When you’re having an ‘off’ day, finding the energy to eat well can be a challenge – but fuelling ourselves properly is one of the best ways to get back to our best selves. Here, expert columnist Claudine Thornhill shares essential tips to keep you nourished, even when it’s been a long day…
Off days are inevitable, and they tend to negatively affect our eating habits. Even the most diligent of meal preppers, balanced eaters, and foodie types can be caught out by having an ‘off day’.
As a nutritional therapist and health coach, I work with women who are spinning multiple plates, due to busy careers, sometimes alongside thriving businesses or side hustles, busy family lives, caring responsibilities, and commitments at home. And that’s on top of trying to maintain social relationships, and cultivate hobbies and interests. I see many people struggle with catering to their own needs, even those as basic as eating well.
On those days when you’re feeling uninspired, unmotivated, have low mood or low energy, are stressed, overwhelmed, or simply off, just coming up with nourishing meal ideas can feel like a mammoth task, never mind conjuring up the energy and patience to stand in the kitchen and actually prepare the meal. It’s tempting to reach for the quick and easy fixes – the crisps, chocolate bars, pastries, and biscuits to fill that hunger gap, and it makes sense. The fat and sugar content of these foods provide a quick dose of energy, albeit short-lived. It’s equally tempting to reach for the array of options that come in a few clicks on a food delivery app. The evidence shows that people are less able to make healthy choices when they are stressed, tired, and hungry, and although there are some great balanced options you can order online, it’s more likely that the high fat, sugar, and starchy carb options will stand out.
So, what should we do when we really can’t be arsed, but still want to nourish our bodies? Here are some proven tips that work.
Firstly, don’t get caught out by an empty kitchen. We’ve all been there, standing in front of the open fridge door, searching for inspiration, but it’s unlikely to come if the fridge is empty. Set yourself up for success by having quick and easy staples to hand. These might include couscous, rice noodles, tinned tomatoes and tomato puree, spice pastes, tinned beans, frozen vegetables, fresh soups, and flatbreads including pitta bread – these are also great freezer options. Have a tasty curry ready in 15 minutes by combining your frozen mixed vegetables, tinned chickpeas, curry paste, tomato puree, and a little water. Your curry can be served alongside flatbread or couscous. Similarly, throw frozen mixed vegetables in a pan, and combine with rice noodles that have been soaked in boiling water, add soy sauce or tamari, peanut butter, and whatever spices you have to hand, and you’ll have a tasty noodle dish in a similar time.
Lean on the good days
Harness the energy of when you’re firing on all cylinders to prepare for those off days. Leveraging the times when you’re super productive means that you could pre-wash, peel, and chop your vegetables so that they are ready to go when you are. You might cook a few extra portions of a meal, and put some aside to keep in the fridge or freezer. You could also use the same ingredients to make two different meals, one of which can be called upon on an off day.
We have to dedicate some time to one of the most versatile foods: eggs. With their healthy fats and protein content, eggs will provide you with energy and keep you full. Their versatility is an added bonus, from a lazy boiled egg with a slice of toast, to more sophisticated omelettes, or a fancy shakshuka using tinned tomatoes and beans, eggs are the full package. Egg muffins make a tasty breakfast or a snack option, and can be stored in the fridge for a few days. Cook whisked eggs in a pre-oiled muffin tin, add cheese, veg or salmon, and herbs of your choice.
Snacking is where a lot of people can sabotage their health goals. Although eating full meals reduces the urge to snack, preparing balanced and nourishing snacks can ward off hunger for a few hours. Some options to keep in the back pocket are hummus and sliced tomatoes on corn cakes, peanut butter stuffed dates, Greek yoghurt with berries, apple slices with almond butter (add a little salt and cinnamon for extra flavour), popcorn, nuts, or a fruit platter.
Off days happen to the best of us, but let us eat well while we’re feeling off.
Visit the Nutritionist Resource to find out more, or speak to a qualified nutritionist.