It’s hard for those that haven’t been there to understand how medical school, residency and/or long hours in the hospital changes what and how we eat. There isn’t time to sit down to eat, there aren’t good choices and often, the only thing to eat is the “free” food at conferences. But…. Free food isn’t free. There’s a reason it’s cheap (poor ingredients) and that it “tastes good” (lots of fat, sugar and salt)… but it makes us feel terrible after we eat it. (Beware the middle of the night french fries!) More importantly, we aren’t providing the nutrients we need to take care of other people and ourselves. So, what’s the answer?
Spend the money and the time to invest in your health! Grabbing donuts or bagels in the surgeons’ lounge in the morning, pizza at noon-day conference and a hamburger at MacDonald’s in the middle of the night is terrible. (You know it’s true).
So what’s the alternative? Here’s a five-step, easy plan that will let you eat better, feel better and avoid gaining weight in medical school and residency. This is predicated on cooking your own food but you can use this plan if you don’t cook by buying prepackaged foods. But really…. If you can learn how to take out a gallbladder or care for ill patients in the ICU don’t you think you can learn how to sauté a few vegetables???
- Make a plan
- Make a shopping list
- Shop once for the week and (when you can) prep ahead
- Use your day(s) off to cook things that might take a bit more time and freeze some for other days
- Keep a few “instant” healthy meals in your pantry
Make a plan
Map out your week’s meals and snacks using the “pizza rule” (nothing you cook should take longer to cook than it takes to order a pizza). Pay special attention to call days. It’s important to have really delicious food which can be grabbed in a minute when you are on call. I use Evernote to make my list for the week so I can share it with my family:
If you like to cook, you probably already know where to find recipes you’ll like. If you don’t cook regularly, I post recipes on @drmlb with #CallFood that meet the “pizza rule” and would be delicious on call. Here are few other sites I use regularly: Eating Well, Cooking LIght, My Recipes, Food Network, Kayln’s Kitchen, Skinny Taste. If you use Evernote to organize your list, it gives you one other advantage – you can download their add-on and clip recipes from the internet directly to Evernote. Each “note” (i.e. recipe) in Evernote can then be shared with whoever you cook with (i.e. whoever gets home first can start dinner!). It also lets you search all your notes so you can easily find your recipes in the future.
Make a shopping list
I use Grocery IQ for my shopping list. This app lets you organize your grocery list by the aisles in your favorite stores to make shopping faster. It also allows you to share the list with your significant other which means that whoever is able to get to the store first has the updated shopping list! I don’t really use the “coupon” feature or the barcode scanner, but if you choose to use these functions, please use the FoodEducate app with it to make sure your choices are healthy!
There are other apps for shopping which come recommended by others which, to be fair, I thought I should share: Any List, Pantry Manager, Paprika
Shop once and (when you can) prep ahead
Planning lets you spend less time in the grocery store and absolutely means less food wasted. When you get home from the store think about the meals you are going to cook later in the week. If your carrot soup on Tuesday calls for sliced carrots, diced fennel and chopped onions, chop them when you get back from the store on Sunday and put your “mise en place” in baggies or containers in the refrigerator. Cooking is not that time consuming…. but prepping is!
One other good trick is to make “mirepoix” on the weekend for the week. Diced onions, carrots, celery, bell peppers, etc can be prepped and put in a bag. It can be an instant stir-fry on nights when you need something fast. You can also put a handful in soups, omelettes, or wraps to get extra vegetables in your day. Mix it with leftover rice or other grains to make an instant salad (you can add tuna, if you want, too).
Use your day(s) off to cook things that might take a bit more time and freeze some for other days.
You need good “comfort food” when you are working hard, but it can be both comforting and healthy. For example, this recipe for spaghetti squash lasagna. The preparation for this recipe isn’t that hard (you can steam the spaghetti squash in the microwave instead of roasting it in the oven, for example) but it’s a little too long for nights when you get home late and are really tired.
Learning to use a pressure cooker (my favorite) or a slow cooker like a crock pot is a great way to cook up a batch of something when you are home and doing other things without spending a large amount of time in the kitchen
No matter what you make or how you make it, make enough to freeze individual portions and then store them so they will stay fresh. Don’t forget to mark the containers with a Sharpie and eat them within 3-4 months!
Keep a few “instant” healthy meals in your pantry
Despite my best efforts to plan, there are weeks when I’ve miscalculated amounts, don’t have enough time or just don’t want to eat what I had planned. When that happens, it’s great to have a go-to “instant” meal, which usually comes out of the freezer and pantry. Here are some to get your list started!
Moroccan Lentil Stew – (particulary good with harissa and served over couscous)
Quick meals from frozen ravioli
Shrimp fried rice