What do frugal families and people who are skilled at managing their weight have in common? It hit me the other day as I saw a powerlifter friend on Facebook exclaim “chicken breasts are $1.97 a pound at Hy-Vee this week! Get it!”
They know that preparation is a cornerstone to success.
It took a challenging period in my life to give me the tools that have helped me nail my nutrition goals, both for weight loss and for performance.
In 2008, I was a stay-at-home mom with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. I remember standing at our kitchen counter making dinner when my husband came home from work. He looked like someone had died. “What’s wrong,” I joked. “Did you get fired?” In that instant I knew that ridiculous joke was actually a reality. The recession had hit, and he was the low man on the corporate totem pole. For the first time in his life, he lost his job.
We’d made the decision when our children were young that I would stay at home with them and delay my own career. It was a good life. We had enough, though I don’t think I appreciated it until we felt like we had lost it all.
Very quickly I shifted into survival mode. I had a history of depression and anxiety, but strangely I felt more focused than ever before: I had babies to protect. I got a part-time job so my husband could still collect unemployment and look for employment. We juggled new schedules. I had to learn new choreography for the daily dance of our lives.
A big part of getting by was cutting our food budget. I quickly learned the lesson that I still now lean on: preparation is everything. The big things I learned still play a big role in how I handle my nutrition, and they allow my family to eat well without breaking the bank. (Although budgeting is getting tougher as my kids get older – they eat like a pack of starved wolves!)
Menu Planning based on what key ingredients I already had in my stockpile
Cooking Meals Ahead of Time for Busy Days
Planning our weekly menu saves us money because I’m not constantly running to the store. Every trip I pick up extra stuff that I don’t always need. Planning also helps me stay on track with my nutrition goals. One lesson I’ve learned over the years is to be realistic with what I’m going to make for dinner. When I get too ambitious with my plan, it backfires and I sometimes don’t have the energy or desire to cook.
When I plan my menu, I think about healthy meals that also incorporate food that’s on sale at the supermarket or that I may have on hand. This leads me to another skill I learned:
Stockpiling is a big practice among frugal people. It seemed a little extreme but it is actually a helpful way to make healthy cooking on a budget more doable. Having a chest freezer makes this a hell of a lot easier too.
I began scanning the weekly grocery ads and when items were at a good price, I’d buy as many as I felt like I could afford. The first few months of this were tough because I didn’t yet have resources in my pantry and freezer. Meat was the main item I targeted for stockpiling. Meat can be really expensive, and I found that the difference between the regular sticker price and the sale price was often pretty large. Stockpiling meshes really well with the next strategy:
Freezing Meals for Later Use
Freezing meals is another trick I picked up from the mommy brigade: I could either fully or partially prepare meals for later use and save both time and money. If I have to make marinade for chicken breasts, it doesn’t take me much longer to prepare a marinade for six batches of chicken than it does for one. Getting multiple meals out of 1 prep session kicks ass.
I also found that preparing freezer meals saved me money beyond just having available ingredients that I’d stockpiled at a good price. How many times have you bought a bag of celery, only to use 2 stalks and have the rest of it go to waste? If I prepared several batches of a recipe, I made better use of the ingredients I had to buy to create it. Look for an article soon with more details for a freezer meal how-to and recipes.
I later found that my dinner preparation was going well but I had really poor choices available for lunch. Have you ever seen the pics of weight lifters displaying their neat rows of meals in Tupperware for the week? I don’t think I could eat the same thing every day, but they’re on to something. Many fitness geeks do batch cooking of a main ingredient, like chicken, and have it on hand all week for salads, sandwiches, and whatever else sounds good. When they plan their meals, they also plan for breakfast and lunch and make sure that everything they might want is on hand.
The Big Picture
Most of the time, when I find myself eating food that doesn’t support my goals it’s because I’m caught without the food I need. I’m not talking about celebration meals or treats – those are important too and we need to incorporate them into our lives. But if we’re perpetually calling for take-out or nibbling on snacks because we have nothing in the house to make for lunch, the likely skill we must build is preparation.
How to Get Better at Preparation
If you struggle with any of these habits, you can nail them. I promise! But habits like meal prep are actually skills that we have to learn. Pick one small habit, like planning a menu for a few days, and observe what went well and what needs work. Go from there, step by step.
How has the skill of preparation impacted your own fitness journey, either positively or negatively? Have a tip or comment?Please share it in a comment!