I am a home health physical therapist. That means I spend my days driving from home to home, with small breaks in between taken while I’m driving. It’s so easy to stop at a fast food joint for a quick bite- if only to have a fresh, hot cooked meal, even if it isn’t healthy! It’s hard to save money when you’re spending it on the road. Being in a car all the time somehow makes me want to snack. And sometimes I just crave comfort food, especially if there’s a challenging patient situation.
I used to start every week with grand plans to cook wholesome meals every night and bring the leftovers to work with me the next day. Voila, healthy food and not eating out! Then the mid-week rush would hit and I would find myself getting home too tired to cook, thereby missing dinner that night and buying lunch out the next day.
This year, I’ve come up with a few hacks to take care of this issue. I hope you find at least some of them helpful! Let me know in the comments down below.
This is a big one. It always seemed so daunting, something that could only possibly work for someone uber-organized. I was hesitant to start this because of the time I thought it would take to plan ahead, of how organized I would have to be to make a list and buy everything I needed at the grocery store, and how it would take precious time on the weekend to make all the food for the following week. Well I found there was a missing ingredient to all this mess, which was the enthusiasm I had for doing it! I was so excited for the prospect of having a healthy, low-cost prepared lunch made for me every day, that the planning was not an issue. It’s made me feel more organized and on top of my sh** than ever. Meal planning rocks!
I first came upon this idea listening to Terry Crews interviewed by Tim Ferriss on his podcast, “The Tim Ferriss Show“. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was able to attend this podcast interview live in Los Angeles, or that it was just in fact an awesome interview, or that Terry Crews has some amazing life experience (probably a combination of all three), but I got SO MUCH out of it. Intermittent fasting is the idea of fasting for 16 of the 24 hours in a day. You can eat during an 8 hour span. Then you give your digestive system a rest. I eat in the morning, and I (try to)only eat whole, unprocessed, high-quality foods. I’ll have breakfast around 7, then lunch around 11 or 12, snack at 3, and a small, protein packed snack when I get home around 8. Yes, I get hungry. But since starting this my back has felt better, I’m losing my cupcake muffin top middle, and I don’t have to worry about doing dishes after dinner! Win win win! I think I’ll eat an actual dinner a couple nights a week, since I don’t like to be no-holds-barred rigid on anything I do. And an additional side effect? Less money spent on food!
Arsenal of cheapo/healthy lunch places around town
I do home health physical therapy most days a week. That means I could be anywhere in Los Angeles around noon. If I haven’t meal-prepped properly and I don’t have my lunch with me, I’ll have to find a place nearby. My criteria: Under $10. Nothing fried, dripping with sauce, or overly heavy on the rice/bread type carbs. Here’s a list of my go-to places in Los Angeles: There’s only 3, but I’m usually close to one of these places around lunchtime, and if I’m not, I’ll hold it ‘til I get there- these places are the perfect combination of delicious, healthy, quick, and low-priced. Hard to find that perfect mix.
Benito’s Tacos. Santa Monica Blvd. in West LA.
You can get a hefty $3 basic taco here, but the chicken (I’ve only tried the chicken) tastes like it’s been stewing all day, and somehow it goes really well with the iceberg lettuce and the orange shredded cheese! I order the soft taco, so it’s not fried, and I always throw some salsa and jalapenos on top.
El Cartel on Wilshire Blvd in Mid-City LA, west of LACMA.
This place has a variety of tacos and empanadas for $3 -6. You can make it healthier by ordering your taco in a lettuce wrap. The empanadas are not so healthy being that they are fried but on occasion I’ll make an exception for the pulled pork and pineapple one- like I said, I don’t like to be rigid!
Bibi’s Bakery & Cafe. Pico-Robertson.
I found this place on yelp and took a chance. Boy did I get lucky! This place is family-owned and is a bakery that serves kosher Israeli food. I ordered a sabich sandwich which is a fresh-baked pita filled with roasted eggplant, hard boiled egg, chopped tomato salad, and a delicious spicy sauce for under $6! They have tons of other stuff on the menu, also low-priced and fresh- I just love the sabich so much I crave it and haven’t branched out yet.
Go-to snack foods that are filling and healthy
Clif kidz bars.
$0.69 each. Regular Clif bars are too big and I feel bloated after I eat one. But I can’t just eat half! The other half just sits in my pocket and gets squished and soggy and covered in lint. So a waste of half a Clif bar. Clif kidz bars are on the other hand- it’s weird, I usually get tired of stuff, but I’ve been eating one bar a day for the past couple of years I think. No more than one per day though- that ruins it for me. Just one, to stave off hunger pains around 3pm.
Individual packs of Omega trek mix from Trader Joe’s.
Another snack I haven’t gotten tired of. One pack a day. I don’t like the plastic waste that comes from those individual packs, but it’s too convenient to pass up.
Piece of fruit.
I’ll vary the fruit by season. I have to cut apples up or else they don’t get eaten. Recently I’ve gotten into navel oranges, despite the mess they are to peel. Berries are a decadent treat and full of antioxidents. I’ll splurge on my health for berries for sure! Dates can work too.
I label them with a Sharpie to separate them from the unboiled eggs in the fridge. I put a “B” on them. Somebody thought it was a heart once, which I thought was nice! <3
Roasted sweet potato.
These are delicious, satisfy a sweet tooth, and are packed with vitamins and minerals. Way better than a snickers bar. They are so easy to make: wash, then poke holes in it with a fork. Place in a cold oven, right on the grate. Put some foil on the bottom of the oven to catch any drips or else you’ll have a sticky mess to clean. Turn on to back at 425 for 40 minutes- you might have to experiment to find the exact right time and temperature. Voila! I peel them and put in a glass togo container. Easy to eat and super healthy.
I bring 3 water bottles with me and try to finish them all by the end of the day. It’s a fountain of youth! Keeps your skin wrinkle-free! Prevents mid-afternoon crash. The one caveat- for a home health therapist, finding a bathroom can be no small feat. But I drink water anyways. The benefits are so important. I can see in my patients the difference between the ones who took care of themselves when they were young and the ones who didn’t. The struggle is real, my friends. Do it now, before it’s too late.