by: Alyssa Ruffolo
Between working, going to college full time, and participating in school sports, I do not have much time or money to spend on eating healthy despite the fact that I care about my health very much. Over the years, I have struggled to find time and money to be able to eat fresh, unprocessed, home-made meals. After much time, effort, and practice, I have found a few methods that have helped me, so I thought I might share for those who are interested. This advice is intended for those who want to eat generally healthy, but also do not have the time or motivation to go full-out all-organic, fat-free, etc. I have found a balance in eating generally healthy, with little cheats here and there along the way. If I had more time and money to work with, I would love to upgrade my diet to even healthier choices, but for now, I am satisfied with what I have come up with.
The first tip I have is to go food shopping weekly. While this may seem time consuming, if you have a list and you are only shopping for the week, it does not take very long and can be very cheap if you know how to shop. When I am food shopping for the week, there are some foods you will consistently find in my cart. Every week, I buy a new small tub of plain greek yogurt, eggs (or egg whites) pre-cracked and scrambled in a carton, fresh vegetables (carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, mushrooms are all fast and usually pretty reasonable in price), as well as a bag of lettuce and spinach, fruits (tomatoes, grapes, bananas, apples, avocado), almond/coconut milk, veggie burgers (frozen section, I prefer Morning Star), and wraps (whole wheat, spinach, etc.). Some foods that I usually only have to buy every other week include frozen fruit (great for quick smoothies), nuts and seeds (cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.), no-fat feta cheese (great for salad/wrap toppings), onions, canned vegetables/beans (also not as healthy as fresh, but quick and easy on-the-go and better than alternative options), and sometimes I will grab some other low calorie snacks such as pickles (I prefer Claussen because they’re fresh and crunchy), hummus and pita chips, low-fat cottage cheese, and granola bars (I prefer Kashi brand, or I look for kinds with low sugar and usually some kind of nuts mixed in because these are usually healthier). I always go for the generic brand whatever I am buying – the price difference is amazing and to me it all tastes the same. Spices such as onion salt, garlic salt, basil, oregano, parsley, italian seasoning, lemon zest, and plain pepper help to spice up bland meals and give them a little extra flavor.
I find that I don’t really have time to do the classic “meal prep” at the beginning of the week (meal prepping is basically cooking a week’s worth of food all at once and packaging it up in containers separated by meal so that it is already ready for the week), but I like to take the produce I buy such as zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, raw peppers, mushrooms, and chop/dice them and place them in containers, so that if I am throwing a wrap or salad together, all that chopping is already done. (I highly suggest not pre-washing the vegetables because if they are wet and you put them in the refrigerator, they will get moldy much faster. If you want to wash them before you eat them, that is probably a better choice.)
When I am on the go, I will often throw together a quick wrap – breakfast wraps are great with eggs or egg whites cooked with spinach, tomatoes, and feta cheese. Other times I will throw a veggie burger in the toaster oven and make a quick salad, chopping up the burger and mixing it into my salad. I try to use seeds in my salad in place of croutons; they still give your salad some crunch, but they’re way more beneficial to your health because they have less carbs and also contain vitamins. Smoothies are quick and easy with frozen fruit. I often freeze my own bananas, so when I am ready to make a smoothie I just grab a banana and a few handsful of frozen berry mix from the freezer and mix these with coconut/almond milk, plain yogurt, and sometimes peanut butter and/or cinnamon. The result is a creamy, rich smoothie that’s filling and also healthy. I also like to throw a spaghetti squash in the microwave for 5 minutes, cut it open, scrape out the insides, and eat it with spaghetti sauce and cheese like real spaghetti. You can throw additional spices in, and chicken/other meat if you choose. It’s lighter than spaghetti, less carbs and just as delicious!
These are just some of the concoctions I come up with and all of them only take around 10 minutes to prepare. I have found that balancing your carbs, proteins, and making sure you get your vitamins and minerals is the most important thing about being healthy. Crash diets such as “no carb” and “low carb” diets only leave you feeling fatigued and discouraged. I have tried many different diets and techniques, but I have found that I feel the most energized and good about myself when I am getting a mix of lots of different nutrients, all in balance and moderation. Hopefully this was helpful/inspirational to someone reading!