’s pretty close in duration and much less healthy than spending half a day each week planning and prepping your own food. I ended up with this for the week:
Shortcuts for Lunch Prep
I decided to document a few simple lunch hacks that I use when I’m short on time as I was wreaking havoc on my kitchen yesterday. If your schedule is packed, pick up these items at the grocery store instead of blowing off your meal prep altogether.
- Pre-Cooked Chicken: I buy the HEB Naturals shredded chicken, microwave it, and throw it in my lunch with some brown rice and stone-ground mustard. Add a couple cups of veggies to it and voila: lunch. Another great option is the HEB Extra-Lean pre-sliced fajita meat. I usually throw it in a skillet and coat it with Frank’s Red Hot. Portion it out to however many ounces of lean protein you should be eating at lunch and pack it up with a complex carbohydrate and veggie. Done and done. (While neither of these options are as nutritious as buying free-range chicken breast and seasoning/cooking it yourself, they are both much better for you than grabbing Chick-fil-a or Taco Bell on your lunch break.)
- Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice: If you have a box of this stuff, a pot, a stove, some water, and 10 minutes, you can cook up the carb portion of your lunches for the next week in one fell swoop. I use this in half of Ryan’s lunches. I tend to be more partial to sweet potatoes for my own meals, but the brown rice is way easier to prep. Toss it with low-sodium soy sauce or stone-ground mustard to add flavor.
- Flavored Liquid Stevia: I find these at any “natural” grocery store (Sprouts, Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, etc.) and I’m obsessed with the Dark Chocolate flavor. My pre-workout snack each afternoon usually consists of Greek yogurt, blueberries, and a couple drops of liquid Stevia. It tastes like CANDY. If you’re not a fan of plain Greek yogurt, buy this stuff and add it to a serving of the regular stuff. Stay away from the flavored, fruit and syrup-filled variations. They have a ton of extra sugar that you don’t need.
One more tip: It helps to plan recipes that use different methods of cooking. You can have something in the oven, a different item on the stove, and other stuff going in the microwave all at one time (if you’re a skilled multi-tasker). Yesterday, I cooked broccoli in the microwave while baking these Buffalo Chicken Meatloaf Bites in the oven. Rice was boiling on the stove, of course. When you’ve got meal prep down to a science, you learn how to be efficient. :o)
Buffalo Chicken Meatloaf Bites
Yesterday, I altered Jamie Eason’s meatloaf muffin recipe and gave it a spicy twist. One thing to add to your grocery list: GROUND CHICKEN. Only a few of the “nicer” HEBs in north Austin seem to have this stuff. If I’m shopping at a store that actually has it in stock, I tend to buy 3-4 packages because it’s hard to come by and freezes well. I really prefer making meatloaf-type dishes with chicken — the flavor turns out better and it seems to be more moist.
The comments on my last blog post totally inspired me to make something with buffalo sauce. Anyone who suggested wings or buffalo mac and cheese — this came about because of you! (PS: Thanks for making me crave buffalo sauce all weekend.) These will surely become a lunch AND dinner staple for Ryan and me. They’d really work for either meal; simple enough to throw together after a long day at work, and they keep long enough to prep in a lunch 4 days before you plan to eat it. Ryan’s running around the golf course all day, so it’s hard for him to find time to actually sit down and eat something from a plate or bowl. Burgers or bite-sized dishes are easiest, and these fit the bill perfectly.
Cook time: 25 minutes
- 1/2 small red onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp Bolthouse Farms Chunky Blue Cheese Yogurt Dressing (sold in the produce section)
- 1/4 cup Franks Red Hot (use more/less depending on how spicy you want it)
- 1 package (16 oz.) ground chicken breast
- 1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (or rolled oats)
- 1/2 tbsp chili powder
- 1/2 tbsp dried cilantro
- 1/2 tbsp dried garlic
- 1 tsp celery salt
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- Optional: 2-4 stalks of celery, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a muffin tin with cooking spray
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well with your hands
- Divide chicken mixture out evenly into muffin tin (muffins will be pretty small — they might only fill the tin halfway)
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned
I packed Ryan’s lunches with 4 meatloaf bites and mine with 3. They were so simple to put together and portion out for this week. Meatloaf bites for the WIN. They’ll go wonderfully with some green beans and sweet potato chips this week!
PS: The Polar FT4 and food scale giveaway is still on! I’ll be picking winners this Friday. The ideas have all been AMAZING so far. I might have to just draw a couple of names from a hat to make a selection because it’s already hard to choose a favorite! If you haven’t already, check out my last blog post and comment with a dish you’d like to see me clean up. You’ll automatically be entered to win once you leave a comment. Easy as pie. (Heck, you could even submit “pie” as an idea.)