“The traditional way of meal prepping (at least as far as I have been taught) is to set aside one night a week to prepare your meals for the entire upcoming week. I have tried this approach, and usually found it far too daunting, since I would easily spend 3-5 hours trying to make enough food to get me through the week. On top of all the things I have to get done, this quickly seemed like too much of a time investment for me, and I fell back into old habits (eating out, eating ready-made meals, etc.). A simple modification that has worked well for me is to meal prep on two different days every week in order to “cut down” the time I have to invest per day (I know this is purely psychological, but hey, we all have to find ways to trick ourselves). To me, it’s much more manageable to spend 1-2 hours on two separate days than to invest 4-5 hours in one day, especially when I combine the time I spend cooking with other chores. This way, I feel more productive and don’t feel like I’m “wasting” time meal prepping that I could spend doing other things. Sometimes, I also try to time my meal prepping in such a way that it serves either as a study break or my wind-down time in the evening; that way, I feel less guilty about leaving my desk, especially during crunch time.
I guess I’ll finish with the main thing I used to struggle with, which was thinking that I had to go all in right away. The nice thing about nutrition is that it’s not all-or-nothing, and with most of us being perfectionists, we tend to lose sight of that sometimes (at least I sure did). If you’re someone who seriously struggles with nutrition, try making small changes over time and rocking those small changes guilt-free rather than trying to overhaul your whole life at once.”
Ricarda Konder Dalhousie University Class of 2020
"As a kid, I always ate what my parents made, which mostly consisted of some kind of meat with potatoes or rice, and a salad. My mother also liked to garden, so we had fresh vegetables occasionally. I feel that much of my nutritional habits stemmed from my parents. Once I moved away for school, I felt that I was able to be more selective in my food choices. My diet now pretty much consists of Canada's Food Guide groups, but not in the exact portions they recommend. I try to eat more to match the energy needs of my physical activity during the day.
My Kinesiology Co-op degree compliments my positive relationship with food. With the background it provided me in exercise and nutrition, I feel that I am able to eat well and stay well. Once in awhile my nutritional habits slip, and this definitely impacts the way I feel. Generally, I think feeling well is one of the first steps to having a productive day, so I do my best to eat the nutritional foods that I enjoy.
I would say to anyone struggling with nutrition that having a routine is incredibly important. That way you know how much time you have, so you can plan to do groceries and cook accordingly. I would also say meal prepping is important, because then you have a specific grocery list, so you know what to purchase and are less likely to have impulse buys. Don't feel that you need to pressure yourself to diet because adherence to any diet can be challenging. We as students already have so much pressure and stress in our life. I think it's more important to find healthy foods that you enjoy and incorporate those into your lifestyle!"
Bradley Rietze Northern Ontario School of Medicine Class of 2021
“While we live in a country with food abundance, I think that we need to learn to eat mindfully and create positive relationships with food. I have personally had to rethink the way I eat after noticing my own body’s metabolic changes. I simply cannot eat the same amount I did when I was younger without putting on weight. More than just caloric ins and outs, I have come to appreciate food as fuel and the need to put good fuel into your body. While this is sometimes easier said than done, especially during exam season and busy clinic schedules for medical students, the extra effort pays its dividends in thought clarity and physical energy.
The very first patient I ever spoke to expressed how there were hardly any food options on the patient menu that aligned with his plant-based diet. Though not completely surprised by this, it made me really think about how we need to do more and learn more about nutrition. The irony of a fast food truck outside of a heart institute and the ever-growing line in front of Tim Horton’s at any hospital has never been lost on me.
Through enhancing nutrition curriculum in medical school and leading nutrition-focused initiatives, we can guide our patients to be more aware of their food choices. We currently have fairly limited exposure to nutrition in our present medical school curriculum. We hope through advocacy efforts that we can expand the core learning material that medical students are exposed to, as this will prove to be beneficial in many areas of medicine. Through the Medical Students Promoting Nutrition interest group, we bring in dietitians, clinicians and professors to share their knowledge with us on a variety of nutrition-related topics. This has definitely been enlightening and helped in part to fill this knowledge gap.
We need to continue to have more conversations about nutrition and people’s relationship with food. I believe that simple changes can truly make a big difference.”
Erin Klar Medical Students Promoting Nutrition Representative University of Ottawa Class of 2020
“I have always enjoyed nutrition on a personal level. I can remember from childhood how my mother would teach me to cook and to appreciate fresh, vibrant ingredients. I have developed a passion for creating healthy dishes and for taking the time to find colourful produce to incorporate into my cooking. I believe that using nutritious ingredients truly makes cooking a creative and enjoyable pursuit. As of late, I have also been incorporating physical activity into my daily routine. Therefore, I am experiencing the benefits of this healthier lifestyle firsthand, and am now understanding the importance of exercise in holistic wellbeing. I feel as though a genuine appreciation of nutritious eating and physical exercise will allow me to better patient advocate for a healthy lifestyle.
When I was completing a research project in an inpatient ward at my local hospital, I took notice of the food being served to patients and the fact that many hospital meals went uneaten. Because of this experience, I contacted the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force to assist with promoting clinical nutrition initiatives. When I arrived at medical school, I immediately contacted the student-run nutrition advocacy group to learn about nutrition research and community nutrition initiatives going on in Ottawa. Nutritionists and dieticians at Ottawa-area hospitals are taking wonderful steps instituting malnutrition screening tools and revamping hospital concessions to ensure that healthier options are always offered in cafeterias. As an executive for the medical students promoting nutrition interest group, we are ensuring that medical students learn about these important steps being taken and have opportunities to assist with them. We are also facilitating nutrition advocacy presentations for elementary school children to ensure that healthy lifestyle choices are taught from an early age. We are passionate about altering the medical school curriculum to ensure that nutrition-based classes teach budding physicians to learn about identifying malnourished patients in clinic, using nutrition screening tools, and properly advocating for patient nutrition. As the burden of chronic disease worsens, nutrition advocacy will become an increasingly important aspect of patient care and preventative medicine.”
Phillip Staibano Medical Students Promoting Nutrition Representative University of Ottawa Class of 2020
“I find that the demands of medical school can really strip away my feelings of control over my own life. Everybody has different ways of remedying this problem, and one of mine is working hard to maintain physical health through a chapter of life that seems to demand everything from me. A huge part of that is healthy eating.
But buying groceries takes time. Cooking takes time. Washing dishes (i.e., fruitlessly scrubbing stains on probably-too-old tupperware) takes time. Yes, this is all true, and it makes meal prep hard to justify during those particularly stressful periods, when we’re living in the mindset that every waking moment needs to be spent studying lest we fall behind and life unravels before our eyes. But, if you can take a couple hours once or twice a week, then a lot of time is saved later when you know you have an arsenal of quick meals ready to go. I’ve actually come to find a lot of peace and relaxation in the preparation period, itself - taking over my kitchen, playing my favourite music (2000s throwback hits lately), and cooking up a garlicky storm. I’ve even let it become a creative outlet at times - looking up new recipes or experimenting with old favourites to create something new and (usually) delicious.
I guess my thesis statement is that my meal prep routine REDUCES my stress about day-to-day life. But that’s me. Everybody’s sources of stress are different, and everybody has a different relationship with food and with their bodies. If switching up your meal routine is an unwelcome wrench in your busy life right now, then wait until a time when things are a little more relaxed before experimenting with new routines. If overemphasis on diet is problematic territory for you, mentally, then you can totally ignore me and keep doing whatever works best for you and keeps you mentally and physically healthiest. And, you know what, if the thing that gets you through the day is knowing that you can buy a piece of pizza from the hospital cafeteria on pizza day, then go for it. Treat yourself, you absolutely deserve it, we all do.
But we also all deserve to be healthy, and not let med school irreparably damage our mental and physical health. We shouldn’t have to become doctors at the expense of our own well-being. So let’s try and take care of ourselves, and our minds and bodies, in whatever ways work for each of us.”