Tom, the personal trainer who founded Waite Training in Leeds has many tips to help you get started on working for your fitness goals.
In an ideal world, we would all be cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients every day. In the real world, we're busy and short on time. As lovely as it would be to have a live-in chef preparing all our meals, that is an unrealistic aspiration for most of us.
That doesn't mean that you are without options, though. Here are some tips on how to cook at home and eat well, which are realistic and, unlike a live-in chef, won't break the bank.
Tip #1. Buy Frozen Produce
When shopping, buy frozen versions of vegetables. Frozen fruits and vegetables have all the health benefits of fresh, but they last longer and are usually much cheaper. Also, if they're flash-frozen, then they're probably even fresher than fresh produce as that happens at the farm before transportation. Frozen fruits and vegetables often make seasonal produce available which wouldn't always be available fresh. If a recipe calls for seasonal ingredients, this could be an excellent first step.
Tip #2. Buy Pre-Cut Vegetables
If buying fresh vegetables, you could consider purchasing the pre-chopped veg. Yes, it's more expensive, but it saves so much time in meal prep. With no peeling, chopping, dicing or other preparation, it also reduces the amount of effort in actually eating vegetables and not just letting them go soft and throwing them away. If it gets you eating healthier, it's worth considering.
Tip #3. Batch Cooking
Batch cooking means that whenever you are preparing a meal, cook enough for two meals; one to eat immediately, and one to act as a ready-made lunch or snack the next day. There are two main options here. You could make the same meal in more substantial quantities if you don't mind eating the same thing twice. Or, if you get fed up of foods quickly, you could make something different ahead of time and put it in the fridge for tomorrow or the freezer for a later date.
Tip #4. Meal Encyclopedias
By creating an "encyclopedia" of healthy meals, you're creating a personal recipe book. If you're cooking for the family, you could involve them in selecting a meal each from the "encyclopedia" each week. This can be a game-changer if your children are fussy eaters. Under each entry in your encyclopedia, you could write the ingredients for each meal which makes up your shopping list for the week. This has the benefit of limiting food waste and saves you money from buying unnecessary items that may detract from your goals.
Tip #5. Eating Off Plan
Each week, allow yourself 1-2 meals (meals not days) where you have whatever you want. These meals don't need to be planned or weighed or measured. Enjoy them, and then get back on track. Unless you are an elite athlete, the difference between eating well 90% of the time and 100% of the time is negligible. In many cases, the ability to have that little bit of freedom of choice can help compliance with a diet. This means you don't feel overly restricted with what you eat and don't end up binging. It's a great skill to learn if you need to keep your weight off long term.
Tip #6. Focus On Habits
In the long term, you must find ways to manage your eating in a sustainable way that doesn't involve counting calories for the rest of your life. You could focus on changing your habits around eating rather than following any particular diet. The principles are what matter, not the methods. Some habits you could try to instil could include eating without distraction, no phones and TV during meal times. People that practice this habit report feeling satisfied earlier and eating less food than people that eat in front of the TV.
Another good habit could be to eat at a dining table, not off your lap, at your desk or standing up. This is a trap that we often fall into at work, where you take your lunch while keeping on working. You eat without really registering it, and as a result - you don't feel satisfied. So by 3 pm, you're at the vending machine looking for some extra calories to pick you up. Besides, crumbs get in your keyboard.
Paying attention to hunger cues and stopping eating when you feel satisfied is a significant habit that's hard to focus on while you're distracted by anything else. It can help to put your knife and fork down while you chew and concentrate your attention on your food. This may sound simple, but it can be quite challenging to learn this skill.