Feeling overwhelmed with trying to eat healther and exercise more?
May 5, 2021 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Hi. I am trying to change my diet to a healthier fewer meats and more fresh veggies and fruits regime as well as exercise/hike/cardio every other day. Yet, I am feeling overwhelmed with trying to change my lifestyle to a healthier one -- it also feels time-consuming to prep and cook healthier meals at times.

What can I do to not feel overwhelmed with needing to cook and prep healthier meals? I find it kind of exhausting to prep and chop and cook for an hour or so, to make healthier meals. I am an older university student, trying to focus on my studies, and find it difficult to find time to prepare healthier meals. Are there easy healthy meals or tips and tricks? As for exercising, I get tired and sore a few hours after cardio, and find it too exhausting to pursue my studies at times, but I do not want to give up, as I gained quite a bit of weight since the pandemic last March. How do some people manage to prep their healthy meals and exercise and not feel overwhelmed or exhausted? It all feels time-consuming at times, but I want it to feel natural and easy (with cooking). I do not want to rely on processed meals, take out all the time, and microwave meals -- but it is so easy and it saves times. Just having a difficult time transitoning to a healthier life style and could use some advice.
posted by RearWindow to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
For me, frozen vegetables got me through. Fill up a whole freezer shelf with bags of frozen peas, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli and spinach. When it's lunch time mix them up in a plate, in the microwave they go. Tip the defrosted water out when they are ready and then add whatever protein you're eating along with something to give them flavour.

Are they healthy? Yes, very. Are they as tasty as chopping and cooking? Not at all. Do they save a lot of time? Yes they save a huge amount of time. Are they tasty enough? Yes, just about.

Good luck with your studies!
posted by einekleine at 7:51 AM on May 5, 2021 [16 favorites]

First, good for you for even trying to take better care of yourself and eat well. Have you looked at any of the already-chopped types of veggies and fruits at your supermarket? You can get things like chopped onion, peeled garlic, shredded slaw components, bagged salad mix, and already prepped fruits at most markets. In the frozen aisle (especially at Trader Joe's) you can find bags of mixed frozen veggies. Incorporating some of those pre-prepped things might save some time. Also you do not have to cook every day! I cook big batches and then subsist on leftovers, scrambled eggs and veggies, and healthy snack grazing (carrots/hummus, handfuls of nuts, dried fruit) 3-4 days out of the week.
posted by missmobtown at 7:52 AM on May 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

Are you talking about prepping every day being exhausting or prepping periodically? In other words, are you doing batch preparation?

I basically eat the same thing every day - a green smoothie for breakfast, soup with a grain and fruit for lunch, and a big salad with fruit for dinner. In the afternoon, I usually have a larabar or make popcorn. I cook soup a little less than once per week and eat it every day - that means that most days, I'm just warming it up with whatever grain I'm eating. For the salad, I buy prewashed greens and then chop some vegetables, wash blueberries, and open a can of kidney beans every few days. I also use roasted chickpeas instead of croutons, which means I have to make those every few days. I make my own salad dressing every few days as well, though you certainly don't have to do that. But mostly, when I eat a salad, I just have to take everything out of the refrigerator and combine it in a bowl.

So on a day-to-day basis, my meals don't take much work. But there's a certain amount of chopping I have to do on my cooking days. The only way I know to avoid that are to use the suggestions above - frozen vegetables or pre-chopped vegetables.

It's awesome that you're taking care of yourself. Good luck.
posted by FencingGal at 7:57 AM on May 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

Oh - when I make soup, I use an InstantPot. Total lifesaver, but it unfortunately, it doesn't do chopping.
posted by FencingGal at 7:59 AM on May 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

-frozen veggies
-you can often avoid cutting and peeling (bake whole sweet potatoes, don't peel your carrots, etc.)
-look for recipes that don't use much cutting: you can use vegetables in huge chunks when you roast them, boil them for soups (especially blended/pureed soups), etc.
-depending on where you live, supermarkets might have a lot of pre-cut vegetable trays to choose from

And there's the old standby of either cooking a lot in advance (batch cooking), often simultaneously, and then freezing them, so you get a week or two's cooking done in two-three hours. You can also do prep in advance: cutting and freezing vegetables for later use.

If you don't want to spend a lot of time at the stove, look for recipes that make use of ovens, pressure cookers, etc., where most of the cooking time is hands off.

When I don't have time, I do something like wrap sweet potatoes in foil and stick them in the oven on the highest temperature; fill an oven-safe pot or tin with green lentils and some grain, add water, cover, and add that to the oven; maybe cut up a cauliflower into a few thick slices, pour on some olive oil, and add that to the oven on a tray; maybe peel an onion, add a bit of olive oil, wrap in foil, stick in the oven (no need to cut unless you want to); and come back an hour later to see how things are going. Make up a bowl of everything when it's done, adding salt and spices/herbs/hot sauce/cheese/etc. if I feel like it, and have plenty for leftovers. Without cauliflower that takes 5-10 minutes; the cauliflower might be another 5 or so.

Basically there are a lot of ways to make food quickly or passively. If you describe the kinds of foods you like to eat, maybe people here can suggest fast recipes.
posted by trig at 8:03 AM on May 5, 2021

I eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch everyday. A Premire protein shake (I recommend these a lot, I'm a shill, I swear. They are recommended by the bariatric program I'm in) for breakfast and yogurt/chia seeds/Kashi Go cereal for lunch. I vary the flavor of shakes and yogurt and cereal so I don't get bored too fast.

I'll nth batch cooking.

I wonder if your pushing your body too hard with the cardio. What are you doing?

IMO, it doesn't help to work yourself to the point of exhaustion. Like others said, meal prep, pre prepped veggies, frozen veggies.
posted by kathrynm at 8:11 AM on May 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

First, probably scale back the cardio. The old saying is that weight loss happens in the kitchen, not the gym. You could probably stop working out entirely and still be healthier just from eating better. And when you do cardio, do it differently, either less or a lot more intense. Instead of jogging for an hour, go for a walk instead. Instead of spin class, ride your bike around the neighborhood. You'll still get your heart rate up a little, so you'll get the benefits of cardio, but won't wear yourself out. Alternatively, look into high intensity interval training (HIIT). The idea is to work a lot harder for a lot less time. You'll still probably be worn out, but maybe less so. And while I don't pretend to understand this stuff, there seems to be some research that indicates HIIT improves your metabolism.

As for food, yeah, I cook from scratch most nights, and I still find weekly meal prep overwhelming. Especially for lunch, I'm just not able to do it. To the extent that I actually prepare my lunch anymore, I buy a lot of pre-prepped food. Most groceries now offer pre-chopped veggies and pre-cooked and sliced chicken breasts. These aren't "processed", just cut. If you have a Trader Joe's nearby, theirs are the best. Wegman's, if that's an option. You can throw together a pretty good Caesar salad just from that stuff: bagged romaine, shredded Parmesan, pre-cooked chicken breast, and a "lite" dressing. (I skip the croutons.) Likewise, a poke bowl: some microwave rice (again, Trader Joe's if you can, but there's a lot of good microwave rice), some shrimp, soy sauce, a few different veggies (I like radishes in poke). You can make a good burrito by combining some of those: the rice, the lettuce, the chicken, some pre-chopped pico, and adding some canned beans and a little cheese. Most "processed" guac isn't bad, if you'd like to add that, or you could make your own using (defrosted) frozen avocado and the pre-chopped pico. (Don't forget salt or lime juice, the two keys to good guac.)

Also, don't feel too bad if you do occasionally eat a TV dinner or get takeout. This is the golden age of healthy takeout and prepackaged meals. Just order the same kind of healthy stuff you'd make at home, and pay attention to portion control (looking at you, Chipotle), and it gives you something to look forward to (e.g., after cardio days when you're too tired to prep anything.)
posted by kevinbelt at 8:17 AM on May 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I get overwhelmed by prep/cooking too and the thing that's helped the most is having tons of frozen chopped veggies on hand - every so often I'll buy a bunch of mushrooms/peppers/ etc and sit in front of the tv and chop it all to freeze for later. I also buy a ton of frozen diced onion (because I hate chopping them) and pre-chopped mixed bell peppers (because I use them in tons of things) and frozen spinach (cheap and nutritious and doesn't go slimy instantly like fresh spinach).

The instant pot also really helps because I can use frozen meat anytime instead of trying to coordinate thawing or using up meat before it goes bad. Combine that with frozen veggies and there's a ton of meals that can be thrown together with almost no prep time on that day and only an hour or less of hands-off cooking time.
posted by randomnity at 8:33 AM on May 5, 2021

Not sure what your budget is but when I started eating more healthfully I found subscription food services a life saver, sure you still have to do the actually cooking, but the mental work is gone and it makes it so much easier to just make the food and not think. It started with Hello Fresh which helped me get my food portions under control then I moved on to. Hungry Root which is basically preprepped foods, sides and sauces to make my own dishes.

While not as cheap as doing it yourself, many supermarkets have prepped Fruit and Veg available in the fresh Fruit & Veg section. Bags of salad are my go to for lunches, I buy pre chopped veg for stirfries for dinner. Frozen veg and sides are also great and not to be sniffed at.

A lot of your exhaustion with it all could be in part the mental exhaustion that comes from changing routines, things aren't on autopilot and you're having to expend energy thinking about what to eat every single meal. At least that's what put me off, so I have pretty much a set breakfast and lunch everyday I know the calories and nutrients so I don't have to think too much about it and it makes it all so much less stressful.
posted by wwax at 8:41 AM on May 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

You have my permission to not be perfect all in one fell swoop. Breaking in a new lifestyle is a major thing, and it’s OK if you have fits and starts as you get going.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:42 AM on May 5, 2021 [12 favorites]

I find my sweet spot for meal prep is to make a few things for the following 2-3 days, so for me that's some cookies (you can do healthyish oatmeal tahini ones and they are so simple) or overnight oats, a soup or chili, and a main like chicken or salmon. Fruit requires almost zero prep, if you use frozen fruit it's nothing. You can roast frozen veggies and save yourself a lot of prep that way too. You might find it best to do a big prep one day a week and freeze leftovers in flat freezer bags so you can defrost dinner as needed. I find workweeklunch and meowmeix on instagram really helpful for ideas.

Healthy storebought go-to's are things like amy's burritos, premade salads or prewashed lettuce/spinach, hummus, canned beans, eggs.

And no shame in taking time off as needed, I was so tired in university and lived on cereal, pizza, smoothies, and frozen fish filets and frozen veggies.
posted by lafemma at 8:43 AM on May 5, 2021

I bake 8 or 9 boneless, skinless chicken thighs every Sunday. (Glass casserole dish covered in foil at 400⁰ for 30 min or so)

I then pour off the broth and pop the chicken in the fridge. In the evenings I either chop some and add to a pile of baby greens with an avocado, or spinach that I make by pouring boiling water over, letting it sit a minute, then draining. I add some garlic oil or other spices and I'm good to go. I'll heat the chicken broth I saved and have it one evening as soup, simmering veggies in it and adding some chicken. Occasionally I'll get a piece of fish and bake it the same way, but I only every get enough for one or two meals and just get a smaller pack of chicken.

Breakfast is 2 boiled eggs and a slice of toast (takes 5 minutes and no thinking)

I usually dont eat lunch, but if I do it's a green smoothie.
posted by ananci at 8:47 AM on May 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Budget Bytes is a great blog for eating healthier on a budget -- of both money and time. The blogger started it when she was a grad student and trying to eat healthier without spending all her money OR cutting into her studies. She has a broad range of stuff, including vegetarian and vegan options, and it's generally very tasty (the recipes are reliable hits with my kids). But what's most important for your purposes is, she has a whole bunch of recipes tagged "meal prep," where she makes four servings of something that keeps and reheats really well, that you can make on Sunday night, eat for dinner, and then it three more times during the week.

Two particular favorites are roasted vegetable couscous with chickpeas (vegan, delicious). Chopping and roasting the vegetables does take some time -- the roasting requires you to go in and shake the pan every 15 minutes for an hour, but it's a good time to get little bursts of chores done in 10-minute chunks -- and Garlic Parmesan Kale Pasta, which I usually make with chicken but is also very good with chickpeas. Both do keep exceedingly well -- I usually make a double recipe, we have it for dinner as a family (of 5) and then my husband and I eat the leftovers for lunch throughout the week.

But yeah I think her "meal prep" tab may be exactly what you're after, for spending 60-90 minutes cooking and having healthy meals for four days.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:47 AM on May 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

When it comes to meal prep, there are several approaches that can save time including a few already mentioned in the comments (i.e. batch cooking). I think it can also be valuable to find a selection of "go-to" recipes that you make on a regular basis, because once you've made a dish several times over it requires less time and energy.

Case in point: I cook this recipe for Walnut-Crusted Salmon often. The benefits of a recipe like this: prep is very minimal, and cooking time is only 15 minutes. I can prep the vegetables/grains while the fish is in the oven.

For building up your recipe collection: Some people use recipe boxes. I print recipes from the internet and save the ones I like in a recipe binder. Whatever works best for you! I'd imagine some people have Pinterest boards for the same purpose. The newspaper (print or online edition) usually has a recipe section and it's a great resource.

Depending on what social media sites you use, you can also find recipe ideas by following the accounts of food-related publications (ex. the NYTimes Cooking Twitter). This is a good way to find recipe authors you like, so that you can then seek more of their recipes out (or even check their cookbooks out from the library). I read reviews of new cookbooks and then put any that sound good on hold at my local library. I've found some great recipes from cookbooks this way!

If you find yourself getting overwhelmed with planning different meals, making a big pot of soup can cover multiple meals over the course of a week. I'm a big fan of various lentil soup recipes, including this Greek lentil soup recipe.

Recipe-hunting aside, I just want to add that it's been a tough year with the pandemic, and even under less stressful circumstances making multiple lifestyle changes can be tough, so I hope you will be gentle with yourself. I hope also that you will find a recipe that you just LOVE, regardless of how healthy you perceive it to be.
posted by panther of the pyrenees at 9:01 AM on May 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'd definitely recommend batch cooking, can go like this for 4 days:

Chili -> leftovers -> Chili over a microwaved potato -> Chili in a grain bowl
Chicken -> leftovers -> Chicken salad over lettuce -> chicken in a soup or in a wrap

Another way to reduce cognitive load for us goes something like this:

Sunday - batch of something yummy
Monday - leftovers from Sunday
Tuesday - soup, sometimes has leftovers in it + bagged salad
Wednesday - egg dish + salad or same as Tuesday
Thursday - fish of some kind, tuna over salad or fish tacos or frozen fish with veg
Friday - rice bowls with chopped veg/pickles/beans or leftovers
Saturday - fried rice

Like once you get the hang of it, you don't have to spend too much energy planning.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:01 AM on May 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

It’s pretty well accepted now that weight loss happens in the kitchen, and that when it comes to exercise, building muscle via weight training is more helpful to the weight loss effort than cardio. Cardio feels good, is fun, is good for your heart and lungs, etc., but you might consider shifting the emphasis to weight training for a while and see how you like the results. The bonus will be that you won’t feel as wiped out afterward (at least I don’t).
posted by HotToddy at 9:05 AM on May 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Instant Pot! When I eat breakfast it's steel-cut oats (slightly healthier/less processed than rolled oats, which are slightly healthier than instant oats). Two cups steel cut oats, 5.5 cups water, high pressure for 10 minutes and natural release - natural release on the instant pot means you can leave the house, ignore it, forget about it even, it will be ready when you are! Then you have breakfast for many days, especially if you throw on some frozen berries and maybe a pinch of brown sugar. You can even buy a lid for the Instant Pot pot and just put the whole thing in the fridge. Usually I clean it immediately (easier to clean) and put the whole batch in a big glass bowl in fridge. (And of course it doesn't have to be breakfast only.)

Other easy prep: Bake a giant tray of baked potatoes and/or sweet potatoes. 400 degrees for about an hour. Let cool before putting in fridge. Now you have baked potatoes for the week. Top with salsa, or half a can of black beans (or both), or some of those frozen veg with soy sauce. (Here I will just say I lost 70 lbs last year on a high carb/low fat diet and still eat this way- but that means whole food carbs like oatmeal, potatoes, rice, lentils, beans, grains and NOT bad carbs i.e. processed foods) You can also chop the pre-baked potatoes into strips or rounds, bake on 400 for about 20 minutes and dip in your favorite bbq or other sauce. Steam some broccoli to go with - this is one of my favorite meals, especially with garlic salt on the brocc. (And if you do the same with baked sweet potato - especially the purple ones - they caramelize nicely and don't even need dipping sauce.)

If you can also figure out a couple soup recipes you like (lentil soup, black bean soup - mostly with already chopped veg, fresh or frozen, can of chopped tomatoes maybe and spices you like - cumin, curry, garlic, whatever your preference), then your Instant Pot can save you! I didn't believe it until I got one. Easier than I ever imagined. I do chop onions because onions make stuff better, but I've used pre-chopped (fresh or frozen).

As mentioned above, if your goal is weight loss (it might not be! You didn't say) but if it is, it's true that happens in the kitchen, and while you should absolutely be walking or doing the exercises you enjoy- intensive cardio doesn't really help with weight loss as much as we would like/hope. Good luck!
posted by Glinn at 9:10 AM on May 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Agree with kevinbelt - focus on one thing at a time. It's HARD to make these big lifestyle changes, so set yourself up for success by narrowing your focus. Biggest bang for your buck is food, for which you've got lots of good suggestions above. Eating healthier will help you lose weight, which will in turn make it easier to exercise, and eventually you'll be succeeding at both! But for now, just focus on one.
posted by yawper at 9:24 AM on May 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

easy goto cold salad for a week:
- make 1/2dz hardboiled eggs.
- 4c quinoa (2c dried)
pre-make the quinoa (25min) and eggs (10 min) simultaneously - done in less-than-a-sitcom.

- keep spring mix or 'baby' spinach in fridge

begin by mixing up some quinoa, leafy greens, and an egg (chopped or not)
- your fave cool ingredients: roasted red pepper, pepperoncini, tiny tomatoes, olives, pumpkin seeds, barely defrosted frozen veg (peas, broccoli, cauliflower), crushed pecans, rinsed canned garbanzos, rinsed canned canneloni, mini peppers, cucumber chopped rough is easy...

pick and choose, toss, dress, done in 5min.

when i first started being a veggie, salads always sounded sooo boring. it's the base plus variety that keeps it fun for me.

shrug, fwiw.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:33 AM on May 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Lots of great tips here. I agree with others that one reason you are feeling overwhelmed might be that you're trying to do everything at once.

Doing everything at once does not magically give you results at once. (Also putting this here as a reminder to myself!)

Others have suggested focusing on food first, then exercise second. I will suggest focusing on even smaller parts at a time: work on eating healthier fewer meats for a couple of weeks, or however long until it feels less overwhelming. Then work on adding veggies as well for the next couple of weeks. Then add fruit as well.

Sure, it takes time but lifestyle changes are always going to take time so you might as well do it at a pace that is sustainable and works with your student life.
posted by rawrberry at 9:36 AM on May 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh on the cardio note - for me (we're all different!) getting out for some medium-intensity cardio in the day makes for better sleep and better food choices...after about 4 weeks. Like the difference in my quality of life between a 4,000 step day and a 12,000 step day is incredibly noticeable.

I agree that strength training is more effective for a lot of things, but this is how my particular body/stress/sleep cycle works, it might be that way for you. If not that's just fine!

The first 4-6 weeks that I make any significant change in my exercise levels, including strength training, I eat more, or at least am hungrier (after the first couple of days.) After that 4 week mark, then my body seems to adjust and I find it much easier at that point to make dietary changes, if I need to.

For me that means either accepting a bit of a peak and then back down, or filling my home with a lot of foods that make me feel full but aren't that caloric (think huge bowls of salad, butternut squash soup, bowls of frozen fruit at night, etc.) But since I'm super old and have been through this rodeo a while I now just pretty much avoid adding like, all ice cream, and just ride it out. So changing both exercise and food quantities at once would be challenging for me.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:37 AM on May 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

My personal quick-and-easy go to is: cook a grain in a pot with veggies in a colander on top so that they steam-cook while the grain is cooking. Eat with a salsa or other sauce. 5 minutes of prep adn 10 minutes to cook, and usually good enough.
posted by Theiform at 9:48 AM on May 5, 2021

I like having vegetables I can eat plain, raw, with my fingers with little or no prep: carrots, spears of cucumber or small Persian cucumbers, snap peas, cherry tomatoes. I will also microwave frozen cauliflower and eat it with my fingers, but that is an acquired taste that probably not everyone can acquire.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:48 AM on May 5, 2021

exercise: 30min of walking, with no diet change, typically results in weight loss, a little increased muscle mass, and increased heart health. it can induce a 200-300 cal deficit depending on speed and terrain.

take a tip from my shrink:
- the aim is not 7/wk
- the aim is 3-7 days/wk

posted by j_curiouser at 9:50 AM on May 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

For the exercise, maybe you're doing too much too quickly? I'd start small here. Like a 20 to 30 minute walk a few days a week. Increase from there.

For cooking, batch cooking is the way to go. I don't use an Instant Pot - i just have a giant dutch oven (Cuisinart brand purchased from TJ Maxx for like $50 a decade ago). I can make a huge batch of chili with like 30 min or less of prep. Like, 20 to 30 meals worth. Once it cools, I portion it into small ziploc bags (1 bag = 1 serving), stick it in the freezer. It's very space efficient, and I can just pull it out and re-heat whenever.

Basically any kind of stew/curry/etc can have this approach. I've found that both rice and couscous freeze acceptably which is good, because I make stuff like butter chicken that I like to have with rice.

So basically, I usually have 2 to 3 different meals prepped in the freezer that I can just alternate between. 1 to 2 hours in the kitchen can get me easily 20 servings of one of these dishes.

I usually supplement with meals that I don't freeze but are super easy to cook - like, throw chicken pieces in a pan, along with some spices/maybe a premade sauce, bake. Throw potatoes on a pan. Bake.

It takes some trial and error, but this can be done efficiently! Especially if you're just cooking for one. And if you're willing to eat the same thing over and over.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:16 AM on May 5, 2021

How much are you exercising per day? I have a feeling you may be trying to do too much. If you want to do cardio, there's a great series of videos on Youtube from a channel called "The Body Project" - they have great half-hour low-impact cardio routines, which may be a good place to start. Just one of those per day about three-five times a week is a good start.

As for the meals - the people recommending "batch cooking" are suggesting that you make all your meals for the week in one go on the weekend. And that can actually give you the best of both worlds - you can get the convenience of microwaving stuff with the health of home-cooked, by having the thing you microwaved be something you cooked yourself.

I recommend the cookbook Moosewood Daily Special a lot, and this is one of the reasons why - they make this kind of "batch cooking" a total breeze. It's nothing but soups and salads - and some of those soups and salads are hefty enough for a complete meal. Also, at the bottom of each recipe, they have a list of suggestions of other soups or salads in that same book that you can serve with it for a little bit of a combo plate.

So if you have that book - or a similar cookbook - here's a way you could work things:

* Every weekend, decide on maybe 3 or 4 soups or salads you're going to make that week. Try to find things that look simple or use similar ingredients so you can simplify your shopping. Also add a package of some kind of hearty bread, a package of washed salad greens, and maybe some fancy cheese to your list. If you think you'll want meat, maybe get a package of some chicken legs or chicken thighs (I'll tell you what to do with these in a minute).
* Then go get all the ingredients, come home, and spend a couple hours making all of it. Pack each batch of whatever in your fridge, where it will live in containers for the week.
* Then, the rest of the week, when you need to get lunch or dinner, all you will need to do is open up your fridge and decide "hmm, I'll have a little of this and a little of that." It can be two salads, a plate of salad and a bowl of soup, or just a big bowl of soup. Whatever it is you get, serve that with a hunk of bread and maybe a little chunk of cheese. You can stretch the salads out by serving the whatever-it-is on a bed of the salad greens - literally just grab a handful out of the bag, plunk it on a plate, and then plunk a spoonful of the other salad on top.
* The chicken legs or thighs are for if you are really hungry one day - just take one, plop it on a baking sheet, and fling it in the oven at 425 for about 40-45 minutes. Then eat that with your soup/salad/whatever.

I am able to brown-bag it to work every day this way, with a really regular "formula" for my meals. On the weekend I decide on two salads, and I also make sure i have some salad greens, nuts, cheese for snacking on, and some grapes, and maybe some "treats" (cookies, prewrapped chocolates, etc.). I make the salads on the weekend and pack them in the fridge. I also have a lunchbox that has different compartments for different things. So every morning, packing lunch is a snap, even when I'm half awake - I stuff one big compartment with salad greens, and the other with some of one of the salads. "Treats" go into one of the smaller ones (two cookies, a handful of grapes and a Hershey's Kiss, whatever) and nuts or a nuts-and-cheese combo goes into the other small container. Takes me five minutes.

And sometimes that's also how I do dinner - I've already got the salads in there, so sometimes I just plunk some on a plate or in a bowl and that's dinner. Sometimes it's a side dish for a roast chicken thigh.

If you really want to plan ahead, you could pick one weekend per month where you do all your cooking, then dole things out into single-serving freezable containers and freeze them. This might take a good while - like a whole day - but you'd be done for the month, and you would have a freezer full of homemade TV dinners where you know what's in them. There are a shit-ton of recipes - do a search for "Freezer meal recipes" online and you will find scores. Even better - most of them are designed for families of like four or six, so just one batch will give you a weeks' worth of meals, and so you can make less. Or, maybe one weekend will give you enough for two months, depending on what you're making. ....The only caveat here is that a lot of the "freezer meals" can be what I call "comfort-foody", where it's a lot of hearty beef stew or pot roast or lasagna or stuff like that. But you can find more veggie-heavy freezer meals (especially if you include that in your search).

Or if you have a slow cooker, you can do a search for "Freezer dump meals"- for these, you prepare the ingredients as if you were going to dump them into your slow cooker, but instead you dump them into a freezer bag and leave them there. Then all you need to do is pull one of the bags out of the freezer the night before so it can thaw out a little in the fridge, and then in the morning, dump everything from the bag into your slow cooker and turn it on. I've found some really good meals this way; there's a pasta dish I made with frozen ravioli and winter squash that was a BIG hit in the house, and I also made another one with chicken, more squash, chick peas and peanut butter. Most "freezer meals" are also for "serves a family of four" quantities, but you can split the recipe between TWO bags, and then each bag will be a "serves two" quantity - which is enough for one meal with leftovers that you can reheat later in the week.

This is totally do-able. You got this!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on May 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I received some very bad health news a few weeks ago, with instructions to eat more vegetables, almost no carbs, and to get more exercise. I was previously getting no exercise, so I had to start gently, and I know myself and I know that I hate gyms, but am okay with walking, so I downloaded Pokemon Go.

I don't play many games, so I had no idea if this would work, but it really has! I've been doing about an hour of walking a day - walking the dogs with my husband in the morning, and walking a different route myself in the afternoon.

SO far, I'm only playing the game at the most basic level, but I really like walking around to different PokeStops and catching some Pokemon on the way. It breaks up the walk, and gives me small goals to achieve as part of the walk.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 10:32 AM on May 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Something that I have found helpful is letting go of the idea about what a meal should look like. Good snacks or a sandwich or breakfast foods or whatever can be just as healthy (or unhealthy) as a 'proper meal'. An apple with peanut butter, maybe with a side of plain popcorn is fairly balanced.

Some things like couscous take much less time to prepare than rice. Fruit and veg that you can eat either straight out of the bag, or can just be microwaved in a few minutes are a lot less intimidating than a lot of chopping.

Finally, if it's mentally easier (and this could go either way) think about eating healthily and well-balanced across the day, few days or week, rather than at each meal. This is a tip from raising toddlers but they're just little humans so I think it's ok to adapt for looking after adults.
posted by plonkee at 12:26 PM on May 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I agree with others that you may want to smart smaller and build up. Smaller more attainable goals will build confidence and allow you to add to them with time. Trying to do too much too fast will often lead to failure.

I also agree with many others above on three points re: food

1. Don't be afraid to eat the same thing multiple days in a row or even every day. I usually do this weekdays with breakfast. For me it is quick oats (microwave 1/2 cup oats with 1 cup water for 2 minutes & add in frozen blueberries or strawberries). It doesn't really matter what you choose as long as it is easy and relatively healthy.

2. Batch cook. I don't do this on the weekend but my partner and I always cook enough that dinner = lunch the next day for our family. Last night we had veggie chilli with avocado & cheese, lunch today was "taco salad" (veggie chilli on pre-washed lettuce with yogurt and hot sauce). Tonight is roast chicken and tomorrow will be chicken on spinach (pre-washed spinach in the bag).

3. Covered in point two, but if you can afford to buy some healthy convenience, do it. Pre-washed spinach, baby carrots, small tomatos, pre cut broccoli etc.

For the exercise you also have to be realistic. If you'll only work out for 30 mins 2x/week start with that. Don't try and do an hour every day. Cardio every day is too much anyway, your body needs time to recover. Once you get comfortable knowing you'll do a 20 minute Orange Theory video on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons (or walk for x amount of time on whatever two days, or do body weight training on these two days, or insert your exercise of choice) then you can add 1/2 hour of yoga on Mondays or whatever, and go from there.

Small, measurable goals that you can attain will lead to larger changes over time. Don't do too much too fast.
posted by Cuke at 1:35 PM on May 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Things we always have on hand: brussels sprouts in steamer bags (both refrigerator version and freezer), ready-to-cook broccoli florets in big (usually 2ish lb) bags, 4-8 frozen cauliflower rice packs. I usually have some number of zucchinis and sometimes an eggplant. Freezer protein: meatballs, fish fillets, and cooked ground beef (this I cook in 4ish pound batches once every month or two). I like salad, but bags of slaw last longer so I mostly get those. And then I buy boneless skinless chicken, mostly thighs/quarters but occasionally breasts, to cook from fresh 1-2 nights a week - but if I cook them, it's enough to last several more meals.

If you want more carbs than that, see if you can find a store near you that sells small sweet potatoes, not the giant football-sized ones. Get some canned beans. Get quinoa and whole grain pasta.

All of this stuff can be thrown in some combination of microwave, oven on a sheet pan, and/or air fryer. Use spices and sauces to make it interesting, but train yourself to not need a full-blown multi-course meal ordeal every night of the week. Learn how to throw together a quick Asian sauce and a fast tomato-based pasta sauce, or buy jarred!

Just eat simply for a while - a protein and 2-3 vegetables, with seasoning and/or sauce. After you get into a rhythm, you can do more extensive meal prep 1-2 weekends a month to make and freeze portions of proteins and side dishes and maybe breakfasts, so you're never making an entire meal from scratch, there's always 1-2 components you're just heating up.

You will figure out what kind of garnishes make a simple meal feel fancier to you as you go - it might be that you have a little cheese for dessert sometimes, or a tomato-cucumber salad in the summers, a dressing for taco salads that mostly salsa and lime with a dab of sour cream and cheese. It's okay if everything is extremely basic and simple - for the most part everything on the plate is a whole food or not hideously processed, it's fast, it's nutritious, and it should taste nicely of itself and seasoning.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:05 PM on May 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I didn't read all the way through the other comments. Apologies if someone else has already mentioned this, but are you taking a really good multi vitamin? Have you been able to have a general health check up recently? Are you digesting the food you do eat properly? It's just that your question makes me think you may need a nutrition boost at the moment in order to have the energy to make the healthy changes you want to make. I'd start by getting a DR check up to see where your levels are at. You might need some extra iron or something, maybe some B-12, who knows. Then I wouldn't worry about anything else except making yourself a good vegetable/fruit juice drink (use real, fresh fruits and vegetables not premade juices!) in your blender every day. Do that for a couple weeks and then gradually start adding in the other things you want to change. You can do this, you just don't (and shouldn't) do it all at once. Good luck! You've got this!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:31 AM on May 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I can’t answer specifically to the healthy meals part of your as I’m a terrible cook / meal prep-per and you’ve got so many great responses, but I’ll address the exercise / general habits aspect.

Overall it seems you are trying to do / change too many things at once, too frequently and it’s no surprise it’s making you feel overwhelmed! I’d start by focusing on 1-2 things to do at a time (be it diet or exercise) and trying to slowly build them into your routine rather than changing all your habits wholesale. It could be something as simple as eating a basic, healthy breakfast everyday ( I just eat plain oatmeal and occasionally a dash of fruit or seeds, it’s boring but it gets the job done).

With the exercise you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) run yourself into the ground 4-5 days a week when you’re just starting out, and it’s certainly not sustainable if you’re hating it. 1-2 days a week may be enough or more than enough if you can actually sustain it to make progress. Also with the rise of CrossFit-style and hiit workouts I think many people now feel that they have to push their limits, sweat buckets and do 5x punishing workouts a week to get the most out of their session and achieve results but this is a recipe for overexertion, injury and burnout for sedentary beginners. Incrementally increasing your activity level at a sustainable pace is better for you in the long run, rather than crashing and burning after 4 weeks.

And you don’t only have to be running or doing cardio stuff - if you can, try exploring different activities or exercises and see what you enjoy and what sticks. Walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, strength training, dancing, joining some classes at your local gym, hiking outdoors, boxing, rock climbing or whatever really, find something that you look forward to, the possibilities are endless. I started out trying out various things on Classpass, rotating my once weekly session between different things for at least 3-4 months. I found what I enjoyed (strength training and barbell lifting) and what I didn’t (large, loud and cramped aerobic style classes - this was pre-covid. I highly recommend exploring what you like / dislike with what means you have and through what is available to you locally when it comes to physical activity, so that in the long run you actually are willing to make time for it rather than seeing it as a chore.

Finally I would say be gentle with yourself - your routine doesn’t have to be “perfect”, and there really isn’t a perfect healthy routine, it’s about what works best for your body and your lifestyle. There’s also no one right way to look / right body type to be. if you enjoy physical activity for it’s own sake that’s a healthier, less anxiety inducing state to be in rather than doing it just for the sake of losing a couple of pounds in the short term. You may find that you eventually you lose weight but as a happy byproduct of what you already like to do (it happened to me!)
posted by pandanpanda at 12:33 PM on May 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ooh! The Youtuber Andrew Rea, who does the show "Binging With Babish", also has a second show called "Basics With Babish" where he focuses more on teaching techniques for cooking things. And this week he devoted a whole episode to preparing and freezing meals in advance - he makes breakfast sandwiches, breakfast burritos, chicken soup, and single-serve portions of lasagna, and the video shows you not only how he cooks them all, but how he packs them all for freezing, and he explains how to reheat/cook each thing when you're ready to eat. The written recipes aren't on the web site yet but should be soon- and it looks like he's got enough for about 2 weeks' worth of breakfasts, a week of chicken soup lunches and a week of lasagna dinners, if that's all you ate. But the beauty of freezer meals is that they can just live in your freezer for a couple months so you can eat them whenever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:15 PM on May 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

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