If you feel like your busy schedule is getting in the way of your healthy-eating goals, you’re far from alone. Most of us are just too busy these days. We run from work to the gym, or to a social commitment with hardly enough time left to relax or sleep, let alone grocery shop and whip up a healthy meal that covers all of the nutritional bases. The good news, however, is that healthy eating, even when you’re busy as can be, is far from impossible. It doesn’t have to take a ton of time and effort. The key, according to nutritionists, is to have a plan in place and to follow these basic healthy eating shortcuts so that you can eat nutritious meals and still get to where you need to go.
Yes, grocery shopping and meal prepping take time, but they also save you time, money, and health in the long run. Paige Bente, a registered dietitian, recommends checking your schedule to see how many meals you might be eating out. Then, you can then figure out how many lunches and dinners you’ll be cooking. This way, you can do shopping for the whole week at once. “Pick some recipes or just some ingredients you know you like to cook up, and purchase it in one visit to the store,” she says. “This saves you the time of having to go back to the site multiple times, and also helps [to] prevent you from ordering takeout because there’s no food in your fridge.”
Fill your plate with the right stuff.
You might be eating some of the right things. But are you eating enough of each of the right things? Balance is key when it comes to nutrition. “A simple formula to enjoy a well-balanced plate is to fill half your plate with colorful produce, one-fourth with your lean protein, and the other forth with your carbs and starch,” says Vandana Sheth, R.D. in Palos Verdes, California. “Add some heart-healthy fat and a dairy or dairy-alternative on the side.”
Cook in bulk.
The next time you cook, make more than just one or two servings. “Leftovers are your savior for healthy time-saving meals,” says Bente. She recommends making big batches of grains or beans. “Having baked chicken for dinner? Make enough to have leftovers for lunch the next day, or even for two days,” she adds. This is ideal for individuals who aren’t keen on “meal prepping.” It still leaves them with a few good meals’ worth of leftovers. But it doesn’t lock them into the same meal for lunch every day of the week.
Stock up on frozen produce.
Before you go bad-mouthing frozen veggies for fear that they’re “less nutritious” than their fresh counterparts, know this: One study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis found that there was little difference between fresh and frozen produce as far as nutrition goes. In fact, in some cases, frozen is even better for you since it’s frozen at the peak of ripeness. “Having staples like frozen green beans, spinach, kale and cauliflower means [that] you’ll always have good veggies on hand to steam up in a jiffy,” says Bente. “You can also buy things like frozen diced onions and peppers. [This] cuts time on prep if you are sautéing up a nice meal!”
Make sauces ahead of time.
Sure, it’s easy to buy a salad dressing from the grocery store, which may last you even longer than a month. But there’s no denying that a freshly made dressing or marinade is far healthier for you. Mostly this is because they’re not loaded with sugar, salt, stabilizers, and preservatives. These can all lead to a slew of health conditions. Bente’s favorite salad dressing recipe is one part Dijon mustard to two parts olive oil to two parts lemon juice. “Put all the ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously,” she says. “Preparing your own avoids all this extra junk and tastes great!”
Purchase basic kitchen supplies.
If you don’t have the tools you need to make healthier dishes at home, you’re going to have a tougher time doing so. Bente recommends stocking up on healthy cooking equipment, such as a steamer basket, salad spinner, spiralizer, and mandolin. “Ensuring that your kitchen has the right equipment to cook up all your healthy food is half the battle,” she says.
Healthy eating doesn’t need to be such a to-do. Don’t let your crazy schedule get in the way of keeping up with your diet. Employ some of these healthy eating shortcuts next time you’re feeling pinched for time.