How do we find the time, to fit in a workout and plan and prepare healthy foods, in already packed schedules? Well, this is the biggest problem most of us have. It’s one of those things that is often answered, with this hated phrase “make time”. I certainly don’t have all the answers to this common problem, but I do have a few ideas to help ease the load.
So, let’s try to figure out some ways to carve out some time, WITHOUT stealing it from the point of life, time with family and friends.
Stick to Uncomplicated Menu Ingredients and Dishes
Cooking healthy and nutritious food is, in itself, not complicated. It’s very simple to make a meal that’s not full of unhealthy forms of fat end empty calories. When we begin to complicate things, is when it becomes difficult to find the time.
The other thing that I try not to do: come up with ways to make dishes more healthy, unless it’s a favorite. There’s really something to be said for just accepting a dish is not good for you and avoiding it, rather than duplicating it with versions of itself. You can eat those things, in their normal form, when you crave them. If you eat healthy most of the time, you can have a few things, here and there, that aren’t great for you. That’s the beauty of eating right, most days.
Here are a few examples of what we regularly eat for dinner, at our house. NONE of these meals take longer than 30-minutes. NONE of these meals are full of empty calories. NONE of these meals will leave you with that overstuffed feeling when you leave the table and best of all, NONE of these meals will make you feel guilty.
MONDAY: White fish, grilled with a spray of olive oil and your favorite seasonings (a fish grill rack is worth it’s weight in gold) – or if you don’t like fish, use chicken; with a side salad of spinach, feta cheese and lite italian dressing; an ear of corn on the cob, no butter, just a little salt, throw right on the grill too.
TUESDAY: Chopped fresh vegetables (like red peppers, green peppers, carrots, belgium endive or Napa cabbage, zucchini, cucumber) with hummus; a whole wheat pita or whole wheat tortilla – slightly warmed in the oven; fresh sliced fruits; a salad with mixed greens and the same chopped veggies that you’re using to dip in the humus and your favorite vinaigrette.
WEDNESDAY: Roasted kale with a drizzle of olive oil; sautéed yellow squash with onions and lots of fresh ground black pepper (use a lot of water to cook this and only a little olive oil at the end); fresh fruits, chopped.
THURSDAY: potato pancakes (see a recipe for those in another post, but use regular potato instead, although the sweet potato are awesome!); fresh chopped vegetables with a yogurt ranch dip (I really like Bolthouse).
FRIDAY: Steamed brocoli (the steamer at my house gets more use than most other appliances – so worth it) with lemon juice and kosher salt, sweet potatoes with various healthy toppings like greek yogurt, raw pecans and cinnamon.
SATURDAY: Big bowl of Navy Beans (for cooking directions see this post); with a chopped salad (very small chopped iceberg lettuce, radish, red onion, red pepper, green pepper, blue cheese crumbles and your favorite italian flavored vinaigrette)
Set Aside a CHOP Day
Just like cleaning day, the whole family pitches in. Except it doesn’t take as long. If you get it done first thing in the morning, it feels great!
Assign a washer, a peeler, a chopper, a manager. The manager gets out the bowls to hold the produce and puts it all away and keeps everything clean. Wash the produce really well. Allow it to dry or blot it with a paper towel. Then start peeling and chopping.
Let’s say we used the menu above for the week, this is what I would have done on SUNDAY:
FOR MONDAY: Peel and wash the corn and dry it well; store in an airtight container or plastic bag.
FOR TUESDAY: Soak the garbanzo beans overnight so you could cook them in a crock pot on Monday, low setting for 8-hours. Store in the fridge whole, until you have time to make the hummus for Tuesday dinner. Chop all of the veggies except the cabbage or endive – leave this for just before – paying attention to chop a little bit, for salad, smaller. Chop double these veggies for dipping to use on Thursday. Chop your mixed greens if they aren’t already, but don’t wash, leave till just prior to serving.
FOR WEDNESDAY: Wash the kale and dry it completely before storing it for use on Wednesday. Chop the squash and the onions (remember the smaller you chop them, the faster they cook). You could even pre cook them a little which makes it super fast on Wednesday. You just cut the squash in half, lengthwise, same for the onion; put it in a 375 degree oven, face down on a pan with about a quarter cup of water in the bottom. Cook for 30-minutes. Chop as usual. Then on Wednesday, you just saute this with a little olive oil to give it a golden brown color and flavor.
FOR THURSDAY: Wash a baking potato really well, dry it, puncture a few places with a sharp knife to let it vent, wrap it in tin foil and bake it at 375 until it’s tender inside. Store it in the fridge until Thursday in a tightly sealed container. The veggies are already chopped since you doubled up earlier. Make the yogurt dip with a container of 0% or 2% FAGE greek yogurt, if you’re not using store-bought, mixed with one packet of ranch dressing mix.
FOR FRIDAY: Wash, dry and chop the broccoli. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes. Store all of this in the fridge. The broccoli should be stored in a container that allows for a little air to circulate. Crack open the lid or if you have a steamer with holes, store it directly in that.
FOR SATURDAY: Wash, dry completely and chop all of your veggies for your chopped salad, very small. Do not chop the lettuce, yet. Set a timer on your phone or somewhere else to remind you to soak the navy beans on Friday night.
PS While you’re doing all of this, think about lunch. Prepare what you can, ahead during this prep time. Chop whatever you might need, now.
Walk or Bike, Where You Can
Our daughters go to school less than a mile’s walk from home. If I were to walk them one way each day, that would be a 2-mile walk for me and I could speed walk the way home. Exercise is done. Find ways that you can creatively fit in exercising without having to schedule them.
If you’re one of the lucky ones that has a short commute, try biking to work. It’s a perfect solution. You get your exercise and you do it without sacrificing too much time. You have to leave earlier, but it’s probably less time that what it takes to go to the gym to use the stationary bike.
Walk during your meetings. If you have a meeting with a co-worker, see if you can walk the building while you talk or even better, take it outside.
Eat at your desk, walk your lunch break. Work through your eating time (it’s usually not advised, but you have to do what you have to do, just make sure your portion sizes are controlled when you pack it, to prevent over-eating) and when you’re finished, walk around the building outside or at a nearby path. Speed walking is key. Don’t stroll.
During my daughter’s gymnastics class, I see lot’s of moms sitting around. This is the ideal time to get in the exercise. Most places will not mind if you walk outside the building, nearby if you take your phone. Or, find out if one of the other moms would like to take turns keeping an eye on things for the other to walk around the neighborhood. OR you can walk the stairs if they have them. The key is to not give up.
Try biking to some of your errands. I have a bank down the road, I could easily bike to. Also, getting your nails done, try biking there, chances are, it’s close to home. Bike to the kid’s soccer games. Bike to the dentist. Bike to dinner, to frozen yogurt or to the local baseball game.
Buy a Small Trampoline
Cardio does not have to be complicated or expensive. You know those small trampolines you used to see in the 80’s during all those aerobic classes? Buy one! It’s a versatile piece that can be used during your strength training or your cardio. It’s almost noiseless! Unlike most treadmills. You can use it in a quiet house first thing in the morning or late at night. It also improves balance, which can help in other areas of your physical fitness.
This is probably not the first time you’ve heard this advice, but try keeping a set of heavy weights (for you) at your desk. Use these when you’re listening to a conference call or when you are stuck waiting for something or during any other downtime. You’ll be very surprised at the difference a few lifts a day can do for your arms. A few simple and effective arm exercises are the military press, pictured here, with the squat added in:
Or, try this one, the lateral raise:
There are tons of arm and whole body exercises you can do with one set of dumbbells. Try google for ideas. Or, try my next suggestion.
Hire a Personal Trainer
The fastest way to find the time to exercise is to hire a Personal Trainer. The quality of your workout will improve, becoming more efficient. Plus, once you have a scheduled calendar item, time that you will be accountable to someone else, you’re unlikely to bail. It’s a great way to learn the proper form and movements that you can do during your own time and learn tips and tricks to tone your specific problem areas. Trainers are full of ideas that you’ve probably never tried or even heard of. It’s their job!
Work Many Muscles at Once
There are many, many combo moves, where you combine several muscles during one exercise. Think of the dumbbell military press, pictured above, where there is also a squat movement involved. You’re working upper and lower body, all at once, which saves you time.
A few of my favorites:
Here are a few more ideas at tinareale.com.
Combine Cardio and Weights
Let’s say you need to do a strength train and cardio all the same day. Try combining the two. Begin your session with a 10-minute uphill fast walk or a 6mph run. Then, move on to 20-minutes of weights, but in between lifting your weights, between the sets, do cardio moves for one minute. To end your session, do another 10-minute walk or run, like you did in the beginning. And last, stretch.
It is a guaranteed way to blast fat, if that’s your goal. Keeping your heart rate up, during the entire strength training session, gives huge weight loss benefits. The strength training revs your metabolism; increases your muscle mass, which burns fat later; and increases overall conditioning. The cardio training improves the heart muscles, burns fat, increases circulation, improves your mood and helps to make your body more lean.
Try these between sets: jump ropes, running in place, jumping jacks, skipping in circles (switch front legs), make up your own dance move, mountain climbers or run around the block once.
HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training, is a form of training that combines exercises that rev up your heart rate with short intensity anaerobic, followed by periods of recovery or rest. The workouts are used to improve your athletic capacity and condition, improve glucose metabolism and fat burning. It’s thought to be the fastest way to burn fat. It’s a controversial subject among fitness professionals. Everyone has a different opinion of what method is most efficient for losing weight. I happen to believe that some things work for some and other things work for others. Who knows, this could be your answer.
Bursts of high intensity moves, like sprinting, burn more than double the calories, per minute, than low intensity work, like walking. It’s thought that mixing very high intensity with very low intensity, in interval, is the fastest way to burn the most calories in the shortest period of time. There is something tempting about the thought that you could potentially be finished with your cardio workout in 20-minutes of HIIT verses 40-minutes on an elliptical machine. However, the only downfall to this workout is that it’s very difficult to do this effectively without a professional. Your heart rate during the exercise needs to be closely monitored to make sure it’s 85% of your max heart rate, during the high intensity spurts and that it remains under 65% of your max heart rate, during the rest periods. It’s hard to do on your own, in the beginning. But you could try a version, on your own and see if you notice a difference. AND this is NOT for the beginner. You should be in pretty great shape before trying this method of cardio. Otherwise, you’ll end up feeling very defeated. Try it once you can do steady state cardio (moderate intensity, like jogging) for 30 or more minutes without stopping.
Make Snacking Simple
The one thing that can add time to your day is to pack your own snacks and make sure they are simple. It doesn’t have to be complicated or over thought. You won’t waste time preparing or searching for something healthy and appetizing if you pack your own healthy snacks for work, school or other activities. Nature has the best portable snack food there is. Take an apple, banana, pear or any other self preserved fruit. I also love a handful of raw almonds, a few pretzels, a light string cheese or a small handful of trail mix (not the sugar kind). Snacks should be simple and nutritious. If you’re at home, try air popped popcorn or a few Triscuit crackers and parmesan cheese.