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By: SWEAT Trainer Jessica Mandac

I know I am not the only individual out there who wakes up at the crack of dawn to work two different jobs, and then has obligations after the work day in order to maintain somewhat of a social life, such as church small groups, book clubs, summer sport leagues, working out, baseball games, summer concerts, and fun dinners with friends. Having a busy life schedule like this can definitely pose a challenge when attempting to also maintain your health and fitness goals, specifically eating healthy and clean, am I right?! I'm hoping this post can shed a little light on this topic by offering some tips and tools so that eating healthy doesn't seem so impossible.

I'm not going to say that this is always easy to accomplish. I can't even say that I have it all the way figured out for what works best for me. It has taken a lot of trial and error to figure out just a couple of ways to make eating healthy while being really busy (and often times eating on the go) totally do-able.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm human, and cravings still occur.. A LOT, but I will say they happen much less, and I crave much healthier foods (even for dessert!) now. Also, don't think cravings are a bad thing. There are times where these cravings just need to be answered in order for us to stay sane, which I'll chat about in a little bit.

One of the biggest motivations for me to not answer these cravings every time they hit and to reach for a healthier option has been how I feel when I do eat healthier. Especially with the busy schedule, you'll most likely find that when you eat better, you have more energy and feel better getting through the craziness that can be the day.

Start Off Your Morning Right:

Sometimes what we eat (or don't eat) in the morning can impact the rest of our day. I know for myself I'm not usually super hungry in the morning, but often times I will have completed a workout in the morning, and know that I need to be good to my body and give it some nutrients. Whether or not you're in the same boat as me or breakfast just really isn't your thing, I would highly encourage at least getting something into your body that isn't just coffee filled with a bunch of creamer and sugar. I have found that for my early morning rises and busy schedule, smoothies and parfaits can be very quick, easy, and delicious. To keep these options even healthier, opt to use water and dairy-free milks (almond, coconut, cashew), find or make dairy-free "parfaits/puddings" that has a base with something like coconut or almond milk, use cinnamon/nutmeg/ginger/vanilla extract to add some flavor versus sugar/honey/syrups/agave, throw in some chia/flax seed/spinach (you won't even taste them, and they can add so much health!), add some cacao nibs if you're needing a little chocolate on your taste buds, toss in a nut mix, and vary the fruit you use to keep it interesting.

Meal Prepping/Making Your Own Lunch:

Eating out less by prepping my own meals, especially bringing a lunch every day has been very helpful. Meal prepping does not have to mean spending 5 hours on your Sunday to cook all of your meals for the week. I wouldn't have the time to do this even if I wanted to. I'll usually dedicate 60 minutes on a Sunday and 20-30 minutes on a weeknight to prep my lunch and snacks for the next day. Since there is more time on Sunday, that is when I can do a little more like bake all of the chicken/turkey meat/some protein source all at once and steam the veggies that I'd like for the week. Then at night, each day, for that 20-30 minutes, time is spent putting the meal together in tupper ware along with gathering a few snacks. If this sounds boring, you can do little things to keep your lunches interesting, yet healthy, like pick different sources of protein/veggies, add different seasonings, use condiments! (mustard, balsamic vinaigrette/glaze, oil/vinegar, hummus, avocado), and use some greens, whether it's in salad form or sautéed! You'll keep your taste buds, stomach, and mind guessing so that you continue to enjoy the food you've spent time putting together.

Bring your own snacks:

Snacking can almost be my middle name. Whether it's because I'm actually hungry, going to work out or just worked out, or just trying to fill some time, I'll admit, it happens. So, because of this, bringing my own snacks has really allowed me to keep it healthy. I'm sure you've heard this before, but it truly has been so helpful for me...when shopping for snacks, stay on the outside of the grocery store! Stick with the food that comes from the earth and is not processed and stuck on a shelf in the middle of the store (even Aldi is changing the set up of their stores to be more like this! Hello budget!). Find your favorite fruits, veggies, and nuts and spice things up a little bit rather than just thinking you need to eat these things raw. Add some healthy nut butter with your fruit, some hummus with your veggies, sprinkle on some cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger onto the nuts. Don't feel like you can't add some sort of little guilty pleasure to your snacks...make a home made trail mix and totally toss in some dark chocolate chips and/or coconut flakes. FULL DISCLOSURE: sometimes I just need a snack that doesn't come from the outside of the grocery store. I've turned to Larabars! If you haven't experienced these yet, I'd highly recommend it. I'm not a marketing person for them nor am I getting paid to say this! They're solely made from nuts, dates, and fruit. They're filling and have tons of different flavors to keep it exciting! Great quick snack on-the-go that doesn't need to be refrigerated! Oh and another good thing, there are a lot of fruit and veggie options that don't even need to be kept cold in order to be good! So, what it boils down to is, no excuses!

Bring a Lunchbox/Cooler:

I know most work environments have a fridge that you can store your lunch and snacks in, but what if yours doesn't or you work a lot on-the-go? Get a lunchbox or a small cooler, some ice packs, and viola, you've made your own fridge! I have a couple lunchboxes and several light weight coolers (the fabric kind, not the hard plastic) that have made eating healthy so much easier because I can keep my food cold as I'm out and about. Think about getting the ones with the strap so that it's even easier to carry around with you! Trust me, you'll feel much better grabbing for your grapes or veggies rather than a bag of chips. You'll also be saving some money, and who doesn't like that!?

Ask/Check What is In Your Food:

It's unrealistic to think that EVERY meal and snack can get eaten at home or can be something you've brought from home, and I understand that. However, even if you're eating out, you can still find ways to keep it healthy. I used to feel weird and needy about asking the waiter/waitress what was in my food, and it wasn't until I started having some stomach issues that I no longer cared all that much. But, honestly, even without experiencing some issues, I am so glad I now ask and can know what I am actually putting into my body.  It has been helpful that a large amount of restaurants and "fast food" places have been listing ingredients in their meals, however, once you dig a little deeper, you find that they definitely do not include everything. Little things to think about when ordering meals to keep them healthy, yet tasty, are: have something grilled rather than fried (duh right?), but when they grill ask them to put the spices you want on it and grilled in olive oil versus butter or something really fatty, ask for steamed veggies versus sautéed or baked (you'll get more nutrients that way and just like with grilling, you never really know what they're baking with!), use lettuce leaves or Portobello mushrooms as a "bun" versus the carb loaded option they might give, go with lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish, bison) versus more fatty ones, use olive oil/vinegar or balsamic vinaigrette as salad dressings versus ranch, French, blue cheese, Italian, etc. (and use the dressing sparingly, trust me, I've learned, a little goes a long way!), enjoy some fries, but make them sweet potato and have them bake them versus fried, and just like I said earlier spice things up with some yummy, healthy condiments! (mustard, balsamic vinaigrette/glaze, oil/vinegar, hummus, avocado).

Use Your Resources:

Through all of the trial and error, I have found that utilizing all of the wonderful resources around me has been super helpful to find quick and easy recipes that are healthy and so stinkin delicious. It's no doubt that eating healthy can be expensive and feel like it's going to be time consuming. But, if you find something healthy that you just love, I guarantee you that more often than not, you can figure out how to make it pretty easily and it'll be much cheaper than buying it out all of the time! Honestly, one of the biggest things I do is just pull up Google and search. For example, I recently tried an amazing coconut/chia seed "pudding" from Lyfe Kitchen (again, not marketing here, but it was oh-so good), but not cheap by any means, so I had to figure out how to make it. After a 2 second Google search, several different links and YouTube videos for various chia seed pudding recipes that take 5 minutes to make popped up. Another great resource is social media. I follow all sorts of bloggers, restaurants, grocery stores, and individuals that focus on the food I like to eat that are healthy (IG: @easyfitnessmeals, @maryandsara, @healthfoodguide, @justpaleofood, @paleodietrecipes, just to name a few!). I definitely know there are a lot of resources out there. It overwhelms me quite often, but I've found that if I just narrow things down and get specific, it makes it much easier!

Finally, Splurge a bit and Enjoy Everything in Moderation:

I used to take the words "splurge" or "cheat day" to the max on the weekends, which caused me to feel super guilty. This made my weekdays then feel like I was punishing myself, so I HAD to eat healthy to make up for how terrible I ate over the weekend. However, I have found that this does not have to be the case. Trust me, I still splurge and enjoy some "unhealthy" foods, but I've found that moderation and portion control have been KEY to how I feel. You need to be able to enjoy whatever your vice might be. I know for me it's pizza, burgers, and cheese! However, if you do so in moderation and in smaller portions, I know you'll feel better, and you won't feel like you have to punish yourself during the week. You'll actually just start to enjoy all of the stuff you're giving to your body!