We all know that food is fuel. But as busy young adults, it can be difficult to make sure we are getting the nutrients we need, when we need them. For some of us, stressful times can prevent us from eating enough healthy food. This can leave us feeling low-energy, force us to binge on late-night snacks, and even create long-term health problems. For others, certain social, work, or school situations can give us cravings for fries and chocolate all day long. There is no one way to eat healthily, so it’s important to be in touch with what works for your body.
Here are three tips to keep you on track:
Meal-Prep Like a Pro
By grocery shopping, cooking for yourself, and planning out your food ahead of time, you will be saving time, money, and hassle. While it may seem like an investment to spend three to four hours shopping and cooking, making a week’s worth of food at once can save time later. By eating portioned-out meals with healthy ingredients that you prepare at home, you can learn exactly how much food you need to feel satisfied, alert, and healthy. Even if you are on a road trip, at a music festival, or going on a hike, preparing meals and snacks in advance can keep you feeling your best.
When I was at my busiest as a college senior, I splurged on glass tupperware for myself and would spend Sunday nights meal prepping lunches and dinners with my roommate — usually burrito bowls, pasta dishes, or quinoa salads. It soon paid itself off, as I was spending less than 40 dollars a week on food. When I was out and about for classes and work all week, I would always have a nutritious meal and plenty of snacks to get me through the afternoon.
Plan Your Day Around Meals
Whether you take time to sit and eat breakfast mindfully, take a screen-free lunch break at work, or plan social events around dinners, reserving time out of your day for food is a helpful way to stay on track. By focusing on your food and eating slowly, you can better listen to hunger and fullness signals. Prioritizing time for meals can ensure you have time to cook your favorite meals and it can help you keep up your energy levels throughout the week.
This past year, my housemates and I got together to cook a “family dinner” every Sunday night, which became a wholesome transition to end the weekend. Making six-person vegetarian chili, dumplings, or nachos was a fun bonding activity and ensured everyone had a nutritious meal before the week began.
Record What You Eat, If Appropriate
If it is important to you to track what you eat in a day, there are a few strategies you can test out. For the technologically-savvy, apps like MyFitnessPal can help you track calories, nutrients, and serving sizes alongside physical activity. This method may be beneficial for young people working with nutritionists or doctors to treat chronic health issues like diabetes, Crohn’s disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, where a specific diet is part of a treatment plan. For example, some people may track calories to prevent rheumatoid arthritis weight gain, which can be helpful in relieving pain and inflammation. However, when not guided by a healthcare provider, this detailed method of tracking can get obsessive and time-consuming for many people.
For those more old-school, bullet journals are a great way to keep track of your meals. Instead of measuring out ingredients and calculating calories, you can describe your food in whatever way feels relevant. For example, you can record all the fruits and vegetables you eat, or estimate how much protein you have consumed. You can also store your favorite recipes, detail your day, and plan your summer road trip all in one place. Plus, it gives you a great reason to treat yourself to new stationery.
If you are feeling creative, you can even make a TikTok of your meals, snacks, and drinks throughout the day. The aesthetic lighting and music will make you want to perfect your smoothie bowl toppings and fry the perfect egg.
Another benefit to keeping track of your foods is associating ingredients with how they make you feel. You know your body better than anyone else, which is why it can be helpful to write down any gastrointestinal, mood, or pain symptoms that you may have each day. There are a number of apps that can keep your symptoms all in one place. By comparing symptoms to the types of foods you ate that day, you might notice a trend—perhaps lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, or a food allergy you didn’t know you had. Having an existing log can help you self-advocate for your health in the future.
It is important to ask yourself: what is your food goal? You might want to figure out what is causing painful bloating, eat enough while training for a marathon, find foods that relieve symptoms of a chronic disease, or regulate your weight while taking birth control. For each of these scenarios, tracking what you eat may help you stay in tune with what makes you feel your best. By cooking at home, eating mindfully, and keeping a log, you can find balance in how you fuel your body.