You wouldn’t start a vacation without an idea of where you’re going to go, and neither should you start your day or week without an idea of what you’re going to eat. We’re not saying you have to plan every bite, but with so many unhealthy choices all-too-readily available (you probably pass a few fast-food joints whenever you drive your car and stare down doughnuts when you buy your morning paper), having a plan, writing it down, and sticking to it is the smart approach.
Set aside time on Sunday to plan your menu for the next seven days. Look through cookbooks, recipe cards, or the latest issue of a healthy cooking magazine, and pick out seven healthy dinners with reasonable calorie totals, usually no more than about 500 calories per serving. Remember to include a lean protein source (such as chicken breast, fish, or beans), plenty of vegetables, and a whole-grain source of fiber. Breakfasts and lunches can be a little more spontaneous, but it’s still a good to have a general idea of what you’ll be eating (oatmeal or cereal with fruit in the mornings, salads and soups for lunch, etc.) so you’re not caught off guard and unprepared.
Write out a grocery list based on your week’s menu. Take it to the store and don’t buy anything that’s not on the list (unless of course you forgot to write down basics like milk and toilet paper). Now even if your week turns busy and exhausting, you won’t have to shop or wonder what you should make for dinner. A healthy meal is already planned and ready to cook!
Buy a set of magnetic clips and use them to hang your recipes for the week on the fridge. It will be one more reminder that you have a healthy meal planned before you have a chance to open the drawer for a take-out menu.
Put fish on the menu twice a week. Eating up to two servings of fish — especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or mackerel — will supply enough omega-3 fatty acids to cut your risk of dying of a heart attack by 30 percent. One way omega-3 fatty acids help lower heart attack risk is by fighting inflammation in the arteries and elsewhere. Another upside to “fin food”: If you’re eating fish, that means you’re not eating a fatty steak or an oversize plate of macaroni and cheese, both diabetes disasters.
Enjoy a Greek “picnic” on Thursdays. Start with a homemade Greek salad that includes lettuce, chopped juicy tomatoes, cubed cucumbers, a handful of chickpeas, 3 ounces of grilled chicken per person, and an ounce of low-fat feta cheese per person. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and add pickled pepperoncini hot peppers, if you like them. As a side dish, serve tzatziki, made with 2 cups of strained Greek yogurt, several cloves of diced garlic, 1/2 cup of peeled, diced, or shredded cucumber, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, and chopped mint to taste. Put out warmed whole-grain flat bread, and top it off with a glass of red wine or unsweetened iced tea. Eating Mediterranean-style is good for your heart and may improve insulin resistance.
Toss a big salad on Sunday. Lettuce and most crisp vegetables will remain fresh for several days in the refrigerator, so making a big salad on Sunday should get you through until Wednesday or Thursday. Mix diced carrots, celery, green beans, fresh broccoli, and cauliflower with your favorite greens and store in an airtight container. Add anything that contains moisture, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, low-fat cheese, chicken, tuna, or turkey, just before serving.
Prep for tomorrow the night before. Take 20 minutes from your evening TV viewing to do some prep work that will make the next day go smoothly. Hard-boil eggs for breakfast and put them in the fridge, set the breakfast table, cut up fruit for your cereal, and set the coffee machine. Planning a berry crisp for dinner Friday night? On Thursday, measure and pour the flour, oatmeal, cinnamon, and other spices into a plastic bag and seal. The next day you’ll simply have to throw it together with the berries and bake.
Buy a dry-erase board from an office supply store and use it to track your servings of fiber-rich foods. Getting more fiber into your diet is one of the best ways to shrink your waistline and lower your blood sugar, but it’s probably not top-of-mind when you’re looking for something to eat. The answer? Every day, write down every fiber-rich food that passes your lips: Your morning bowl of oatmeal (give yourself an extra fiber food for adding fruit or flaxseeds on top), your sandwich on two pieces of whole-grain bread (that counts as two) your afternoon apple, your sides of brown rice and steamed spinach at dinner. Aim for at least eight. The visual reminder will spur you to eat more servings as the day progresses if you see you’re falling short. Need one last serving after dinner? Snack on air-popped popcorn in the evening.