When I was in the classroom, I had to work hard to keep my health in check. As you no doubt understand, juggling exercise, healthy eating, and a teaching job is incredibly difficult. I had to wake up at 4 in the morning every day if I wanted to fit in a workout, get to work early, and still have time to work on my growing business after school. (And I was lucky–I didn’t have a husband or kids to worry about on top of it all!) In this post, I share some essential tools that made staying a healthy teacher easier.
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Diet Tools for a Healthy Teacher
If you’ve heard the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen,” then you know how important healthy eating is to an overall balanced lifestyle. When there are classroom parties, teacher appreciation cupcakes, and general stress eating to contend with, however, eating healthy is hard.
I found that it was essential to plan my meals and prep them all ahead of time. I had to make choosing healthy meals the easiest option. If I failed on any of these points, ordering a pizza or grabbing to-go food simply became too tempting.
Meal Planning for a Healthy Teacher
If you’ve never meal planned before or have no idea what you should be eating on a daily basis, I recommend downloading a meal tracking app like MyFitnessPal. For a couple of weeks, don’t worry about optimizing your nutrition. Instead, just track what you eat normally.
Then, once you have some data, you can see your weak areas. Getting too many calories? Not enough protein? Going hard on the weekends? We teachers know how important data is; it’s no different when it comes to your health.
Once you have an idea of the calorie and macronutrient target you’d like to hit, it’s time to meal plan! There are of course tons of recipes online. I’m a vegan and have a vegan cookbook hoarding problem, so I always refer to a few of my trusty favorites. But you should use whatever books or websites that allow you to cook healthy and delicious foods that are right for you.
Tools for Healthy Meal Prep
When it comes to selecting meals, opt for recipes that have few ingredients (or at least common ones) and minimal prep. As a student teacher, I became obsessed with using my slow cooker on the weekends to cook food for the whole week. This habit continued into my professional teaching career.
You could alternatively grab an instant pot for even more versatility (without killing all of your cabinet space).
We also love our air fryer for healthy foods that taste pretty sinful. If french fries are your weak spot, chop up some potatoes and put them in an air fryer. You’ll thank me later.
(True story–my husband does this for his dinner every single night and tops the potatoes with protein and veggies. It’s a super simple and really delicious meal for about 25 minutes of prep and wait time.)
I’ve also used a nutribullet on the daily for some quick meals or snacks. Some protein powder, frozen berries, spinach, and half of a bottle of Bai make for a nutritious and filling breakfast smoothie. Almond milk, protein powder, ice, and dairy-free Halo Top ice cream make for dreamy low-calorie milkshakes!
Tools for Storing Prepped Food
Once you’ve made your meals for the week, you need a way to store and transport them. Honestly, finding food containers I liked and that didn’t take up a ton of cabinet space was harder for me than planning and cooking meals.
In the end, I used these a lot for meals, especially breakfasts. They stack well in the fridge and in a lunchbox and can easily fit overnight oats or protein pancakes. You can even throw a sandwich in there or a side salad.
When I made salads for lunch, however, I needed Tupperware that was much bigger and opted for these. I know plastic isn’t ideal, but I tried a lot of glass containers. They were all heavy to drag to work and back, and every one of them leaked.
These were perfect for salad dressings or small amounts of condiments. (The twist-on lids help, I think, with preventing leaks.)
I also found that protein shakes were essential for me to hit my calorie/protein targets. And while blender bottles aren’t new anymore, I have yet to find anything else that can mix my vegan protein powder into something palatable.
Transporting Prepped Food to Work
As you stock up on your perfect food containers, make sure you have your lunchbox sorted out, too.
For years, I used one of these freezable lunch boxes. After work every day, I emptied my lunch box and then threw the whole thing into the freezer. It always kept my food cold until lunchtime and even cooled off my room temperature diet cokes!
Later, I switched to one of these lunchboxes specifically meant for meal preppers. I loved the side pocket that could fit a can of diet coke for lunch and a smoothie for a morning snack. The main compartment allowed me to stack several small containers and an ice pack or a big salad and an ice pack. (I could even squeeze my dinners in there for parent-teacher conferences!)
Exercise Essentials for a Healthy Teacher
If you really want to maintain a healthy body, then you’ll have to include some exercise in your daily routine.
When I taught, I got up at 4 am, made it to the gym by 4:30, worked out for about an hour, and then went home to get ready for work. Going before work was the only way. If I tried to go to the gym after school, something would always get in the way or I’d have time to convince myself that I was “too tired” or “too stressed” to bother.
I didn’t start that way, though. At first, I woke up at 5 am in the morning to do a quick thirty-minute routine at home. I chose to do the P90X3 videos because I had previously enjoyed the P90X ones in college and P90X3 workouts were much shorter. There are, of course, free workout videos online, too. Just be sure that you’re following a program and not piecemealing random workouts together.
When I finished that program, I moved on to longer videos before finally sucking it up and getting a gym membership.
So regardless of whether you choose to do at-home or in-gym workouts, make sure you have what you need. Most at-home routines will probably require you to have a yoga mat, resistance bands, and some basic weights.
If you’d like to incorporate cardio into your regular routine, you can keep it simple and run outside. Alternatively, there’s always a treadmill if you live somewhere with sketchy weather. (Treadmills, in my experience, are super boring. So make sure you have a TV nearby or don’t get motion sickness while reading on one!)
Tracking your Fitness
I also highly recommend a fitness tracker. I’ve always like my Fitbits, partially because they sync with just about every other app and many of my colleagues also had them. It was nice to be able to talk “steps” with coworkers or invite colleagues for a quick walk around the building to bolster our step counts.
You, of course, don’t have to have a Fitbit. My husband had a Garmin for a long time that he enjoyed. But I do recommend some kind of fitness tracker. Like tracking your food, it’s difficult to make improvements if you’re not tracking data.
The apps that come with these fitness trackers are great. They sync with apps that you might be using to track your food (like MyFitnessPal). They can also be a place to record body measurements and weight changes as you go.
If you don’t have a scale at home, I recommend getting one that will show you body fat percentages too. The body fat numbers are notoriously inaccurate, so don’t take them as gospel, but I feel the body fat numbers help show a general trend.
Starting a Fitness Journey for the First Time
Lastly, if you’ve never worked out before and can’t afford a personal trainer (who can?), I highly recommend doing some solid reading on the science of fitness. Don’t waste your time chasing fads or “butt blasting” Pinterest routines.
Instead, read some books based on science-backed research. I’m a huge fan of Michael Matthews’ works and recommend Thinner, Leaner, Stronger for any woman who is getting serious about her fitness and diet for the first time.
Last Tips for Being a Healthy Teacher
To be a healthy teacher, more than anything you need to give yourself grace.
Teaching isn’t easy, and neither is maintaining your health. Add family, second jobs, pets, and everything else life throws away on top of that, and you will probably struggle if you aim for perfection.
Instead, just try to incorporate a few healthy habits at a time. You don’t even need to buy every tool you think you need all at once. Try a few healthy recipes and figure out how to package them. Grab a lunch box that you think is cute. Find a workout that you can do every day–even if it’s only 15 minutes. Walk with a colleague during lunch to add some steps.
Being healthy is a lifelong goal, so don’t treat it like there’s a finish line.