Rituals are powerful things.
Rituals connect us to a recurring cycle of events. Whether it’s a birthday, a bar mitzvah, or your regular Friday night get-togethers with your buddies, rituals are about the regular rhythms of life.
Rituals connect us to the past and the future. Rituals let us review events that have already occurred (e.g. a year gone by) and look ahead to what’s to come (e.g. a new year ahead of us).
Rituals place us in the present and connect us to our lives right now. By actively participating in rituals we are effectively saying “I’m here, paying attention to what’s happening”.
Rituals can connect us to other people. Most of our rituals are social rituals — holidays, graduations, etc. Rituals give us a chance to check in with others and be part of a collective phenomenon.
Rituals can connect us to ourselves. We can use rituals as a way to “touch base” with ourselves as well as other people. Prayer and meditation, for instance, are rituals that people use to step out of the flow of daily life, and to pause for a few moments of self-engagement and reflection.
Food rituals are much the same.
Indeed, most of our rituals involve food: The cake on our birthday. The buffet at the wedding. The familiar dishes on holidays. The offerings or communion at religious ceremonies. The breakfast we make ourselves every morning, without fail, exactly the same way as yesterday.
Whether big or small, rituals ground us. They organize us. They’re a chance to “check in”. To refresh, renew, regroup, and rejoice.
Which makes them perfect for a planning and proactive coaching strategy.
The food prep ritual
The food prep ritual is a simple idea, and one of the oldest and best strategies.
Plan and prepare some healthy food in advance, so that it’s easily available when you want and need it.
This can include:
· Shopping (or arranging to have food delivered)
· Menu and meal planning
· Washing and chopping vegetables
· Cooking/preparing protein (e.g. cooking up some chicken breasts)
· Cooking meals in bulk (e.g. casseroles, soups, stews, chili)
· Preparing the dry ingredients for things like Super Shakes or healthy muffin mix
· Soaking grains/beans beforehand so that they’ll be ready to cook later
· Sorting foods into smaller containers or baggies
· Freezing and refrigerating food for later
· Planning healthy meals that someone else cooks (e.g. using a meal delivery service, deciding in advance what to order at a restaurant, etc.)
· Looking ahead to ensure healthy eating strategies during the next few days, especially during difficult times (e.g. a busy week, traveling, dealing with a family crisis, etc.)
What it looks like from here is up to you.
Here are some examples of how to apply the FPR concept.
The Sunday ritual: 1–2 hours
This doesn’t have to be a Sunday. It can be any day where you have a few hours to shop, cook, and prepare some food in advance.
On this day, you can do things like:
· Buying groceries for the week (or at least the next several days); stocking up on easy staples such as canned beans, pre-washed veggies, etc.
· Cooking large meals that can be refrigerated or frozen in smaller portions (e.g. chili)
· Cooking lean protein in bulk (e.g. roasting a couple of chickens, putting several meat patties on the grill, boiling several eggs, etc.)
· Creating any sauces or condiments needed, such as a fish oil vinaigrette
· Washing, peeling, and chopping veggies
Here’s one of my fellow Precision Nutrition coaches, Jason Bonn, the acknowledged Food Prep Master, demonstrating his Sunday Ritual magic.
The evening ritual: 15 minutes
If you are willing to take an extra 15 minutes in the evening, you can often prep enough healthy food for the following day.
This can include:
· Making extra dinner so that they have leftovers for lunch the next day
· Putting a bowl of steel-cut oats on the counter to soak overnight; in the morning, the oats will cook in no time flat (you can do the same for slow-cooking grains such as wild rice — start soaking them one evening, and they’ll be ready to cook quickly the following evening).
· Doing a little extra veggie chopping or protein prep while dinner is cooking
· Chopping some veggies and meat, putting it in a slow cooker dish, and refrigerating the dish; next morning, the client can pull the cooker dish out of the fridge, pop it into the cooker, turn the cooker on, and enjoy coming home that evening to a delicious home-cooked meal
The breakfast ritual: 15 minutes
This one is for the morning people. If clients are willing to take an extra 15 minutes in the morning, they can prep healthy food for the rest of the day.
This can include:
· Making a Super Shake to bring with them to work (and leave in the work fridge)
· Packing a lunch (e.g. some of your pre-frozen chili or other bulk meal, dinner leftovers, a wrap)
· Doing a little extra veggie chopping or protein prep while breakfast is cooking
· Chopping some veggies and meat, putting it in a slow cooker, and the next morning, turn the cooker on, and enjoy coming home that evening to a delicious home-cooked meal
The 1-minute ritual
Even if clients feel they can’t spare 15 minutes, they can at least spareone minute.
One-minute “plan and prep” actions can include:
When you’re already at the store
· Pick up a rotisserie chicken.
· Pick up pre-washed vegetables or pre-made salads.
· Think ahead to the food prep sessions and buy in bulk.
· Grab an apple or bag of baby carrots to snack on as you peruse the aisles, so you don’t make decisions while being insane from hunger.
When you’re out for dinner
· Check out the restaurant’s menu in advance and decide beforehand what to get.
· Grab a doggie bag.
· If you can get a large portion and not eat it all, do so purposely, and then go for the aforementioned doggie bag. (By the way, include the leftover meat bits and bones in your doggie bag. You can make them into soup… see below.)
When you’re already cooking
· Chop, wash, or prep one extra item (e.g. peel one more carrot; chop one more pepper; toss one more chicken breast on the grill; wash an apple; etc.).
· Put away leftovers immediately (so you’re not tempted to snack on them) into a container for later.
· After dinner, dump leftover meat bits (e.g. chicken or steak bones, ends of cooked meat, etc.), veggies, grains/beans, etc. into the slow cooker. Cover with water, turn the pot on low, and leave it overnight. In the morning you’ll have delicious soup broth that you can then use as the base for quick soups. (Just pick the bones out.)
· Think “one meal ahead” and “one behavior ahead”. In other words, anticipate what you might need, want, and/or feel in 2-4 hours from now.
· Anticipate hunger levels and food needs; anticipate feelings like “At 3 pm, I know I’ll want to eat ____.”
· Call or place an Internet order with a healthy meal or grocery delivery service — even if that’s just occasionally, when you know you’ll otherwise struggle to find healthy options.
Practiced planning and preparation = Proactivity
With practice, you can routinize and ritualize these types of thinking and behavior patterns.
Even one minute of deliberate planning and preparation done regularly will, over time, dramatically enhance your’ sense of control and proactivity.
And, again, rituals allow us to “pause and reflect” — to take a few moments out of our chaotic lives to find calm, order, and regularity.
All of which eventually enable you to make more thoughtful choices. And, of course, to change for the better.
What to do today
Recognize the power of rituals.
Rituals ground us and let us “check in” with our lives and routines. Harness the instinctive human desire for rituals in the service of nutritional change.
Create new rituals.
Today, try creating a food prep ritual of some kind for your clients. It doesn’t have to be elaborate — even a few minutes, done daily or at least regularly, can dramatically improve their sense of control and proactivity..