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How to Integrate Eating Clean into a Busy Life

Arriving home at 7 pm, post workout, starving and with no plan for dinner leads to either an unpleasant dust-up with my husband over what we’ll eat and who will cook or a resigned “let’s go out” along with some less than stellar food choices. Have you experienced some variation on this scenario? We try very hard to avoid it (sometimes successfully and sometimes not) with a bit of work on the front end.

I get asked all the time how we have such fantastic meals and how we stay on our eating plan. The truth is, our meals are pretty simple and we plan ahead. Anyone who avoids almost all processed foods knows that it take a little more orchestration to get meals on the table – however, the taste and improved nutrition make it all worth it.

Photo of blank listOn Sunday mornings, our routine is for Cameron to make breakfast while I sit across from him and make our menu for the week ahead. We discuss what we do and don’t want to have again, what sounds good and what we have stocked in our freezer and fridge. There are all kinds of apps out there for menu planning, but I like to keep it simple, digging out a Sharpie and a clean piece of paper to plot things out. (For those preferring the higher tech route, one planning app with recipes and shopping lists, geared towards a GF/Paleo/Primal lifestyle is myKitchen-Primal Palate.)

After listing out the days of the week and leaving space for both lunch and dinner, we start the meal volley. “How about that chicken dish with the garlic and tomatoes?” “The Crockpot one?” “No, the one that you do in the oven, where you stuff the chicken with the garlic and sun dried tomatoes, not regular ones.” And so it goes until we’ve agreed on the dishes for each day and from there I can generate the grocery list.

Over time, we have found that sticking to a few simple guidelines increases our chances of mealtime success throughout the week

  • Photo of completed menuPlan the more time or labor intensive meals for when you have the most time. Sunday is my day to make stews, soups, broths… anything with a lot of chopping or simmer time.
  • Discuss the schedule for the week and what nights are going to be jam-packed. For us, this includes who is working out what nights and who is responsible for meals each day.
  • Pick simple to prepare meals for busy nights. Chicken salads with chicken grilled ahead of time are a reliable go-to. Baked salmon is done in twenty minutes – enough time to sauté spinach and prepare a second veggie.
  • Prepare a few dishes on the weekend (or days you don't work) to lighten the load on the busiest weeknights. I find that spending a few focused hours in the kichen on Sunday saves multiples of time during the week.
  • Make enough at each meal to cover at least a dinner and a subsequent lunch. We save a ton of money by not going out for lunch every day and have jealous coworkers most days
  • Plan out the proteins and veggies, rotating them and building in a variety – or at least, know your tolerance for sameness. Cameron can eat the same thing over and over. I, on the other hand, will not stick to the plan if there’s no variety.
  • Build in a “go out” night. For us, this is typically Friday nights. Neither of us wants to cook after a long week, so we build that into the calendar as an incentive eat in the other nights.
  • Tab favorite recipes and save old weekly menus. I love recipes for inspiration. All my cookbooks have colored tabs or random pieces of paper inserted by standbys and favorites. We’ve also started saving old menus to use as a reference.

Once we have a menu and grocery list, Cameron generally runs to the store, while I start chopping vegetables on hand for one of the dishes. We have found that if we both go to the store, it takes twice as long and we (okay, I) talk us into all kinds of impulse purchases. Instead, he can efficiently hit the store and while I get a jump-start on cooking. It works for us.

Our planning isn’t foolproof – things come up or we have a night where just thinking of cooking and then cleaning the kitchen seem like too much. It happens. However, when we don’t have a plan…now THAT is a disastrous week waiting to happen.

This is how we juggle our weeks. How do you manage competing priorities and putting good meals on the table? What tips and tricks have you developed? - Nicole

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