Making three healthy meals from scratch every day might seem like a noble goal in theory, but for most of us, figuring out how to eat healthy when we’re busy doesn’t seem so doable. When your time is divided between work, kids, family, friends, and any of the other million commitments that eat up the hours of the day, you may often wonder how you’re supposed to find time to even order takeout, let alone to chop, cook a home made meal and clean up afterwards.
If you’re short on time, there are certain tricks that can help you eat healthier at home. It’s about finding creative and clever ways to reduce (or even eliminate completely) prep and cleanup so you can enjoy a great meal. The following tips and tricks will help you create a game plan and better fit refueling into your hectic schedule. How to Eat Healthy When You’re Busy
1. Look beyond fresh produce.
“Most of us don’t get the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables every day, in part because washing, preparing, and storing fresh produce can be time-consuming,” says Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD, of Street Smart Nutrition. Having frozen or canned options on hand can be a lifesaver when you’re short on time. “These options are just as nutritious, with the added benefit of being less perishable and (sometimes) less expensive,” adds Harbstreet. “Add frozen vegetables to canned soup or reheated leftovers, serve canned vegetables as a side dish, or enjoy canned fruit with lunchtime snacks.” Voila– an easy way to load vitamins and nutrients into a meal with minimal work.
2. Chop everything at once.
“Always cut the onion (or pepper, carrot, or celery) whole,” says Marisa Moore, RDNLD, MBA, culinary and integrative nutritionist. Prep when you have the time makes it easy to grab and use the ingredients when you don’t have time to chop and clean and cook but still want to prepare a healthy meal. “Prepared flavored vegetables to go makes it easy to make a quick soup, stew, stir-fry or veggie tofu or scrambled eggs,” adds Moore. If you end up with too many chopped peppers and onions, Moore suggests spreading them out in a single layer in a freezer-safe bag and laying flat until frozen. “Frozen onions and peppers make a great base for soups and stews!”
3. Embrace the snack meal.
One of the easiest ways to put together a meal is to simply combine a few snacks—with different flavors, textures, and nutrients—into one meal. “It saves time because you don’t have to cook, and there’s no prep or cleanup,” says Harbstreet. “It also kills boredom because you can mix and match different items in different ways.” Stock up on things like spreadable cheeses, cured meats, raw vegetables, dips, crackers, dried fruits and nuts, and then mix and match them however you feel like it. “Think of it as an upscale lunch or an understated charcuterie board.”
4. Buy pre-cut and pre-packaged foods.
There’s no denying that the more budget-friendly option is to buy the ingredients whole and prepare them yourself. But if you’re really short on time and need a way to still put healthy food on the table? Amy Carson, RD, LDN, CPT, recommends paying for the convenience when you can. Pre-cut vegetable trays, frozen veggies, or pre-packaged salads that come with all mix-ins can help get a meal on the table in less time. “Sure, they’re a bit more expensive, but they save time and give you energy.”
5. Stock your freezer with healthy, no-prep meals.
Among the many levels of busy is “so busy you forget what the inside of a grocery store looks like”. To avoid being stuck home after a long day without something handy to throw together, make a habit of keeping a few meals in your freezer that you can just open, heat, and eat , without having to think about preparing or cleaning up. Sweet Earth’s plant-based frozen meals are a great option – they’re nutritious, affordable and made for the discerning eater, which means that both taste and environmental impact are paramount. Try Pad Thai Entrée, Veggie Lovers Pizza or Mindful Chik’n Strips, all carefully prepared with ingredients to honor and preserve the environment they come from and your body.
Sponsored by Sweet Earth.
6. Cook and freeze in batches.
To make sure you have something good on hand for those extra busy days, Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN suggests cooking meals when you have time and stashing some in the freezer. Then thaw and heat as needed. “For example, make a batch of chicken meatballs and keep them in your freezer for when you don’t have time to make dinner,” she says. For an even more no-fuss approach, make large batches of soups and stews in your slow cooker, then freeze half to make future-you’s life a lot less stressful.
7. Prepare the ingredients in advance.
Meal prep is so popular because it’s a really great way to cook efficiently and not make mealtime a big chore every time. To add some variety to your meal prep game, try preparing individual ingredients instead of ready-made meals. This way you can combine them in different ways and keep things fresh throughout the week. “For example, if you prep a protein like chicken, roasted vegetables, and starches like sweet potatoes or rice ahead of time, it’s easy to quickly put a healthy and balanced meal on the plate,” says Ziegelbaum.
8. Get creative with spices.
“Thanks to the popularity of so-called ‘clean eating,’ I’ve found that many people are afraid to keep store-bought condiments at home,” says Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, Certified Intuitive Eating Consultant, author of Gentle Nutrition. Having a wide range of delicious sauces and dressings on hand makes cooking tasty and nutritious meals at home a lot easier and saves a ton of time making your own sauces!” Once you’ve mastered a basic recipe, you can explore new flavors experiment by changing the sauces and adding a different or new feel to a meal with minimal fuss. Hartley’s favorite dishes are pesto, Japanese barbecue sauce, jerk marinade, and harissa.
9. Organize your workspace.
A disorganized and cluttered kitchen can create even more anxiety and overwhelm the entire food prep process, says Kari Pitts, RD, LDN, at Preg Appetit. A well-organized space can do just the opposite. “An organized kitchen can make it easier to find your ingredients and tools, so you can make faster progress in preparing healthy meals,” says Pitts. Free up space on your countertop so you have a dedicated spot for preparing meals, and keep appliances and gadgets you use frequently in an easy-to-use location (not tucked away in the back of a closet that you can’t reach be able). a step stool).
10. Having a plan without sticking to a meal plan.
“When you’re busy, sticking to rigid, planned meals can be a challenge. It takes a lot of mental energy to think more than a few days ahead, and sometimes it feels almost impossible to predict what’s going to sound good to you when that day comes,” says Harbstreet. Instead, she recommends keeping a few “MVP meals” in your back pocket that require minimal prep or cleanup and 20 minutes of cook time — or less. Keep MVPs in mind as you do your routine shopping so you can make sure you have options without having to do the extra mental planning work, Harbstreet suggests.
11. Create a recipe book.
Take it a step further and actually put together a physical recipe book, suggests Pitts. “It can be frustrating and time-consuming to remember your favorite healthy meals, or to find them online or rummage through old recipe books,” she says. “To keep track of healthy meals you love and want to make again, create your own healthy cooking notebook and keep it in a designated place for quick reference.”
12. Prepare breakfast the night before.
“I’m a big fan of preparing and planning so it’s easy to grab and go,” says Shana Minei Spence, MS, RDN, CDN, Founder of The Nutrition Tea. This can be especially helpful if you’re someone who never has time to eat breakfast in the morning. Spence suggests making egg and veggie muffins in a muffin pan and then just popping them in the microwave when you need something quick and nutrient-dense and high in protein. “This is a great way to fit veggies into your day since most people don’t eat enough,” she says. You can also pre-freeze smoothie bags. “Put all the fruit and veg you use in a bag and put it in the freezer the night before. In the morning, all you have to do is add your choice of milk or yogurt to a blender,” says Spence. So quick and easy.
13. Keep it simple.
“Remember, not every meal and snack has to be fancy,” says Ziegelbaum. “Just because you didn’t spend a lot of time preparing your meal doesn’t mean your meal isn’t healthy!” A simple peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread with fruit and yogurt makes a great lunch, she says. So also a snack meal. Some days you just need to remind yourself that you’re fine as long as you eat something nutritious that gives you the energy to face a busy day without feeling hungry.
14. Stock up on healthy food for the pantry.
“A well-stocked pantry can save trips to the grocery store,” says Pitts. “Some examples of healthy foods to keep in your pantry include quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, canned beans, dried fruit, and nuts.” Having a variety on hand makes it easy to gather whatever you have time for, without getting too creative or running out for that one missing but essential ingredient.
15. Take away snacks.
If you really don’t have time for a meal, you want to make sure you have at least some healthy snacks to grab to keep you full until you can sit down for a proper meal. Spence suggests stocking up on and taking with you portable snacks that can curb hunger and give you a quick boost on the go. “I like to stow granola bars in my bags so I always have something ‘just in case’. Other great options are pre-mixing trail mix with a combination of granola, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, seeds, etc,” she suggests.