We can begin a new project, exercise regime, or wellness program or even recommit to a goal at any time. But there seem to be certain times of year that I feel more inclined to set new intentions for health, career, relationship, and life. For me, September is one of those times. I am sure it is a throwback to school days. As the summer winds down and there is a hint of autumn in the morning air, I pause to reflect on the last eight months, and I set goals for what I want to accomplish in the final quarter of the year. In September, I re-establish routines that fell by the wayside during the summer months and my schedule seems to fill up with personal and professional commitments. Those of you with kids probably feel this too, as the school schedules begin, with morning drop offs, afternoon pickups, and coordinating activities.
For those of you who are transitioning into September with the intention to eat healthier, I have a few strategies that can support you in this process to make it a lasting lifestyle change and not just a fleeting resolution.
Strategy #1 - Plan
Yes, plan. This doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking with a lot of time dedicated to it. However, if you are intending on eating healthier, the best way to approach it is with a plan. Here are a few ways that planning can support your success:
1) Make a weekly meal plan. This is something that I do religiously. Over the weekend, I sit down for about 15 minutes with my weekly dry eraser board (yes I know it’s a bit dorky and old school) and I write down what I plan to make for dinner each night during the upcoming week. I take note of days that I am out at a meeting, out with a friend or have other plans away from home. This board goes up on my refrigerator so that my husband and I both know the menu for the week. On a separate sheet, I jot down what I intend to have for breakfast, to bring to work for lunch, and to have on hand for snacks. This can be done if you are married, single, have kids or not. From this plan, I write up my grocery list for the week. I find that by using this strategy a few things happen:
- I don’t worry or have to think about what’s for dinner. On those days that I am very busy or having to work late, there is one last thing to think about - dinner is sorted, and I have the items at home that I need to make it.
- I waste less food and save more money. When I am at the super market, I only buy what is on my list. What is on my list is everything that I plan to prepare and eat during the week. Nothing is wasted nor do I buy things impulsively that I don’t need.
- I have fewer cravings. I am able to prepare my meals in a way that helps me to feel satisfied and I have healthy snacks at hand to curb any cravings or energy dips.
Here is a photo of my fridge menu.
2) Have a Go-To list. If, no matter how hard you try, you just can't seem to pack a lunch to bring to work or school, create a Go-to List. That is a list of 3 – 5 places near where you work or study that have healthy options that you can buy for lunch. Some of my favorite ‘’go-to’’ places in NYC for lunch are Pret A Manger, Sweet Greens, Dig Inn, Chopped, and Panera. They have salads, soups, and fresh food options that I find to be delicious, satisfying, and healthy.
When I mention batch cooking, it conjures up images of a crock pot/slow cooker on our counter loaded to the brim with meat or beans and vegetables stewing all day. Well, this is one type of batch cooking, and it is great for making large amounts of food at one time that can be eaten throughout the week or frozen for later use. Another method that I use is cooking enough food for leftovers for the following evening’s dinner. This means that I really only prepare a meal from scratch about three nights a week. We will have leftovers throughout the week to save time and to stretch our budget. So for those of you who don’t like leftovers my recommendation is give them another go. Embrace leftovers!
Strategy #3 - The 80/20 Rule
This is a rule that I live by. In terms of healthy eating, it means that you eat strictly healthy foods 80% of the time and 20% of the time you have the freedom to enjoy things that may not be 100% healthy for you but that may feed your soul, mark a celebration, or just taste delicious. This is my golden rule for sustainable healthy eating habits. It is a full commitment to your health while allowing pleasure and eliminating deprivation. For me, living by the 80/20 rule looks a bit like this:
My 80% (typical foods I enjoy) - smoothies, eggs, gluten free whole grains, loads of veggies in salads, steamed or sautéed, free range meats, raw nuts and nut butters, hummus, tahini, avocado, and beans.
My 20% (foods I enjoy on occasion) - a few dark chocolate squares for dessert, a glass of wine with dinner, a lovely after dinner walk to a local gelato shop for a scoop of hazelnut and chocolate gelato, a slice of freshly baked bread with butter from the local bakery.
The 80/20 rule requires honesty, balance, and self-compassion.
- Being honest with yourself about which foods to avoid if you have an intolerance or allergy, which foods trigger binges, or what causes you to de-rail from pursing your health goals
- Finding balance in pleasure from 80% healthy eating and pleasure from the other 20%
- Offering yourself compassion if on occasion 20% turns into 50% and allowing yourself to get back on track the following day
These are fundamental steps to creating a healthy life not just a diet. Implementing these strategies can be a great support on your path to a healthy eating lifestyle.
Over to you – Do you meal plan? If so, what tools do you use? Do you utilize leftovers as a way to eat healthy and save time and money? How does the 80/20 Rule feel to you? Leave your comments below.