Being an academic is demanding.
There are classes to teach, papers to write, research meetings to attend, and conference presentations to prepare. To do all of that we need sustenance. The irony is that with all of these responsibilities, we only have a limited amount of time to prepare any meals.
Having recently received my PhD in Health Communication, I’m passionate about making healthy living, in particular healthy eating, as simple and enjoyable as possible.
Below I share three strategies that I’ve used over the years to help me maintain a healthy diet.
Strategy #1: Meal Prepping
Many of you have probably heard of meal prepping and may even do it for yourself. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s basically when you set aside a block of time to batch cook your meals for several days or even weeks in advance.
Sounds great, right? It is!
There’s just one drawback with meal prepping that people tend to gloss over as they sing its praises. While it saves time, in the long run, it still takes time to do.
What about those weeks when you have next to no energy to meal prep? All is not lost.
Strategy #2: Low Effort Meals
This is where my second strategy comes into play – low-effort meals.
Low effort meals are meals you can throw together on the fly (15 minutes or less).
Think about things like salads, wraps, and sandwiches.
My grocery lists always include ingredients for low-effort meals because even with the best of intentions to meal prep, life can happen.
Here’s a scenario I’ve found myself in before. Tell me if this sounds at all familiar:
Girl spends an hour grocery shopping.
Girl comes home and unloads groceries.
Girl doesn’t feel like cooking so she gets back in her car and goes to Subway.
What’s crazy is that the same sandwich that I got at Subway I could have made for myself if I had just picked up the right ingredients at the store. After repeating this enough times, I eventually learned my lesson.
In addition to meal prep ingredients, I now always buy items that I can use to make a quick and healthy meal.
Below I share three of my go to low-effort meals.
Caveat: While I don’t meal prep every week, usually I do make baked chicken. Chicken takes more than 15 minutes to cook, but all I have to do is season it which takes under five. Having baked chicken on hand is great because it lends itself to so many different meals – salads, sandwiches, wraps, or with veggies.
Low Effort Meal #1: Baked Chicken with “Fried Rice”
Walmart has cauliflower “fried rice” crumbles that I really like. By adding ¼ cup of soyaki sauce (Trader Joe’s) and an egg I end up with a dish that tastes very similar to fried rice but is much better for me.
If you don’t live close to a Trader Joe’s (seriously, who does) you should be able to find a similar product at your local grocery store in the “ethnic/Asian” food aisle (yes, read that with sarcasm). For the baked chicken, I’ll season it with yuzu, fresh ginger, garlic, and sea salt.
Low Effort Meal #2: Teriyaki Chicken Deli Wrap
I enjoy a good deli wrap.
The problem is if I buy them pre-made they often have a lot of extra (read: not that healthy) ingredients that I don’t want. To make my own wraps I use Joseph’s Lavash Bread.
You can find these at Harris Teeter or Walmart. This has quickly become my go-to wrap because it’s sturdy, tastes great, and is low calorie.
I use Boar’s Head in my wraps because they have a nice selection of meats and cheeses, they’re good quality, and I can go to the deli counter and get the exact amount that I want. Then I’ll add some shredded lettuce for bulk, and a little sriracha or spicy mustard for a kick. If I’d like a little more heat and crunch, I may opt for jalapeno slices.
Low Effort Meal #3: Blueberry, Basil, and Fig Goat Cheese Salad
This is one of my favorite salads because it’s so simple but so good. For this salad I season my chicken with basil, cilantro, lemon pepper, black pepper, and sea salt. Then I add in blueberries, some fig goat cheese (Harris Teeter), and use a balsamic fig dressing spray (Walmart). You can easily swap out the fruit or cheese depending on your preferences. The possibilities are endless.
Strategy #3: Always pack snacks!
The third strategy I use is to always carry healthy snacks with me.
I keep a stash of healthy snacks in my office, but I also like to physically have snacks on me at all times.
It’s a must (yes, I’m like a 3-year old that way). This way if a meeting runs over, I get stuck in traffic, or if I’m just unexpectedly hungry, I’ve got something to eat that’s good for me.
So that just about sums it up.
Those are the three main things I’ve done that have helped me maintain a healthy diet over the years.
Hopefully, you’ve picked up a few ideas about how you can balance the demands of academia with a healthy diet. It’s totally doable! The key thing is to find what works for you, and establish a routine.
And if you’re interested in more healthy meal ideas – be it for meal prepping or low effort meals, or the musings of a recent health communication PhD, come on over to A Bit of Chi.
You may also want to sign up for my “Chi Chats” digital newsletter. I offer no-nonsense advice on how to be successful in graduate school and beyond all while protecting your health. You can sign up on my blog!
Chioma is a recent PhD graduate from UNC Chapel Hill, making the transition into being a full-time researcher.