Have you ever opened the refrigerator, realized that half a stick of margarine and a moldy piece of bread are not going to cut it, raced out of the apartment, and grabbed Chipotle on the way to class? Of course you have.
Have you ever realized that the most nutrition you get during finals week comes from the nuts in the (delivered) Insomnia Cookies? Of course and of course.
When you’re carrying a full load of classes, working a full clinical site, (presumably) studying, working a part-time job, and occasionally making time for social activities, it can be dang hard to eat healthy.
Hard, but not impossible.
The big trick is planning.
Not saying I’m an expert at this. In fact, I’m the exact opposite of expert at menu planning. When we lived in NYC I had the luxury and necessity of planning dinner as I walked home from getting you at day care. As I planned, I’d stop in at the bodega and pick up whatever we needed that day. Voila! dinner.
When we moved to the Midwest, I discovered that people don’t walk anywhere, there aren’t any bodegas, and shopping trips needed to be planned. Then things had to be frozen and defrosted. (“Mommy, what’s for dinner tonight?” “Hmmm…chickensicles….”) I never got a gold medal in remembering to defrost.
When things got really crazy with everyone running in multiple directions, I tried menu planning. It didn’t come naturally, but it was as if I’d found a little parenting miracle. Plan, purchase, prep—no thinking involved.
Planning is the key to eating healthy on a budget (and not freaking out when dinner time rolls around).
Step 1: Write out the week’s menu. Seriously. Thinking about it in the shower is insufficient. You actually have to write down the meals and snacks.
Step 2: Now go back and write in all the ones you didn’t write down the first time. Including breakfast and lunch.
Step 3: Go back and identify the things you’d really like to have but can’t afford. Filet mignon? No. Sea bass? Will have to wait until you have a steady income.
Step 4: Make a shopping list of the things you’ll need to make all your meals. Check your frig and pantry to see what you already have.
Step 5: Go grocery shopping. Stick to the list.
Step 6: Put things away, and prep what you can. Especially think about prepping tomorrow’s meals while you finish tonight’s. Having the prep work done makes everything go much faster and more smoothly.
Step 7: Learn to love leftovers. There are people who love leftovers and people who don’t. Teach yourself to either love leftovers as they are or to transform them into something that feels new.
Step 8: Stick to the plan.
Step 9: Learn from your mistakes. Find that you have too much of one item and not enough of another? Make a note and adjust your plans going forward.
Step 10: Keep staples on hand for snacks and days when you can’t (just can’t) bring yourself to cook.