I want to share an article I recently read about transforming your meals into healthier options. It’s about making the right choices that fits your lifestyle. Meal plans and counting macros is not for everybody and sometimes all you need to do is change a few things to make your lifestyle healthier.
You don’t need to weigh and measure everything, or count out your almonds. Ask yourself: “Is someone paying me to do this?” If the answer is no, you likely don’t need this kind of approach. You just need to think about what you’re already eating, and how you could make it a little bit better. This means fiddling and adjusting. Making small changes and improvements to what you already normally eat and enjoy, one small step at a time. Think about a spectrum of food quality rather than “bad” or “good” foods.
Welcome to the meal transformation game.
When you play with the idea of a food spectrum or food continuum, you get to experiment with variables like:
- what you eat, and
- how you eat it.
Think of this as a game. How can you play “make this meal just a little bit better” in every situation? In which situations is that easier or harder? When your choices are limited (for instance, when you’re traveling, or eating at a workplace cafeteria), how can you shoot for “a little bit better” while still being realistic, and without trying to be “perfect”?
Let’s transform breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Here’s how that “food spectrum” might look in daily life, with a sample day of eating.
Let’s say that your go-to breakfast is a whipped-cream coffee drink and a chocolate croissant. You pick it up in the drive-thru, and wolf it down on your way to work. This is your starting point. It’s not “bad”. It’s just no longer working for you. You’re getting indigestion from rushing, the croissant doesn’t hold you at all, and you’ve just spilled the coffee on your crotch while changing lanes. Now your game is to improve your breakfast just a little bit, starting with what you already have or do.
Your opening moves in the meal transformation game:
- You might replace the croissant with a whole grain muffin.
- Instead of a “dessert in a cup”, you get a regular coffee with a single cream and sugar.
- You grab a yogurt cup on your way out of the house for a bit of protein.
Naturally, you’re still rushed and busy…so you eat your breakfast with some distractions, while scrolling through emails at work. But this is a solid start. Well done.
Next level of game play:
- You switch the muffin to granola with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt.
- You switch the cream in your coffee for 2% milk. (Or even go right to black coffee, you meal player you!)
- You add some colorful fruit.
- You’re now eating out of dishes on a table, instead of out of takeout packages off the dashboard of your car.
Of course, you’re still checking out the news headlines while you eat…
No problem. We’re keeping it real.
Now you are seriously playing like a pro.
- You’ve changed “rushing and panicked” to “set aside a little extra time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast”.
- You cleverly prepped an egg frittata with veggies in advance on your food prep day.
- The coffee’s become green tea, since you noticed that too much coffee was tweaking you out.
- The protein plus colorful fruit and veg have become the stars of the meal.
- You’ve discovered you really like lemon water. (WHAT? You don’t even know you anymore!)
- You eat mindfully, feeling relaxed, while watching the sun rise.
At this point, starting out, the idea of a sit-down lunch feels flat out ridiculous. “Eat slowly? Who has time for that during a busy workday? Grab a burger and go!” Another “car dashboard” meal. Another stomach ache and regret. You decide you might want to play with this meal too.
To improve this meal a little bit:
- You go to a higher-end burger place where you’re pretty sure they use real meat.
- You get a side salad with that burger, and maybe just a few potato chips.
- You choose a diet soda instead of regular.
- You don’t eat in your car, but you do eat by your computer.
That’s OK. You’re progressing.
At this stage, you’re doing a little prep work:
- You whipped up some burgers in advance so they are handy and ready to take to work.
- You also grabbed some nice cheese and whole grain buns from the local market on shopping day.
For lunch, all you have to do is take your homemade burger and its fixins to work. You still grab a diet cola from the vending machine to wash it down. You move from your desk to the lunchroom, where you socialize with co-workers. This slows you down a bit and helps you digest and relax.
You’re having the burger without the bun, alongside a nice pre-prepped salad. Instead of staying at your desk or in the office, you take a break. You sit outside and get some fresh air while you enjoy your meal. For a drink, water’s all you need.
It’s 8pm. You’ve just gotten home after an insane day at work. All you want to do is put food into your face and zone out in front of the TV. You can’t even imagine making anything more complicated than boxed macaroni ‘n’ cheese right now. Ketchup and hot dogs are as fancy as it gets.
Same concept, but:
- You’re adding some extra protein with the help of a rotisserie chicken leg that you grabbed at the grocery store on the way home.
- You’ve added a side salad, just grabbing a few handfuls of pre-washed greens out of a bag.
- You’ve whipped up your own pasta.
Work is still on your mind, and a couple drinks will take the edge off.
Things are getting fancy.
- You’re upping the protein with a little more chicken.
- You’re having a little less pasta.
- You’ve also added a nice big salad to the mix.
- You’ve cut the booze to 1 drink.
Plus, you’re sitting at the dinner table, instead of flopping down on your couch or standing over the sink.
Again, we’re playing at pro level here.
With your meal planning and prep strategies, even a weeknight dinner looks good.
- You can whip up a delicious salad in 3 minutes flat and you have some pre-cooked quinoa on hand.
- That rotisserie chicken is still a fast, convenient option, but now it’s got some healthy buddies.
- You’re indulging in a single glass of good wine these days, and you take time to savor it.
Meal transformation is not about reaching perfection. If you’re at stage 1, all you have to do is shoot for stage 2. Or stage 1.5. If you’re in stage 2, play with getting to stage 3. And if you’re stage 3, heck, you can stay where you are. You might never get to stage 4. Or it might only happen at times when you’re relaxed and have a little extra time. Stage 4 might only happen on Sunday night, whereas the rest of your week is a mix of stages 1, 2, and — if you’re super lucky — 3. And that’s OK.
How far you progress along the continuum all depends on what YOU want, what YOU need, and what YOU can reasonably do, right now. Over time, things can change.
Play YOUR game.
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