I don’t know about you, but I am a creature of habit. I like routine. Don’t get me wrong, spontaneity has its place in my life, but when it comes to most daily activities, I like to have at least a tentative plan. This can mean different things to different people. Some like to have the same schedule Monday-Friday. Personally, I like each day of my week to have variety, but I like the variety to be planned. What I do on Monday is likely not the same as on Tuesday, but my Mondays are all very similar. With this schedule, instead of having a daily routine, I have a weekly routine. Some people, especially those in health care, sales, city service and trade professions have a biweekly or completely unpredictable schedule.
There are pros and cons to all of the lifestyles above. A daily routine tends to become monotonous relatively quickly, but is great for planning and accountability. Alternatively, weekly, biweekly, or unpredictable routines do keep the mind better stimulated, but can also be difficult to manage at times. The more variety in your day equates to more decisions, and ultimately a need for better planning. Factors such as these need to be considered, especially when health and wellness is a priority in your life.
For those with weekly schedules, they have to learn to adapt to daily change. Most psychologists agree that it takes approximately 19-21 days to create a habit or routine. What happens if the routine is only performed once per week? The idea of mental adjustment is very crucial. The key is gradual adjustments in planned areas. Over time, the pieces of the plan come together to form a complete and optimized routine with daily variety.
Then we have the unpredictable schedules. Some of the more common jobs include nurses, doctors, small business owners, sales positions, and a variety of jobs that require frequent travel. For this group, it is often impossible to settle into a complete routine. There are likely some consistencies while at home, or in the office, but that may only account for a fraction of the week. The rest of the week often consists of travel to different states or countries, airports, hotels, restaurants, and a great variety in level of activity and time to plan. For someone trying to lose weight, build muscle, manage diabetes, or focus on healthy lifestyle choices, this poses a tremendous challenge. When challenges such as these present themselves, the key to maintaining a successful healthy lifestyle plan is to NEVER get stuck.
Since not everyone spends their time becoming a walking nutrition facts list, or automated calorie calculator, there are many tools and strategies that can be used to help control the unpredictable. Technology has become a huge asset for many. Apps like My Macros Plus, My Fit Pal, Calorie Counter, Food Tracker and many others can be reference lists for nutrition facts, and can help you track your day’s macronutrient distribution, and even estimate your caloric needs. Though these apps do not replace the knowledge and customization offered by a Registered Dietitian, it can be helpful, especially if used in combination with personalized consulting services.
Thanks to the dramatic increase in demand for transparency by consumers, eating healthy on the go is no longer the burden it was in years passed. All restaurants with more than 20 locations, particularly commercial fast-food chains, are required to have nutrition facts available. This is a huge asset for people who are stuck with limited options. Many fast-food chains offer grilled chicken salads with topping vegetables and a light, oil-based dressing. This makes it possible to eat fast food with attention to calories consumed, as well as macronutrient distribution and nutrient density. I always tell my clients, I don’t care where you are eating, there is always the opportunity to make an optimized decision. This option may not be necessary for everyone, but the take home message is there is no longer an excuse for unhealthy choices.
One of my most heavily utilized strategies is constant accessibility to smart snacks. Throughout my education and career, I have worked in environments with limited time to eat, limited access to the foods I want to eat, and in positions with very unpredictable days. Throughout all of these environments, my constant access to smart snacks is what helped me maintain my goals. Snacks will of course vary based on your individual goals, but many of the following items are ideal for use.
If you looked in my briefcase, gym bag and office drawers, you will find the following:
- A shaker bottle with my ‘Daily Whey’ protein powder ready to scoop and serve
- An apple pie or chocolate chip cookie dough Quest Bar
- A jar of Smucker’s Natural Creamy Peanut Butter
- A light string cheese (I prefer Jalapeno)
- Two rice cakes
- A ziploc bag of almonds, walnuts or peanuts
- A small organic apple
- Two small clementine’s
- A bag of baby carrots
- a 6oz container of plain greek yogurt
- Two hardboiled eggs
- A simple granola or fruit and nut bar
- Kashi Bar
- Lara Bar
- Kind Bar
- Bear Naked Granola Bar
- Homemade Granola Bars
All of these items are quick, convenient, easy to eat, easy to store, and most importantly delicious! There are many other options that exist, but I find that these key items cover my bases. If I am on the go, I can select any one of these items to eat in less than 1 minute. I choose what I eat based on the type of activity I will perform. If I am stuck without food and will be sedentary, my need for carbohydrates is only for mental function. With those needs in mind, the combination of an apple and a light string cheese provides some much needed brain power, along with some protein and a couple vitamins and minerals worth mentioning. I will openly admit my briefcase always has a couple scoops of protein and a quest bar in it. This isn’t because I affiliate with the common misconception that I will wither away without a steady stream of protein; it’s because they are simply formulated and versatile products with a reasonable shelf life, and they store at room temperature. These items allow me to fulfill my protein requirements, and they leave me satisfied when I need a meal and can’t readily access anything. These items have saved me on numerous occasions, and are a fundamental reason for my ability to never get stuck.
The snacks above are designed for someone trying to prevent a bad decision. I find these helpful when I don’t have time to sit and eat a formal lunch. With the list above I can still get fruit, vegetables, nuts, and protein sources. But what about real food? Another component of never getting stuck is having access to real food.
To ensure access to proper meals, I am a supporter of the assembly line cooking method. It is an efficient way to prepare meals in advance, so you always have delicious and nutritious meals ready to go. Some of the key components include:
- Chicken, Beef, Pork and Fish can all be baked at the same temperature (350 degrees F), as well as grilled or sautéed. With this in mind prepare all your meats for the week in one hour.
- Take cuts of each meat and season as you please. Place in oven in different pans.
- Fish takes 25-30min, steak takes 30min, pork takes 35min, and chicken takes 40 minutes. In less than one hour you have a variety of meats prepared for the week, 90 seconds of microwaving away from the plate.
- Rice, quinoa, couscous, pasta and potato all have similar carbohydrate profiles, which means equal servings can be swapped out evenly (½ cup-1 cup). Cook a blend of these with vegetables added and spice as you please when the meat is cooking so you always have some ready.
- “Steamfresh” Vegetables: The frozen food section has gotten a make-over recently. Now, you are only 5 minutes away from 2.5 cup of fresh-steamed anything. The vegetables are an easy side to a pre-cooked meat, and provide plenty of micronutrients and fiber to keep your body running properly.
- Take cuts of each meat and season as you please. Place in oven in different pans.
With these options you will always have access to nutritious meals, making pick-up and delivery less tempting and obsolete. Pair it with some smart snacks and you will stay satisfied all day regardless of your schedule.
Andrew Wade, MS, RDN, LDN
Registered Dietitian, Smart Snacker
5750 Baum Blvd, Suite 306
Pittsburgh, PA 15206