Lately some of my past clients have reached out to me because their healthy eating regimes have taken some serious detours. I understand – sometimes life happens, and between work stress, travel, illnesses, vacations and holidays, healthy habits can slip away.
To reduce the chances of falling off track I often recommend putting some foolproof healthy back-ups in place, a strategy I use myself. While they may not work 100 percent of the time, having some go-to choices at your fingertips can boost the chances of staying the course. Here’s what I mean:
At home and at my office I always keep a stash of take-out menus on hand with the healthy selections highlighted, so if I need to call it in I already know exactly what to order. I find that for myself and my clients, not having to look through the menu or make a decision greatly reduces the chances of placing a comfort food order in place of a healthy one. Oh, and while some take-out joints take credit cards or online orders, I always keep a little cash in my drawer just in case. One of my favorites picks is Japanese, but I stick with appetizers and sides instead of rolls, which are typically made with sweetened white rice. Instead I get: edamame, seaweed salad topped with sesame seeds, and a side of brown rice.
Out and About
I’m not a fan of fast food, but I do love fresh food fast, and one of my favorite go-to spots for just that is Chipotle. No matter what city I’m in (well, nearly anyway) I know I can find one, and since the menu is standard, I always order the exact same thing: a burrito bowl made with just black beans, fajita veggies, corn salsa and mild salsa, guacamole, and extra lettuce – it’s the perfect combo of good carbs, lean protein, and healthy fat, and the perfect amount to allow me to feel both satisfied and energized. If you’re not into Mexican food, choose another fast casual chain with healthy options (maybe Panera Bread, Corner Bakery, Panda Express, Au Bon Pain, etc., etc.) – each provides nutrition information on their web sites to help you choose your healthy ace in the hole.
On those days when you just don’t know if you’ll be able to stop for a meal I recommend stashing an ‘emergency back-up kit’ in your bag – basically portable snacks that can take the place of a meal. My favorites include dried or freeze-dried fruits and veggies, 100 percent whole grain crackers, soy nuts and other nuts or seeds, or squeeze packets of all-natural nut butter. Having ready-to-eat options on hand can prevent you from getting overly hungry (which often results in rebound overeating) and means you won’t be stuck if the only options around you aren’t so healthy.
Last night I had every intention of whipping up an uber-healthy meal, but after a meeting went longer than expected I was just too hungry and tired to chop veggies and cook. For these occasions I stock my cupboard, fridge and freezer with quick and healthy ingredients I can throw together in minutes. My No. 1 ‘assembly line’ meal? I quickly sauté a few cups of pre-sliced frozen peppers and onions in low-sodium veggie broth while I heat up some canned back beans, fill a few whole corn tortillas with the beans, load up with the veggies, and garnish with some pico de gallo and a ‘snack pack’ of Wholly Guacamole (can you tell I love Mexican food?). I never get sick of this meal, it’s ready in minutes, and it’s much more balanced than most frozen entrees (which tend to be too skimpy, lacking in veggies or loaded with sodium), so I always, always, always make sure I have each of the ingredients on hand.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.