I have fantastic news. There’s a little restaurant near you that offers all your favorite types of food, caters to your unique likes and dislikes, serves just the right-sized portions, meets your every dietary demand, provides healthy and nutrient-dense entrees and side dishes, and best of all, is usually cheaper than any other restaurant in town. Guess how far you have to drive to get there? You don’t.
After my first Jump Start (a 14-day guided health plan), I realized that cooking at home was so much healthier and cheaper than eating out. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy dining out sometimes, especially when I can find local places that emphasize organic eating and support local farms. But ultimately, if you want to know exactly what you’re eating, your best bet is to make it yourself.
Here are 8 tips to make eating at home a bit easier.
1) Plan Your Meals A Week Ahead
Usually on Saturday or Sunday, I make my meal plans for the following week or two. Feel free to use some of these husband-approved recipes and these kid-approved recipes to get your creative juices flowing.
Then I make my grocery list. Since I have my beef and dairy shipped to my door from Beyond Organic (ships nationwide) and my produce delivered from Spacegirl Organics (ships in Central Florida only), my remaining grocery list is usually pretty short. But I organize it by aisle so that it flows in the order I’ll pick up products: eggs first, condiments next, then produce, then any frozen items.
2) Shop After Eating (Never When Hungry)
We want to prevent impulse purchases, which are always more likely when you’re hungry. Choose to shop after lunch when possible. You won’t be rushed to get home for dinner, you won’t be “munchy”, and if you tend to get sleepy (or snacky) after eating, shopping will keep you busy.
3) Choose Organic
If your budget allows, always choose organic foods, wild-caught fish, pastured chicken and eggs, and green-fed/green-finished meats. There are several reasons for this, including that a certified organic label guarantees no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in your food, wild-caught fish means they weren’t raised in a fish farm, green feeding and finishing means your beef/dairy never consumed grain, and all-in-all, you’re likely to find more nutrient-dense foods rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, fat-burning CLA, inflammation-reducing omega-3s, and fat-soluble vitamins.
I started this section with “if your budget allows” so let me make a brief comment on the cost of organic food: it’s higher. Let’s not sugar-coat it; you’re going to pay more for organic foods. So what’s the point? Well, in addition to the benefits I mentioned in the previous paragraph, my mindset is that I’d rather pay the farmer now (to help cover his higher costs to go organic) than pay the pharmacist later, meaning that prioritizing the foods you choose to fuel your body with NOW can mean lower risks and less complications as you age.
For many, “it’s too expensive” is just a cop-out. I don’t mean to be harsh; I mean to be truthful. It’s one I used many times when I prioritized other things over food. I’m not going to get into specifics, but if you don’t buy organic because it’s too expensive, I urge you to take a hard look at your budget. I think you’ll find some luxuries that could be skipped in order to put your health higher up on the priority list.
Still, there are many families that are truly on a tight budget, and so I offer this EWG Dirty Dozen / Clean 15 resource to help you shop wisely when choosing your produce.
4) Get the Family On-Board
For those with picky eaters in the house (big and small), cooking at home can be a blessing and a curse. I encourage you to treat it more as the former rather than the latter. Sure, a restaurant offers more options so everyone can pick and choose. I get it. But that also means they’re given choices that do NOT serve their health needs. On occasion, that’s no big deal. All things in moderation, right? But if the majority of their meals are home-cooked and made of REAL foods rather than fake and processed foods, they’ll thank you for it. One day. In the meantime, the cook sets the menu.
If others in your household want to complain, offer to let them help cook! They can help with menu planning, shopping, food prep, setting the table — they can be involved in the whole process — which makes for more family fun, and more buy-in when it’s time to sit down and eat. Just remember to set the ground rules for healthy meal plan choices up-front.
5) Eat with Purpose
My friend, Family Wellness Coach Angelle Batten, has taught me a lot about eating with purpose. Eating shouldn’t be done on the run, in a rush, or while on the phone or watching TV. It should be a deliberate time, hopefully spent with family or at least in a quiet, peaceful environment, when you can dedicate 30 minutes or so to fueling your body.
Having a little one at home makes it even more important for us to practice a dinner routine regularly. We start by saying the blessing, then taking a few deep breaths, and then enjoying our meal as we talk about our daily lives. We have a new rule at the table: no phones. So far, nothing terrible has happened when we make ourselves unavailable to the outside world for 30 minutes, and instead, focus intently on each other during meals.
When we’re all finished eating, we all take our plates to the sink (even 21-month old Samantha) and we do the dishes together.
6) Have Fun. Be Flexible.
Keep the meals fun and varied. Once every few weeks, I’ll make a 3-course meal. It’s a lot of fun, but takes more work. Sometimes, we grill out — my husband’s favorite way to cook. We try new recipes to keep things fresh, and we resort to some family favorites when we don’t want to put too much thought into it. We plan to go out to eat occasionally, too. The important thing is to eat TOGETHER.
You’ll also need to build in a little bit of flexibility to your meal planning. This is not particularly easy for me — once I get a plan in my head, I have trouble adapting to changes. But it’s important, none-the-less. And I’m getting used to it. Maybe someone has to work late one day unexpectedly. Or an extra band practice comes up. Or you just get too busy to make the elaborate dinner you had planned. Or you forgot to take the meat out of the freezer soon enough. Life happens! So we have to roll with the punches sometimes. By week’s end, my weekly meal plan has been scratched out, marked up, and moved around so much that it’s barely legible. And that’s perfectly ok.
7) Plan for Leftovers
First, if something changed the rest of the week’s schedule, this night can be used as a blank space to move a missed meal into, or to make plans with a friend who asks to get together AFTER you’ve finalized the week’s plan.
Second, it allows each family member to pick whatever they liked most (provided there’s still some left) to eat, which means not everyone needs to agree on what’s the family favorite — they can all have their own. I normally buy extra salad for nights we’re having leftovers so no one goes hungry if the leftovers are dwindling. (And when I say extra salad, I’m talking about all the fixings, too!)
Third, you’ll start to get an idea of which items ARE most highly favored in your family (in case they fail to praise your delicious cooking loud enough for you to hear) so that you can add those items to the menu plan for future weeks.
8) Allow for Grace
Remember how we said earlier that sometimes, life happens? Well, it does. Hopefully, changes for the better occur. But sometimes, life gives us lemons and there’s just no raw, organic honey in the pantry to turn it into lemonade. Maybe we get off-track. Maybe we burn a few dinners. Maybe we don’t make the healthiest choices all of the time. Well, you know what? I’m not perfect, and you’re not either. And that’s ok.
“Next time” holds a lot of possibility for you and me. We can only learn from this week, and make better choices for next week. There’s no point beating ourselves up! That does no one any good. So resolve to cut yourself some slack, give yourself some grace, learn a lesson from it, and move on. Your family-owned-and-operated restaurant is a growing business, and it will only get better with more experience. Pat yourself on the back, and be proud knowing you’ve got the shortest route to the best restaurant, and you’re also your favorite best customer.