Many people spend weeks if not months planning a vacation or getaway. They research the location, gather recommendations, identify all the highlights and prioritize the abundance of activities. It can be fun to plan adventures, dream of the rest you desperately need, and look forward to a change in pace from the pulls and stresses of everyday life. Some people plan out every little detail of their excursion, eager to make the most of precious time. Even if it is just a weekend getaway to visit friends or family, calls are made, events are planned, times are set and bags are packed. Except for maybe the occasional spontaneous weekend adventure, planning is a key part of everyone’s travel itinerary.
If our grocery shopping trip is delayed for several days due to hectic re-immersion into everyday life, what will we eat? This presents a predicament which usually leads us to 1 of 3 options: takeout, fast food or scrounge. And, this challenge usually adds more stress to the already crazy work week schedule.
But, if there is anything I have learned, it is that my level of preparation dramatically affects my level of stress. An indirect correlation… as preparation increases, stress decreases.
So how do we meal plan for our return home without adding more stress to our lives before we even leave?
After my recent 9 day excursion to Ireland celebrating our 10 year anniversary along with all of our many road trips to see family in various states, I have learned a few things about how to prepare for the coming home so that my food and meal practices, even when life is busy, are in line with our family health values. These are a few things we do to get back into the healthy eating groove after we return from holiday:
01. Have a freezer meal ready to reheat for dinner.
One week before your scheduled departure, plan to make at least 1 or 2 large meals to portion and freeze in a reheatable container so that this can be dinner upon your arrival home. If you are returning late in the day, grocery shopping just may not be an option so this one practice can become a life saver! Here are some freezer friendly ideas:
Lasagna- meat or vegetarian; try adding additional vegetables like spinach, zucchini, carrots and/or squash if you will not be able add a fresh salad for a veggie boost at dinner.
Spaghetti Casserole with Veggies- Try using spaghetti squash instead of noodles for lower calories and carbohydrates
Chili- This is the perfect healthy comfort food; by using lean mean (or go meatless) along with tomatoes, onions, peppers and high fiber beans, it will warm you up, fill you up and cheer you up.
Soup- With so many options, make any kind that delights your taste buds. Just make sure you are including lean protein or vegetarian protein (edamame, beans, tofu, tempeh) along with a big bunch of veggies to create the perfect complete meal. Try chicken and vegetable with brown rice; minestrone with greens, tomatoes and beans; or, sweet potato with kale and chicken sausage.
02. Have a well stocked pantry, frig and freezer.
Often the idea is to “eat up” what’s in the frig before leaving on vacation to prevent spoilage and waste and while this is true for most fresh vegetables as well as milk, there are many foods that will last without concern that it will turn into your middle schooler’s new science project. Unless you are planning to travel for several weeks, there are many foods that can be stored safely in your refrigerator:
Yogurt– good to use within 7-10 days after purchasing it, often even longer.
Eggs– when refrigerated, can safely be used for up to 3 weeks after sell by date on package
Cheese– opened and tightly wrapped hard cheeses as well as processed cheeses can last for up to 3-4 weeks; soft cheeses like feta or blue have shorter shelf life
Tofu–if unopened, follow the use by date; if opened, eat within 3-5 days.
Tempeh– if unopened, use by expiration date; if opened, wrap tightly and use within 10 days
Beans, canned, any kind
Whole grain pasta
Jarred pasta sauce
Whole grains- brown rice, quinoa, farro, barley
Low sodium chicken broth
Frozen vegetables- broccoli, peas, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, veggie blends
Frozen sprouted grain bread
Frozen package of corn or whole grain tortillas
Quick Meal Ideas to Use Pantry and Frig Staples
Veggie and bean quesadilla
Saute frozen vegetables; add black beans, cumin and chili powder; place veggie and bean mixture in tortilla with low fat cheese and cook until melted. Serve with plain yogurt and salsa.
Peanut Vegetable and Edamame Stir Fry
Saute frozen vegetables in sesame or canola oil; add in edamame once veggies are tender; season with soy sauce, ground black pepper and couple of tablespoons of peanut butter (optional). Top with chopped peanuts. Serve with cooked whole grain, if desired.
Whisk 2 eggs with salt and pepper and begin cooking omelet in non-stick pan. Add in low fat colby jack or cheddar cheese and several tablespoons of black beans. Finish cooking and serve with dollop of yogurt and side of salsa. Toast (optional).
03. Plan some go-to healthy meals that don’t require a lot of preparation or planning that you can grab on the run.
Many restaurant meals have double or triple the number of calories we need, so even a few meals out can impact our waistline if not chosen and ordered carefully. Consider writing down 2 or 3 restaurant or takeout meals that fit your health goals so that these can become your go-to when time is short. The simple act of writing down the location and meal type requires us to sort through our idea to determine and clarify exactly what we will eat. These are a few examples:
Rotisserie chicken with a prepared family salad, dressing on the side
Mediterranean vegetable or chicken kabob, Greek Salad, hummus with side of vegetable sticks
Grilled lean sirloin steak, sweet potato, steamed vegetable
Looking at online nutrition information can become a guide in choosing lighter meals, but realize that any meal cooked or prepared by someone else has the potential to have more calories and fat than the information may present. But, these guides are helpful in comparing restaurant choices.
Going on holiday is fun! It is the perfect time to escape, explore, rest and rejuvenate. But returning home to daily living chores does not need to overwhelm. With a few intentional steps before you leave, you will be able to bounce back into the rhythm of your meal planning routines without forfeiting flavor, nutrition or extra cash.
The crazy busy post-vacation nights will come- they always do. Plan to win on these nights too. Have a contingency plan.
TRUTH: It takes wisdom to build a house, and understanding to set it on a firm foundation;It takes knowledge to furnish its rooms with fine furniture and beautiful draperies.
Proverbs 24:3-4 (MSG)