We spend much of our waking lives thinking about food. We devote time to preparing food, buying food and worrying about how food affects our waistlines and our overall health. What we don’t spend enough time thinking about is the role food plays on our emotions and our stress levels. That's a problem because nutrition and stress management are inseparable. In fact, nutrition, stress management, and personal development form a triangle with good nutrition being the solid base.
So, let's talk about the relationship between food and stress.
In fact, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and settle in because we're also going to talk about everything (almost) you need to know to start getting your nutritional game on point. We'll look at:
- The relationship between food and stress (so you can remember why it's important in the first place)
- Meal planning (so you can organize and apply a little mindfulness to meeting your nutritional needs)
- The hidden cost of junk food (and it's probably not one you've thought about!)
- Buying in bulk to save money (so you can afford that quality nutrition)
- Creating an evergreen pantry (so you can pull it all together)
Ready....let's do this
Only...it's going to look like this
GOOD NUTRITION IS ESSENTIAL TO STRESS MANAGEMENT
The right amount and combination of food can not only provide energy and satisfy our taste buds, it can also reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. Food influences our moods, our sleep patterns, and our cognitive abilities.
Food can act as a natural medicine that alleviates or even prevents some of the negative health effects of long-term stress.
Choosing a diet primarily based on whole foods and limiting refined foods, especially sugar, helps reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Let's talk about protein
While protein is an important part of a balanced diet, consuming too much protein in your daily diet could be negatively influencing your mood and increasing stress and anxiety levels.
Conversely, a low-protein, carbohydrate-rich diet (full of starches, vegetables, and fruits) results in the highest levels of serotonin in the brain, because fewer large-molecule amino acids are competing with tryptophan to enter the brain. For you this means less hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, and insomnia-provided you eat that healthier diet. https://www.drmcdougall.com/health/education/health-science/common-health-problems/depression-and-anxiety/
So it's a bit of a balancing act. We need protein, but we need to choose our sources, and our serving sizing wisely.
Meats are a great source of protein but can also be high in saturated fat and calories. Additionally, many health professionals recommend restricting the intake of red meat.
Fish is an excellent source of protein as well as healthy fats such as Omega-3 fatty acids.
Plant-based sources of protein include nuts, which have the added benefit of being high in fiber
MEAL PLANNING CAN LOWER STRESS
Having a practical weekly meal plan is essential. Having both the "right" foods on hand, and a simple plan for the ways you will prepare them is one way make sure we don't just think about eating healthy - we actually do it! And having a meal plan removes the daily "what's for dinner?" stress.
Meal planning is also the most effective way to
- minimize food waste
- help you reach your budget goals
- save time at the grocery store
At first, it can seem a little overwhelming to come up with an entire week's worth of meals at one sitting. But, after you've done it a few times, it's easy peasy.
PRACTICAL MEAL/MENU PLANNING FOR BEGINNERS
Begin your plan with a quick inventory of your kitchen so you know what you already have on hand, what items you need to use before expiration and what staples you may be low on. Next, you realistically access how much time you are going to have (and are willing to spend) on meal preparation on each day.
So...let's get started.
Dinner is the meal, especially if you are feeding a family, that takes up most of our time, energy and money.
We'll create a sample meal plan for dinner, assuming a budget goal of $56 for three people, and based on a week where 30-45 mins is the desired time from prep to oven to table.
First, create a basic outline of what you want each of your meals to contain for the next seven days. Let's go with each meal having a main dish and one or two side dishes
Our sample menu looks like this:
When thinking about the inclusion of a particular item of food, consider first and foremost, how many ways it can be used that week.
As you can see, Monday's baked chicken and Tuesday's meatloaf can also become chili, tacos and/or stirfry later in the week.
And, if you examine which veggies are used in each meal, you'll notice that I'm primarily using the same veggies - just prepared different ways for different meals.
Meats (if refrigerated not frozen) are best used within three/four days of cooking and most cut (fresh) veggies within seven days. That means planning dishes like a stirfry/soup/stew/casserole toward the end of the week will ensure that none of your prepped veggies and/or cooked leftover meat goes to waste.
A meal plan, if properly outlined, will give you enough flexibility to creatively modify your meals without extra time, money or stress.
"I can't afford to eat healthy"...THE HIDDEN COST OF JUNK FOOD
People always point out that junk food is cheaper than fresh produce. And I say "yep, that's legit." I can walk into my local grocery store and buy a family size bag of potato chips for $2.50, but a bag of 16 apples will cost me $4.00.
But, let's really look at it.
Now, I like potato chips as much as the next girl, but there is not a darn thing I can do with a bag of chips but eat too many at once and hate myself in the morning.
But that bag of apples that cost a dollar fifty more? There are 16 apples in that bag and I can grab a couple for snacks, chop a couple to add bulk and variety to a basic salad, slice a couple more into rings sprinkled with nutmeg/cinnamon for a flavorful meat topping, stuff the core of a few and bake for a bomb side dish, puree a few and combine with a small amount of sugar for alternative pancake topping, and still have a few left over for quick and easy tarts.
So, unless you can use that $1.50 you saved to buy pancake syrup, a salad ingredient, a side dish, a meat topping and a dessert, you haven't saved any money.
Ideally, you can create your meal plan and shopping list based on already having a well-stocked kitchen.
That means...buying in bulk.
BEGINNERS GUIDE TO BUYING IN BULK
Here's the beauty of buying in bulk:
- Your overall food cost will be lower than if you purchased the same items on a weekly or bi-weekly basis
- You will ultimately save A LOT of time in reduced shopping trips
- If you're like me and HATE going to the grocery store, especially at the last minute or after a long day, you can totally avoid that particular bit of stress
So, let's keep it simple. The food items you want to think about when making bulk purchases:
If it's an item that you know you will use on a regular (i.e. daily, weekly or at least bi-weekly) basis, it get's a green light. If it's only going to sit in your freezer or on a shelf for 12 months, no matter how good the price was, it was wasted money and time.
Think Ease of Preparation & Storage
Bulk purchases should not only be easy to store but should require minimal preparation before storing. If you are not an experienced canner, then it's probably not a good idea to buy that bushel of tomatoes!
Think Seasonal for Produce
Although you can buy pretty much any fruit or vegetable year-round, you'll get the best value, in terms of nutritional quality and price, by buying local produce in season.
A good start is to plan two seasonal trips purchasing vegetables such as kale, collards, winter squashes in the late fall/winter and fruits such as berries and peaches in the summer.
Buying in bulk should following the "Three R's":
I didn't follow the "Three R's" when I first started buying in bulk and building my own pantry many years ago. The result was several...interesting...meals.
There is a natural consequence of buying in bulk. Eventually, you find that you have created a well-stocked "evergreen" kitchen/pantry!
And, having an evergreen pantry is not just for folks with large families - it's the ideal situation even if you are a party of one. Not only are you going to save money and time, reduce your stress and find it easier to meet your nutritional goals - having an evergreen pantry means that you also have an emergency food store on hand - without the emergency shopping!
If you live in an area with severe seasonal weather conditions, you’ve probably experienced the joys of the last minute “stock up on food” run to the grocery store. Long lines, inflated prices, half-empty shelves, and wrestling that 80-year-old lady for the last jug of milk.
Personally, I’ve lived through everything from hurricanes in Florida to black ice in Tennessee to blizzards in Chicago. And, no matter the state, I know I'd much rather be at home sipping on a hot mug of cocoa while everybody else is out wrestling over that last jug of milk!
CREATING AN EVERGREEN PANTRY
If you have this combination of items on hand, you can actually prepare at least 100 different meals, from breakfast to dinner entrees to desserts to snacks to soup.
If you're wondering how you can bake without eggs - flax seed meal is both a nutritious and delicious substitute for eggs!
STRESS & NUTRITION - THE BOTTOM LINE
Understanding the importance of nutrition is the first step in practicing great stress management. A little meal planning, bulk shopping, and strategic pantry building are a few of the key ways we can make sure we are on top of our nutritional game.
Ready to dive even deeper?
Explore the articles below and if you find something you love - share with your friends!
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