Shopping to eat healthy & stay on track
Tips & techniques for grocery shopping and meal preparation
How many of you have found yourself in the grocery store aisle fighting to roll your cart right on by the unhealthy and/or indulgent food? It seems like the “bad stuff…the treats” are literally calling your name; begging to make their way into the cart? Just this once.
During the holiday break, I was grocery shopping for some healthy snacks for a NY party. It was less than three weeks after I completely eliminated refined sugar from my diet, and I’ll admit I was tentative in my resolve as I pulled into the parking lot. (For me, anything with refined sugar has proven addicting and sets off cravings and often binging like nothing I have seen. Read more of my posts on food addiction here.)
Around every corner of what seemed like every aisle I saw something I couldn’t have – Christmas cookies, fudge, cupcakes, peanut brittle, chocolate chip and chocolate peanut butter cookies – and the list goes on and on. The “treats” were everywhere. And yes, they were indeed “calling my name.” I was fighting to keep my cart moving all the while having an internal conversation with myself about how it was the holidays and maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have them just this once, just this week. NOT!
As I white knuckled my way through the store, I reminded myself what happens when I eat refined sugar and how difficult it is after a serious carb attack to get back on track. Not to mention how bad I feel both physically and emotionally after the binge. I absolutely know the trade off is NOT worth it. (Yes, it’s been tested a few times!)
On this particular day it was not easy to convince myself that the short term satisfaction – so fleeting – was not worth it in the end. I had to play the long ball. The truth is, I no longer eat anything with refined sugar in it. Period. And I am happy to report that I got out of the store successfully with only healthy food, and nothing with refined sugar. YES!
This morning, I was thinking about that experience as I unpacked the healthy groceries that were delivered to my home and stocked my frig with only healthy, whole foods. It is sooooooooo much easier for me to grocery shop online and on a week-by-week basis and not have the in-store temptation to put things in my cart and frig that simply don’t belong there. I now ONLY buy healthy, whole food that is on my new maintenance plan – things like chicken, turkey, fish, lean sirloin, lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, a few of the “good” starchy carbs, oh, and peanut butter. (That last one is interesting. I am working on my relationship with peanut butter and hope to “save” it. Last night the peanut butter won.)
This past week, at the start of the new year, I was asked to share some tips for healthy eating. In particular, people were looking for help with shopping and meal preparation. I find the question surprising. Only because, up until two years ago, I didn’t cook…at all! I ate fast and processed food at the drive thru and/or microwaveable meals. My shopping consisted of eating at fast food joints and stops at Holiday or SuperAmerica daily. And I ate out a lot. Yuck! It is remarkable to think how much has changed in two short years. Now, I am excited to get the question and to help if I can. Clearly, if I can turn it around, anyone can! So here goes. Here are my tips.
Lori’s tips for healthy grocery shopping & meal preparation
- Plan. Start with a plan. In order to be successful in almost anything, you need to plan. At least at the beginning until you get the hang of it and it becomes habit. I approached my overall goal this way. And I approached the plan itself the same way. What does your week look like in terms of your schedule, your family’s schedule, and work? Will you be eating your meals in or will you go out to eat? Will you be traveling for work, and if so, how will you prepare? What foods are on your program/plan for that week? My strategy is to buy only the foods on my program each week and no more. That way I don’t have “extra” stuff in the frig tempting me. For me, that makes it easier not to cheat around the edges or go “off plan.” Only you can create a plan that works for you, that preempts thing that might be your triggers, and works with your lifestyle.
- Buy only healthy food. If you can, buy ONLY the healthy foods that you can eat. Don’t have “junk” or “crap” in the house at all! Yes, I realize that I am lucky on this front because I live alone and control what gets in and what doesn’t. My strategy is not to buy anything not on plan. Most people are not in that situation. So if you have kids and a family and that is simply not possible, my advice is to have it in a separate cabinet or area that is out of sight and out of easy reach. If you are really struggling, ask you spouse or partner to “hide” it from you or lock it up. Do whatever it takes. Whatever is most likely to set you up for success. P.S. I would love to hear from others who have families and who have had success to hear their strategies.
- Eliminate temptations when grocery shopping. For me, without question that means grocery shopping online. A few years ago, when I had a surgery and couldn’t get out to grocery shop for weeks, I investigated online grocery shopping with delivery to my home. What a concept! For six weeks I shopped this way and loved it. I have never gone back. It is rare these days that I am in a grocery store. At the time it was Simon Delivers, but now Coborns Delivers, Lunds & Byerly’s and probably others provide this service. If you plan ahead, it doesn’t cost more – or very little. And it eliminates all that in-store temptation of pushing the cart past all the amazing looking stuff that is sinful. Online, you have a personalized list of frequently purchased items. I simply go to that tab, click through it and never have to see all the stuff I don’t want or need. It is easy, fast and extremely convenient. But, most importantly, it eliminates temptation.
- Meal preparation. Do it. I do not claim to be a cook so meal preparation was a foreign concept to me. In fact, I didn’t use the oven over two years ago and the stove didn’t see much action either. So for me, getting used to the idea of meal prep was tough at first. If, like me, you are on a specific program or plan, and you are busier during the weekday than on weekends, meal prep for the week is key. I now make almost ALL of my meals ahead of time and weigh, measure and package them so I grab and go. I pick a weekend day – usually when I am at home for a few hours – and bake my chicken and fish or roast a turkey; mix up mass quantities of salad and fresh veggies (it’s like a salad assembly line); cook my green veggies; and then fill my frig with pre-measured containers to grab and go. (Target has great containers in all shapes and sizes for this.) During the week, I grab the protein container and a salad or veggie container and off I go. No fuss; no muss. I don’t think about it, worry about it, fight with myself about going off plan. It’s simple. It’s there, prepared and done. One more tip. The office is my home away from home so I keep mustard, Newman’s Olive Oil & Vinegar Salad Dressing, Almonds, Protein Powder and K20 Water at my office so I have a stash and don’t have to worry. Oh, and plenty of bottled water. My car also has a stash! 🙂
- Traveling for work: Repeat the above: Plan and prep. I travel at least 1-2x per month for work. So to be successful on the road, I do the same thing. I pre-plan and pre-prepare my meals for the week of travel and pack them in my handy, dandy Six pack bag and off I go. NOTE: I ALWAYS carry almonds and protein powder or K20 water in my purse or work bag so wherever I am if I get stuck in a meeting or on the road unprepared, I have almonds and protein. I sometimes take those Oscar Meyer already cut grilled chicken packs – 6 ounces in a package – in the car with me. That, celery and almonds can is lunch or dinner on the road. But protein shakes work too.
- Eating out – no excuses. Keep it fun and engage your server. I get lots of questions from people about how to eat out at a restaurant while on a strict diet plan. I’ll be honest, I haven’t had anyproblems and do it all the time. It is one of the best things I do! I frequently eat out for my job. And yes, I am often wining and dining clients. For me, it’s simple. I let people know that I am on a restricted healthy diet. Trust me, they respect that. When I weighted 200+ pounds, or even 100+ I think it actually helped with their view of me. It was a good thing, not bad.Now, how to order when out to eat. When the server comes I engage them by saying that I am eating 100% clean or healthy – “no nonsense.” They laugh (most of the time). Once I get them engaged and interested, they are almost always happy to work with me. I then go on to explain what “no nonsense” means to me. Clean chicken (insert fish, salmon, etc) broiled or grilled with little or no olive oil, no butter or sauces, and I have even asked for smaller portions of 3-4 ounces instead of 6+. I ask to make sure veggies are steamed and there is no butter – and, boy, can I taste when they screw that up. When I order salad, I make sure it has no cheese or croutons and green veggies and order olive oil and vinegar on the side. I drink water and coffee, and sometimes order a glass of red wine. Note, you must be ready to shut down fat loss temporarily before making this decision and understand how your body will metabolize this before drinking alcohol.I did this for almost two years non-stop, and it worked every time. Once last week when I was back in fat loss mode, it didn’t work. I was at a fabulously high end place that literally had nothing on the menu I could strip down and eat clean. The server was great and worked with me. He suggested the muscles that were in a homemade broth and assured me it had no butter. So I did okay and enjoyed it and moved on. And, let me say, those muscles great.A lot of people avoid eating out while on a strict plan and eat at home because it is easier and they are more confident of what they are really getting. That’s great if you are in that camp. But I know lots of people who travel and eat out as part of their job and these tips work. You can do it! If I can do it for two years successfully, I know you can do it too.
There is so much more to say on this subject. Let me know if this helps. I am no expert but I can tell you what works for me. How I successfully stayed on a strict diet plan and lost 200+ pounds and still ate out and traveled for business. If you have questions, or better, tips or tricks to share – please post them here.
My number one tip: Know yourself and where you are likely to struggle. Then, be creative and find solutions that work for YOU. Not everyone will benefit from these tips – some people want to be more creative than I was and/or cook the same food for a family – that requires slightly different strategies for sure. But I KNOW you can do it.
Let me know if this is helpful. 🙂