I often hear, "I want to eat healthily, but I'm too busy." There are many pieces to the proverbial health puzzle, but nutrition is the biggest in my book. Ignoring the healthy eating piece is like driving a car on low fuel and saying, "I'm just too busy to stop for gas." These ten tips are not exhaustive but are ways that can help make eating healthier, easier, and more time-efficient.
By Lindy Ford
I relate and empathize with this time crunch issue. I run a business and a household complete with a plethora of kid activities, and my busy life will always make eating healthy a challenge. However, if I received a surprise inheritance from a "rich old uncle," the first thing I'd do is hire a full-time chef (who does dishes too).
I'm a nutritionist, so not only do I want to practice what I preach, I truly desire the benefits of greater energy, better sleep, focus, and great health that good nutrition uniquely gives me. I want that for you also.
1. Batch cook or plan a prep day.
When making sauces, chilis, soups, and casseroles, double or triple the amounts or make enough for a small country. My husband and I usually do this together. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze individual meals for up to 3 months. If you have time, set aside a half or whole day regularly to batch cook. When I lived up north, I did this with a group of friends. Every task is easier with conversation and a glass of wine.
2. Plan meals and grocery shop once or twice a week.
Take time every week to plan meals and snacks. Make a shopping list and stick with it. This will save money, time, and the tendency of unhealthy food magically jumping into your shopping cart.
3. Stop fearing the "Breakfast Police."
Your momma was right--studies show how important a high protein breakfast is. Many of us think we need to cook traditional breakfast or it's not breakfast. Forget that! Heat up leftovers from the night before or take nitrate-free turkey and avocado and/or baby spinach and make rollups. They take about three minutes and can be eaten in the car. It's also okay to skip breakfast. It's a type of intermittent fast. This is fine as long as you don't binge and eat the wrong things at lunchtime.
4. Go frozen.
Because I have a little girl, I've had to watch the movie Frozen at least 43 times; but I'm talking frozen vegetables (preferably organic). They are often more nutritious than fresh and can be a huge time saver because you can stock up. The same is true for wild-caught seafood, chicken, and grass-fed beef. Also, shopping at warehouse stores (if you buy quality items) can be a time and money saver if you have freezer space.
5. Go canned or jarred.
I'm not a huge fan of canned vegetables like green beans, but I stock up on canned wild-caught salmon and broths. Check out my easy peasy salmon cake recipe that can be made ahead of time. I've often eaten these for breakfast as well. Other canned and jarred items like roasted red peppers, capers, olives, and artichokes make it simple to assemble last-minute meals.
6. Choose pre-prepped.
Because I'm not a chopping fan, pre-prepped foods have become a life-saver. You will find Trader Joe's organic cabbage mix in my fridge at almost any time. I even mixed it with a hard-boiled egg (and I didn't get arrested!). I also mix together a little dressing made with low-sugar mayo, balsamic vinaigrette, and lemon juice; it's become a family favorite. Chopping is not my favorite activity, and if I can find foods pre-prepared, it saves me time and frustration.
7. Snack well.
Let's be honest. There are some days everything will go "cray-cray." Sometimes you are just in survival mode. Having a stash of healthy snacks already prepared will become your lifeline. Always strive to have healthy snacks on hand to grab—nuts, seeds, hard-boiled eggs, cut-up veggies, and pieces of fruit like apples and pears. A perfect snack is an apple and almond butter.
8. Keep it simple.
My husband is delusional about my cooking. He tells people I'm a good cook. That is not true—the man is a non-foodie, eat to survive, kind of guy. Except for special occasions, no one will ever accuse me of being Julia Child. A typical meal for us is an organic, baked whole chicken, frozen green beans sautéed in avocado oil, sautéed fresh baby kale, and watermelon for dessert. Total prep time: 20 to 30 minutes. Also, take advantage of the crockpot, pressure cooker, and air fryer and let them do some of the work for you.
9. Eat together as a family.
When you keep it simple, you have more time to cultivate what is important—family time. Eating together not only can have nutritional value, but it can also increase your quality of life. You may not eat together every night, but make it a priority. Statistics reveal that kids who eat with their families several nights a week do better in school.
10. Get help.
There are many ways you can do this. First, look within your own family. One person shouldn't be doing all the cooking unless they have the time and desire. Enlist the help of spouses and children. Teenage children can be easily and quickly trained to cook full meals. My son does this at least one night a week. It may not be perfect, but I'll take anything to keep me out of the kitchen.
Take advantage of companies that deliver healthy meals. They provide boxes filled with the exact ingredients and recipes right to your door. In addition, some companies will prepare cooked meals you can pick up or get delivered.
Yes, healthy eating takes some planning. Yes, it takes some thought. But, yes, it is worth it. Eating healthy will pay you back with increased energy, clearer thought, increased productivity, and a higher quality of life.
Lindy Ford is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Nutritionist who runs a private practice in Wilmington, North Carolina.