It’s safe to say that I’ve been sucked in by food Instagrams, and busy teacher Cole’s account is no exception. So when she agreed to do a Q&A about meal prep, I was thrilled! I definitely struggle when it comes to planning meals. A lot of the time I blame it on living alone and getting an all-you-can-eat, relatively healthy lunch (for just $3!) at work every day—two factors that mean I don’t need to go grocery shopping quite as much (excuses, excuses). However, when I get home, I’m often at a loss for how to use what I do have in order to create a meal that’s both delicious and nutritious. I also have a hard time eating the same thing multiple days in a row (a bad habit that apparently dates back to my highchair days, just ask my mom—supposedly I’d refuse to consume anything that I’d already had the day before!). Thankfully, Cole (who just so happens to be a former college classmate of mine!) is here to share a little bit of wisdom with regard to planning ahead, making the most of your weekly supplies (so that you aren’t eating the same meal on repeat—yesss!), and staying full over the course of a long day on the job. Check out our Q&A below (all photos featured in this post are Cole’s—follow her account for more!):
Q: How often do you go grocery shopping? Do you set a specific budget per week or per month? Where do you save and where do you splurge?
A: I grocery shop one to three times per week, depending on what I have going in the days ahead. I make it a priority to grocery shop on Saturday or Sunday so that I feel ready going into the work week. I’ll get most of what I need for the week during these trips, but will take 1 to 2 small, additional trips to the grocery store later on.
I don’t have a specific food budget, but I would say I spend a solid $100 on groceries a week, because I cook most of my meals and feel strongly that health is an investment. I don’t have specific a budget that I stay within, though. I rely on a lot of staples that I don’t need to re-purchase every week, so if I run out of something like olive oil, for example, I’ll probably spend a little bit more during the week I replace it. I don’t really have any weekly purchases that I splurge on, though there are some staples, like nut butters, oil, and smoothie add-ins, that I’ll invest in, since I can use them across many weeks or even months. I don’t buy all of my produce organic, but I do buy organic for a few items, such as fruits or veggies with thin peels that are more likely to have pesticide residue, like strawberries (note from Sarah: I’ve heard that these are one of the best fruits to buy organic if you can, for this reason!) or cherries for example. I won’t waste money buying organic avocados or bananas, though, because they have thick skin, which means they’re less likely to have pesticide residue.
Q: What are five to 10 items that should be on every young professional’s grocery list?
A: That’s a hard question! It really depends on your diet, but as a person who is fortunate to have basically no medical dietary restrictions, my weekly staples are whole wheat/multi grain/sourdough bread, brown rice/quinoa/healthy pastas, avocados, lemons, tomatoes, green beans, greens (romaine/mixed/spinach), bananas, eggs, beans (chickpeas/black beans), and organic turkey. I’ve found so many creative ways to make quick and nutritious meals with all of these things (seriously—try to find an instagram post of mine that doesn’t have one of these items!). As for kitchen staples, I always have olive/avocado oil/ghee, salt/pepper, collagen peptides (protein to put in smoothies), nut butters (almond/cashew/peanut), nut milk (cashew/almond), whole nuts, and dark chocolate.
Q: Based on your feed, it looks like you prep a lot of your lunches at work. What items do you keep on hand in the school fridge? How do you switch things up from day to day?
A: In our shared school kitchen space, I always have some healthy bread, avocado mayo, pepper jelly, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chia/hemp/flax seeds. I’ll make easy meals during school by bringing in things to supplement what’s already there. So for breakfast, I’ll bring hard boiled eggs and sprinkle them with seeds/salt/pepper when I get there, or I’ll bring an avocado to make avocado toast with pepper jelly in our shared kitchen space. For lunch, I’ll bring a little bag with some turkey slices, avocado, tomato, and lettuce, and then toast my school bread and make a sandwich or salad on the spot. I also keep Trader Joe’s veggie gyoza in the freezer in case I’m really in a pinch and didn’t have time to prep anything beforehand or want something fast. A lot of times, I have leftovers from my dinner that I cooked the night before, and I’ll bring them in a glass tupperware to heat up in our shared microwave, and then I’ll add some of my seeds on top.
Q: Where do you get your meal inspiration? Do you enjoy recreating recipes or do you prefer to whip up your own experimental dishes?
A: I get inspiration from a lot of my favorite Instagram food bloggers, but like my Instagram handle suggests, I’m not a huge fan of actual cookbooks or intricate recipes. If I see something I love on a food blogger’s page, sometimes I’ll try to re-create it with whatever I have at home and change it up to make it work for me, rather than following an exact recipe. I like intuitive cooking mostly–just staying in tune with what my body is craving and making up recipes based on the foods I feel like eating. For the most part, I’m not super concerned with exact measurements or serving sizes.
Q: When you have a desk job it’s easier to take multiple “snack breaks” throughout the day, but working on your feet (not to mention being in front of students!) all day make this more difficult. What are your tips for staying full throughout a hectic work day?
A: It’s definitely hard for teachers to stay full during the work day! A lot of times, teachers are too busy to eat a real breakfast that fills them up, and then they’re starving by 10 am but don’t have time to make food, because they have a class of 30 kids to watch until their 12 pm prep period. I think teachers can stay full by really prioritizing eating a healthy and filling breakfast. This does take a little prep work, but I think investing a little time before—such as making hard boiled eggs on Sunday night, making a smoothie to take to school, or bringing in a jar of your favorite nut butter to keep in your classroom—can really make your day better, because you actually have energy to do what is a difficult and physically-demanding job. To stay full, you don’t necessarily need to be eating a lot of snacks, but you should prioritize having snacks that are nutritious and high in healthy fats and protein (such as peanut butter and apples, hard boiled eggs, an avocado/spinach/pineapple/protein smoothie, granola bars with low sugar and real ingredients, veggies and hummus, or cheese and turkey with healthy crackers). Just as we build in time to lesson plan, we need to build in time to feed ourselves, because what we put into our bodies has a profound effect on our mood and energy level throughout the day–not to mention on our long-term health!
Q: How are you working to help change people’s attitudes when it comes to eating healthy foods? I saw you arranged a sandwich-making workshop for your fellow teachers—what were their takeaways?
A: There’s a HUGE food community on Instagram filled with incredible chefs, dieticians, nutritionists, and health coaches, and I love learning from that world, but I’m ultimately just a teacher who prioritizes her health and is trying to help other teachers do the same. My goal is to inspire teachers to make time to take care of themselves in all sorts of ways, but most importantly through what they choose to eat. Teaching can be such a self-sacrificing profession, so I think it’s really important to remind ourselves that our own health and well being matters and is actually essential to us doing a great job for our kids. Besides just hoping to inspire teachers through my Instagram and blog, I also work with teachers as a health and wellness coach, making them meal plans, grocery lists, and meal prep instructions that incorporate the specific foods they love.
I organized a sandwich making workshop for our amazing staff because I wanted to show them how easy it is to make a sandwich right at school with just a little prep beforehand. A lot of teachers were really grateful for the prompt and loved the opportunity to create their own healthy lunch in our school building where we spend so much of our time. I love when I get photos from teacher friends of their healthy meals—it makes me so happy, or as teachers say, really fills my bucket!