Trash the Takeout: 5 Tips to build a Healthy Dinner After a Long Day

When I coach, one of the first things I like to learn is what obstacles are keeping my clients from reaching their health goals. There are literally dozens of reasons, but one of the most commonly recurring themes is being really, really freakin’ busy- and for good reason. I know how much I feel like cooking a healthy dinner after a 12 hour work day (hint: not very much at all). I also know exactly how tempting it can be to just cruise by a drive-thru window, or grab the phone and order Dominos, as I was once the queen of this practice. While pizza certainly has it’s place, the truth is that making a habit out of take-out is an easy way to derail your health goals. Fast food is almost always cooked in crappy oil, laden with sodium, full of non-foods/preservatives/added sugars, and low in nutrients. It’s also extremely high in calories (<– something I don’t worry much about when the calories come from wholesome, nourishing foods, but empty calories are an entirely different story)

Fortunately, a little bit of foresight can save you from settling when your intentions are good, but your schedule doesn’t quite align with your goals.  Here are my top 5 favorite tips to surviving the take-out temptation:

Frozen Food

We're not talking Lean Cuisine dinners. Come up with a couple of foods you can batch cook quickly and freeze in separate, small, Tupperware containers for easy defrosting. You can literally spend 20 minutes on a Sunday evening throwing chili ingredients in a crock pot, and freeze it the next morning. Think soups, stews, lentil sloppy joes, chili’s – anything nutritious that freezes well and can be popped in the microwave to thaw in a pinch. Also, while I’m not a fan of most frozen meals, Luvo makes some excellent frozen meals with clean ingredients, reduced sodium, no additives, and many are GMO free and organic. They’re available in most Whole Foods and can be ordered via amazon.

Know Your “Go-To” Dinners

Having a couple of what I call “quick and clean” recipes in your back pocket can be a lifesaver. Take a little time to research and develop a few that you like, and be mindful of always keeping the ingredients on hand (It also helps to build these recipes around foods you generally keep around the house). Maybe it’s an omelet, or a simple burrito bowl. One of my go-to Quick n’ Clean recipes for nights I can’t be bothered to “cook”, is zucchini noodle pasta. So, I always keep zucchini, bottled pasta sauce (Whole Foods 365 brand has some awesome, clean, organic options for like, 3 bucks), white beans or an Adele’s chicken sausage, and parmesan cheese, in the fridge for situations like this- because without fail, there is at least one night a week that I’m just too zonked. If I have extra veggies I’ll throw them in too – but it literally takes 5 minutes to make the noodles and heat them up with the other ingredients.

Sunday Food Prep

I can hear you groaning through the internet! I know, I know - no one likes food prep (if you are the rare exception, consider yourself lucky). But, if I had a dollar for every time prepping my food on a Sunday or Wednesday has saved me from spending $13 on a blah Whole Foods salad bar dinner or grabbing a Styrofoam breakfast sandwich from Starbucks, I’d have a nice little slush fund going. I’m not going to fully get into the benefits of food prep (that’s it’s own blog post), but think about how much easier it is to come home from work knowing you have chopped veggies, cooked protein, and prepared quinoa or cilantro cauliflower rice ready to go as the base of a nutritious, healthy, dinner. Takes a few hours on a Sunday, and I promise, there are ways to make it tolerable (Eg – glass of wine, music, getting the family involved, etc).

Indulge in Pre-Prepped Food

If food prep is just not going to happen for you, consider spending a little extra money on prepared foods such as rotisserie chicken, crushed garlic, bagged cut kale, frozen or pre-sliced veggies, etc. This can be slightly more expensive than prepping your own food, but it still generally costs less than eating out! Plus, if it’s going to help you make healthy decisions, it may be worth finding other areas where you can cut back.  

Find Fast Food Alternatives

More and more legitimately healthy take-out restaurants are popping up, and apps like Postmates make meal delivery from more high quality establishments possible. If you’re on a budget, get creative.  For example, you can order a “modified” salad from somewhere like California Pizza Kitchen - edit the ingredients so you know you’re getting extra veggies, protein, and healthy fat, and  swap their dressing for your own olive oil and vinegar. If this seems expensive, consider the fact that most restaurant salads can easily be split between 2 people, so a $12 salad actually comes out to $6 per person – about same as a take-out meal. Serve it with a piece of Ezekiel toast and grass-fed butter instead of their bleached white bread, and you’re looking at roughly the same cost as the take-out option, with more nutrition and fewer funky additives.

Want some inspiration for freezable meals, Quick N’ Clean Meals, or fast food alternatives? Follow my Pinterest page – or contact me directly. I’m always happy to help offer suggestions and tips!