The DAO of meal planning
Can you get the hubs to pitch in? A flexible and sustainable methodology, rather than an inflexible and onerous meal prep schedule, is what works for #fitprofessionals. Photo by Jason Briscoe

The DAO of meal planning

You need a guide to planning meals that won’t be a second full-time job? You are in the right place.

What’s the skinny?

  • Busy #fitprofessional women don’t have time for complicated recipes.
  • Instead of squandering precious free time on weekends to meal prep, this article will provide some fundamentals to putting easy meals together in minimum time, including when there is no time.
  • You will have a playbook for DIY quick meals, with minimum decision fatigue.

The busy woman’s guide to meals

I don’t know about you, but whenever I consult fitness books, magazines, apps or sites I am overwhelmed by the complication of meals and snacks. Here are some examples I have run across, just the titles convey my point:

  • Zucchini and caramelized onion egg muffins;
  • Tropical salad with blackberry vinaigrette;
  • Crock-pot low carb buffalo chicken soup;
  • Apple crisp smoothie;
  • West African Peanut Stew;
  • Buckwheat soba noodles with honey-sesame tempeh;
  • Lemon poppy seed pancakes;
  • Fried Cricket tacos with chipotle cow brains.

The last one was a joke, just to see if you were still with me:) I have had cricket tacos on a work trip to Mexico city, and they are delish, but like the other options, they will produce decision fatigue and take you down unnecessary rabbit holes.

What is the issue? Time and choice.

two white rabbits
Rabbit holes – cute but crazy. Photo by Sincerely Media

What is the issue? Time and choice.

Decision fatigue

Have you ever been to a restaurant with an extensive menu, and felt overwhelmed by the choices? Then paralyzed in making a choice? This is a psychological phenomenon called “decision fatigue“. It is what it sounds like – a huge exhausting timesuck. This is why successful CEOs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wore the same signature black turtleneck and grey shirt. It wasn’t about the statement – it was about not having to waste time making a decision that could be diverted to running a successful company.

In a similar vein, you don’t want to divert your energy towards a time-sucking rabbit hole like googling million protein pancake recipes (literally, 23 million hits show up).

pancakes on palte
Does it every actually look like this when you make the protein pancakes? In a fraction of the time you can have 3 pancakes for less than 200 calories! Photo by Luke Pennystan

Time

And I have the time…hardly ever! Do you? This is the number one complaint I hear from my fellow boss babes.

Most days, we work until at least 8 or 9pm. Or even if not, we are exhausted from all the working and need to crash. After the “Corona era,” travel may reduce, but it will not go extinct.

Not to mention, we have families, dogs, cats, and friends, that we want to see. And we need to time to work out!

All of these factors does not leave a whole lot of extra time to study and choose recipes, shop for obscure ingredients, and go through the trial and error process of cooking /baking it. And throwing it out after you messed it up the first time. And making it again.

The #fitprofessional alternative

What, then, can us #fitprofessionals do for easy meal prep when we don’t always have time to research and create all kind of recipes? Here are some popular options:

  • Meal delivery services;
  • Eating out;
  • Ordering takeout or delivery;
  • Buying pre-frozen meals; and
  • Eating whatever you can get your hands on and calling it a day.

That last one – not a joke. But not the worst case scenario, if you have the right “emergency” provisions.

What worked, and what didn’t?

Meal delivery services

Meal delivery was another exercise in decision fatigue, with prohibitive cost (15 dollars per person, per meal). I wouldn’t recommend it, but if it works for you and your household, that’s awesome. But, buyer beware:

  • In many of these services, you still have to COOK the meals;
  • Delivery times can be screwy because of COVID;
  • As a long term solution for when we “get back to work”, you need to consider that travel or other business may cause the meals to spoil as they last for only a few days in the fridge or 24 hours outside upon delivery;
  • And finally, there is the cost. On average, meals range from 9 to 15 dollars per person. While that may not be prohibitive for some, it needs to be factored into the analysis.

I’m not ruling out meal delivery services, only saying they are just not my thing. If you want to find out more about the popular Meal delivery services, like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, Purple carrot, and others, including price breakdown, head over to this article.

Outside dining and Delivery/takeout

For most of us, eating out or ordering takeout/delivery ALL the time is not practical, for either financial or calorie budgets. A meal for 2 can easily exceed the cost of a week’s worth of groceries. Not to mention, given the norms around excessive portion sizes, overly lubricating oils and butters, and excess salt, you could just as easily be eating a day’s worth of calories in a single meal!

These are good opportunities to have your “20.” Clearly, if you eat out all the time, that would completely frustrate the purpose of that formula!

To achieve #fitprofessional status, your regulation of your own food intake is critical. In order to have a good foundation appropriate portion sizes, or what PFfC meal combinations look like, it is important to have a comfort level using your own best judgement. That judgement comes from experience with preparing and eating meals on #fitprofessional terms.

If you stick with me, you can master menus and ordering like a BOSS, including when you are traveling and are compelled to rely on room service, restaurants, and takeout.

Read my article on how to order in like a boss for more on takeout.

The overall plan that works for #fitprofessionals

For a busy woman on the go what works best for me is as follows:

  • Outside dining once a week for date night;
  • Delivery or takeout 1-2 times a a week, and
  • Ready to assemble or pre-frozen meals the rest of the time.

Pre-frozen meals

We are not just talking “lean cuisine” anymore. You can buy pre-frozen smoothies, organic veggie/turkey/chicken burgers, prepared vegetable side dishes, pancakes, waffles (including those made with cauliflower!), omelets, and complete entrees, including Indian, Asian, Mexican, and Italian foods. I keep a freezer full of these options, for “stopgap” measures. On any given day or night, there will be crunch time, fatigue, late dinners, or 5 minutes to eat breakfast or lunch.

For more, read my post on the best frozen meals.

Ready to assemble meals

Ready to assemble meals are my “anchor.” It’s the most flexible and easy option after all my years of trial and error.

Pairing pre-cooked protein (chicken breast, tuna, or beans), with ready to eat fruit and vegetables (pre-washed fresh greens, and pre-frozen vegetables), hard-boiled eggs, instant oatmeals, nuts, seeds, and pre-made sauces and soups.

I used to invest a lot of time in meal prepping. Now, I spend that time on self-care and enjoying my life. I find it exhausting and a time suck of an entire day on a weekend cooking, chopping, arranging, and washing containers, when I can be having fun with the hubs, organizing my closet, hanging out with friends, or taking a hot bath.

Having “ready to go” meals means less than 5 minutes of prep for breakfast. For dinners, this means 10-20 minutes of prep, and making enough for 3 nights, which amortized is 5 minutes a night.

It is also important to have “emergency” provisions, for those nights that you literally only have time to grab something from the fridge/pantry and make do. This is what I call “rainy day meals.” Supplies like baby carrots, hummus, turkey slices, tuna, and instant soup are critical for a backup plan. This prevents you from making unwise food decisions like inhaling a bag of popcorn or ordering a pizza at 11pm.

pepperoni pizza
Pizza for a “20 meal” can be planned, but shouldn’t be a consistent way to throw in the towel on eating a quick and healthy meal. Read more about the 80/20 approach to a sustainable life. Photo by Alan Hardman

Groceries and food

The time spent on food shopping, either on-line or in-person, is inconsequential compared to the time you would waste on any of the other ways around “easy meals.”

You can get groceries delivered via Instacart or Amazon Prime, or go shopping on your own. Produce can be dicey when you are not selecting it yourself, so if you really want the best possible produce, go to the store for just that purpose. Go during off-peak hours, grab a basket, and work your biceps at the same time. You can subscribe and save for delivery on the bulk of your staples.

Being in the grocery store has helped me explore all of the options we have for #easy meals and snacks, get familiar with different kinds of produce and protein options, and explore different seasonings, spices, and sauces. This is not everything you can necessarily identify when you are shopping online.

Plus, as Carrie Bradshaw put it, “Shopping is my cardio.” Are you noticing that all of the ads for Instacart feature couples lounging lazily on the sofa? That can be a solution infrequently, but your norm should be a body in motion – that, even moreso than exercise, can keep you trim and fit.

“Shopping is my cardio.”

Carrie bradshaw

In the next post, we will review easy meals for fit professionals, including what to buy and how to put it together.

More:

How to make grocery shopping less terrible
How expensive eating out really is

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