Every day, I get questions from clients, athletes, and friends about what I eat. I try to describe it, and usually I end up scribbling notes on paper or sending emails or texts. So, I figured I'd write about it here.
Food has always been very important to me. I grew up on a farm in Minnesota, surrounded by fresh, local sources of protein, fruits, and vegetables. I also grew up an athlete, with two very active parents who ran, biked, swam, rode horses, and nordic skied. Eating well enough to nourish my constant level of activity has been ingrained in me from a young age.
When I started bike racing seriously it became even more important for me to have good nutrition; as my training load and intensity increased so did my need for calories that would sustain me. In the past year I have also started to have a growing awareness of my often wasteful and high-impact lifestyle. It was hard to look myself in the eye and admit that my footprint on the planet was giant, but it was true. I had been moving through life like a big sleepwalking oaf, and I wanted to learn how to tread more lightly through my environment. Then, there was the less important but still annoying frustration of the conversation my boyfriend and I would have nearly every afternoon: "What should we have for dinner tonight?" "I don't know, what do we have at home?" "Not sure, I'll stop at the store and grab some stuff."
And so continued the cycle of finishing hard workouts or races without sufficient recovery food and having to grab something from an expensive Boulder cafe; wasting time on random grocery shopping nearly every night of the week, wasting money on buying things we didn't really need or use, and wasting resources on food we would end up throwing away because it went bad, or food that would sit in the freezer or on the shelf because we couldn't remember what use we had bought it for.
So when D came home from a month-long ski expedition in May and suggested we create a meal plan, that would serve the purposes of omitting the daily annoyances; eliminating the waste we created in time, money, and resources; allowing us to eat a high percentage of local, seasonal foods; and nourishing us as athletes with specific needs for energy and recovery, I was all for it.
We decided to create a plan for each season, three-months at a time, and rotate through a menu each week. We came up with a grocery list for the beginning of every 90 day period with staples such as rice, oats, toilet paper, etc; and then a weekly list with fresh local produce and meat. The idea is that eventually, when we have the means, we will be able to grow a majority of our own food. Knowing exactly how many red peppers and how many cilantro bunches we consume in a year will be helpful for knowing what we can sustainably grow.
The meal plan takes awhile to create, but it is well worth it for the savings and ease it creates in the long run. We create the meals around both our training schedules; since we already know which days we will have higher caloric needs, and also around our life schedules- for example, the days that I have to be at the clinic at 7 am, I prepare muesli the night before, and all I have to do is throw it in the microwave for 2 minutes in the morning. The days that we have more time, we may like to make something that may take a little longer. The meals are also chosen for their ease of making away from home; even camping. We both spend a lot of time on the road; D for skiing and me for bike racing, and it is important to us that we make an effort to eat as sustainably on the road as we do at home.
From the picture, you can see that we have six choices for breakfasts over the fifteen days. Some of the meals we will eat 3-4x, some once or twice. For dinners, most nights we will eat the same meal every week. A couple of the days, we choose one thing or the other with a similar "theme;" for example, either Mongolian Beef or Beef Curry. Similar ingredients, different flavors. For lunches, we either eat leftovers if there are any, or sandwiches. For training and recovery food, we eat portable creations that we make out of The Feed Zone book, by Allen Lim and Biju Thomas, and we factor those in to our weekly ingredient lists. Many of our breakfast and dinner meals are also straight out of this book. Once a week, we go out on a date or out for dinner with friends.
The biggest three responses I get when I talk to people about how I eat are: sounds boring, sounds too expensive, sounds too time-consuming. Yet, so many people express to me their desire to have a happier, more healthy lifestyle. Like it or not, nutrition is a huge part of that. I too wondered if it would get boring to eat the same meals for three months. It really didn't. The meals we chose were so delicious, we looked forward to eating them each week. And the savings in money and time, and reduction in stress and waste, has been well worth it.
Many people think it sounds prohibitively expensive to eat good quality food all of the time. I have found that it really isn't. The expensive part of eating, for me, turned out to be all the extraneous stuff I was buying because my shopping had no structure, and all the times I had to buy breakfast, coffee, or lunch out because I wasn't prepared. If we decide we want to cut additional costs, we can look at specifics and revise as necessary- substituting tofu or eggs for beef, for example, or cutting out or substituting an expensive ingredient for a less expensive one.
Another thing I hear often from people is that they don't have time to cook healthy, and so they are forced to eat take-out or tv dinners. The beauty of this meal plan is that it is designed around our schedules- if we are working or training late, we make something very simple. And there is no time wasted in the guesswork of what we will be eating. The recipes are right there, they are simple, quite fast, and nutritious. Time spent initially, in creating this and working out the kinks, has been heaps of time saved over the long term.
Everyone loves to use kids as an excuse, but kids are the worst excuse ever for eating poorly. If you are raising children, shouldn't it be even more important to create a healthy, sustainable way of eating to nourish them when they are young and teach them good habits for the future? Maybe healthy, sustainable eating with a family doesn't look the same as it might without kids, but it is still important. (Disclaimer- I don't have kids, so I can't even pretend to know what it takes to raise one. But I don't think I'm way off base by stating that it is possible to eat healthy with kids. I know plenty of people who do it.)
I am not saying all this because I think my way is better or that I am a better person than those who do nutrition differently. Not at all. It's a work in progress, and it's certainly not perfect. I only share it because it's been working for me, and it's proving to me that it is possible to eat well, despite a very full life, and not spend a ton of time and money. I would love to hear others' ideas. A healthy lifestyle shouldn't be a distant dream. If our minds are open to possibilities and creativity, and we are willing to do some work up front, it can absolutely be a reality.