If you want your healthy lifestyle to last, the secret is entirely about making healthy habits easier. For most of us, time, energy, and money are in short supply. So reduce the time it takes to plan, shop for, and prepare your meals. Or reduce the cost if that’s your biggest goal.
Here are some of the best tricks, rules, and tips I rely on to minimize time, energy, and effort.
1. SKIP CERTAIN HERBS AND SPICES OR MAKE SUBSTITUTIONS WHEN IT’LL SAVE YOU A GROCERY TRIP OR TIME IN THE STORE.
Chefs who create recipes are artists, and if your goal is to experience the highest expression of the chef’s creativity, then yes, you should follow the recipe exactly. But for you, the guy or girl who just wants to start eating well and to do it as simply as possible, then it’s not going to matter much whether you use fancy sherry vinegar or substitute the apple cider vinegar you’ve had in the cupboard for the past two years.
Don’t be afraid to take a lot of substitutions and omissions. Plain old Tabasco can stand in for Sriracha or chili oil. If you don’t have cilantro, try basil or parsley if you’ve got either one. Or just Google “substitution for ____” and go with it.
Sure, maybe something will taste weird now and then. But in the long run you can save a lot of money and effort this way, and almost nobody’s going to notice.
2. MAKE A BIG BATCH OF RICE (OR ANOTHER FOOD YOU EAT OFTEN) TO LAST YOU THE ENTIRE WEEK.
I cook a lot of Indian food, so rice is a big one for me, but this works just as well with other grains and pseudograins like millet, quinoa, and bulgur. And you can do it with beans and vegetables too, though veggies generally don’t keep quite as well in the fridge. But the freezer is always an option!
3. DON’T BUY JUNK FOOD AT THE GROCERY STORE.
Just flat-out refuse to do it. Make it your policy. If it’s not in your house, you’re so much less likely to put in the effort to go get it.
4. DON’T RULE OUT VEGAN MEAL SERVICES, EVEN IF YOU’RE ON A BUDGET.
Economies of scale allow them to purchase food for way cheaper than you can, so even after the cost of delivery and their markup, you might not pay much more than you would if you shopped yourself. Plus, oh yeah, you don’t have to shop. Or prep most of the ingredients. Or think about what to make. Or eat the same old thing again.
5. ANYTIME YOU MAKE VEGGIE BURGERS, MAKE A DOUBLE OR TRIPLE BATCH.
Freeze the leftovers, and when you need a quick, cheap, and easy healthy meal, crumble one on top of a salad. Or put it in a pita. Or eat it by itself. Five-minute meal.
6. KEEP INGREDIENTS ON HAND FOR NO FEWER THAN THREE DINNERS-IN-A-PINCH.
These are meals that you can make with little effort and time, and ones you can fall back on when your day gets away from you. Having these ingredients on hand is a good tactic to prevent going out to eat at the last minute or ordering takeout, which can lead to several unhealthy meals in a row due to inertia or leftovers. Your dinners in a pinch might not be as healthy as you’d like — you’re looking for ingredients that can sit for a few weeks without going bad, so not a lot of fresh veggies — but they’ll get you through a stressful day or two until you can get back on track.
7. BE REALISTIC
If you’re making the change from not eating that great to eating healthy, be realistic about your goals and expectations. Don’t Go into this thinking you’re going to 100 percent change everything immediately. It may take time for you to adjust, and it’s okay if you “mess up” and don’t eat super healthy every single day. It’s all about balance more than being “perfect.”
Set small goals, lower your expectations, and allow yourself to do the best you can under your own circumstances. Taking the pressure off will make things a little easier even if you don’t realize it right away.
8. KEEP THE KITCHEN STOCKED
One way to remove the temptation of eating unhealthy foods is to simply remove them from your kitchen. Toss any bags of chips or cookies that you want to remove from your life, and stock up on healthy options instead. Keep the fridge packed with fruits, veggies, yogurts, and other nutritious choices. Buy healthy snack options for the pantry. If the right foods are in your kitchen, you’re more likely to put the right foods in your body.
9. KEEP HEALTHY SNACKS ON HAND
You can prepare your own healthy snacks in bulk if you’d like, or simply buy them and keep them in your kitchen. It’s never a bad idea to take them with you whenever you’re going out too.
Some ideas for healthy snacks include protein bars that are low on sugar, carrots or celery sticks with hummus, Greek yogurt with apples or berries, a smoothie with lots of veggies or fruits (and no added sugar), or something like chia seed pudding that you can make on your own.
10. MAKE YOUR MEALS LAST
Whenever you’re cooking a healthy meal, try cooking more of it by doubling the recipe. It won’t take much extra time and it allows you to have leftovers to heat up for lunch or dinner. You should also learn to repurpose your food if you don’t like eating the same things twice. Save leftover veggies from a stirfry and use them in pasta or with your eggs for breakfast…things like that.
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