Imagine this: Every time you are hungry and ready to eat, you flip open a cooler and take out a container of a tasty, nutritious food. Gosh, healthy nutrition would be fool-proof, right? If that sounds good, then introduce yourself to the “Weekly Ritual,”

The “Weekly Ritual” is commonly referred to as the Sunday ritual in which you pick one day per week, set aside a few hours, plan your food intake, buy the foods, and prepare the foods.  This will take time, but remember you get out what you put in. Things that are worthwhile (in nutrition and in life) take time and effort.

While Sunday is a popular day for this, any day will work. Let me warn you, at first, your friends and family may dismiss this new habit as “extremist.” They might insist that you’ve lost your mind and joined a food preparation cult. While certain situations do call for a more relaxed approach to eating (lugging your lunch pail into a restaurant with colleagues for a job interview isn’t very cool), having nutritious eats for the week is generally what fit people do.

Option #2 – Daily Ritual

How about a daily food prep ritual? In less than 30 minutes, you can get all of your food organized for the day (or the following day). This can be as easy as heading to your local market before/after your day begins and loading up a big container (or 2) at the salad bar with the food you need.

Not that hardcore? Then how about setting the alarm 30 minutes earlier each day and doing a breakfast ritual. It’s a mini version of the weekly ritual. Just gather up the food you have on hand and prep your meals for the day. Steam some veggies, cut some fruit, mix some beans, cook some grains, etc. Just do this while you’re prepping meal #1 for the day. You’re going to do that anyways, right?  Have a cooler, ice packs, and quality containers to preserve your nutritious food stash.

Option #3 – The restaurant lunch

Maybe it’s for business, maybe it’s for school, maybe it’s a date, and maybe it’s alone. Doesn’t matter. The last minute restaurant lunch request will likely occur at some point.  A nutritious selection is simple. Focus on veggies. Mix in some lean protein and whole grains if desired. Add a bit of healthy fat. Order items steamed and dry with sauce and dressing on the side. Don’t eat until you’re stuffed. There you have it. Years of nutrition education summarized in less than 40 words.

When menu-scanning, you can use several strategies:

  • Look for protein. Is there: grilled chicken breast, lean beef, shrimp tuna, beans, etc.? Start with that and figure out how to add veggies to it — you can usually request a substitution (such as a side salad instead of fries).
  • Look for veggies. Is there a salad? Veggies and dip? Start with that and figure out how to add protein to it — you can often get chicken breast etc. on top of a salad.
  • Look at side dishes. Often you can assemble a pretty good meal from a few side orders, such as a single egg or a cup of fruit.
  • Look at the appetizer menu. If you’re in the US, it’s a safe bet to assume portions will be big. Try ordering a small item or two instead of a table-crushing platter of ribs.
  • Soup and salad are filling, and most restaurants offer some variation on this theme.

Build a repertoire of restaurants that you know offer healthy choices. Keep that list of options in your back pocket as a ready response to “Oh I don’t know, where would you like to go?”

Option #4 – Road trips & air travel

When I travel, the first thing I do is scope out the location around where I’m staying. What natural markets are nearby? Any healthy cafes? Any fast food restaurants I can make fun of? We have this tool known as the internet, you can use it for this kind of research. Check out what “grocery stores near [hotel address]” turns up on Google Maps.

While I’ve stayed in my share of “Bates Motel” style rooms, it’s always well worth it when I upgrade to a room with a mini kitchen and food storage area. That way, at least I can prep one meal in the room and save cash. Those mini-fridges are great, you can store veggies and fruit, use the microwave for oatmeal, and the coffee maker can heat water for green tea. Depending on where you’re going, you can also look into a suite-style hotel room or even a condo or apartment (if you’re staying for a few days or more).

The unhealthy skies

Guess what? Planes don’t have healthy food, nor should they. Planes have other things to worry about, like being safe flying machines. The good news is that bringing a cooler or bag of veggies, fruit and nuts for the travel day is easy and tasty.

Protein bars

If you buy nutrition bars at a store, I have some cutting edge advice – check the ingredients. If it has something you wouldn’t find in your own kitchen, don’t buy it.  Homemade bars are a better option, if you can manage them. Make a recipe and tuck a few away in your carry-on and suitcase for emergency.  Single serving packages of protein powder are also a fantastic idea as all you need is a bottle of water and you’ve got a great option with minimal effort.

Other options

Dried fruits and veggies will work for traveling too. There are freeze-dried versions that won’t go rancid and are a huge step up from standard vending machine fare. You can get roasted legumes, like chickpeas, for a snack as well. Powdered greens supplements count; you can add them to shakes with this powdery drink mix known as protein powder.  I also just discovered single serving packets of almond butter at Wegmans.  It’s a perfect serving size of healthy fat that you could eat alone or with veggies/fruit.

Eating healthy can be difficult. But it can also be quite easy. If having healthy food on hand is holding you back, try incorporating a food preparation ritual. See how it works for you. If once a week is overwhelming, try a daily ritual. If you aren’t willing to invest the time and energy into your own food prep, try outsourcing. Your body will thank you.  A bit of planning ahead goes a long way.  If you frequently travel, pack a bag of veggies, fruit, nuts/seeds, along with nutrition bars, protein powder and jerky to keep youfueled.