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As a Registered Dietitian, many of my clients often want to know how to eat healthy with a busy schedule. And yes, it can be tough to eat nutrient dense meals when you’re busy. Between work, errands, and social obligations, there’s not always time for a nutritious meal.
But with a little planning and some quick recipes, it’s possible to make healthy eating a part of your routine. Here are some tips to help you get started. I also give you some easy meal ideas and no-cook ingredients to throw together an effortless-yet complete-meal. Keep reading!
Tips for eating healthy with a busy lifestyle
- Meal Prep Ahead of Time: One of the best ways to ensure that you have nourishing and satisfying meals on hand is to plan ahead and meal prep. Spend one day each week cooking up several meals in advance, then store them in the fridge or freezer for easy access during the week. This way, all you have to do is heat up a pre-prepared meal instead of scrambling from one takeout place to another. Not only will this save time; it will also save money!
- Plan for leftovers. When you’re meal planning, be sure to include some meals that will generate leftovers. Having leftovers on hand is a great way to save time and money – you can either eat them for lunch the next day or freeze them for an easy meal later on.
- Opt for Quick-Cooking Ingredients: Another great way to eat in a more balanced way without spending hours in the kitchen is to opt for ingredients that cook quickly. For example, canned beans or frozen vegetables can be added directly into a dish without requiring extra steps like soaking or thawing. You can also try using instant microwavable rice or quinoa packs. By choosing quick-cooking ingredients, you can whip up delicious dinners without spending too much time slaving away in the kitchen! Some additional convenience options are:
- Jarred pasta sauce: cook your noodles and pour-instant meal!
- Canned beans and legumes: Canned beans are so versatile. You can use them in soups, stews, salads, or puree them into a sandwich filling or hummus.
- Rotisserie chicken: Another super convenient ingredient with no cooking necessary. Shred it and add to wraps, sandwiches, soups, stews or salads.
- Instant oatmeal packets: These are a great option for breakfast on the go. You can also stash some in your office and use as a convenient snack.
- Whip out your slow cooker: I LOVE slow cookers! They can be a lifesaver on busy days, as it allows you to throw all of your ingredients into one pot and let it do the work for you. You can also make larger meals in a slow cooker and use the leftovers for other meals during the week.
- Use one pot/pan/sheet meals: One pan/one pot/sheet meals can be a great solution because they are quick and easy to make. Plus, they often require fewer dishes, which means less time spent cleaning up afterwards. They also allow you to get a nutritious meal on the table without spending hours in the kitchen. For example, chicken breasts with potato wedges and Brussel sprouts can all go together on a cookie sheet and thrown in the oven for a complete, easy meal.
- Have freezer meals on hand: Make sure you have a few frozen meals that you can just heat up and eat. I love these plat based sliders that are ready in 2 minutes!
- Pre-pack your own snacks: Having snacks prepped and ready to go can be a game-changer for busy individuals who don’t have time to assemble food throughout their day. Meal prep can also come in handy when it comes to packing snacks—if you plan out meals ahead of time, you may be able to double up on ingredients such as proteins, fruits, and vegetables so that you have leftovers for snacking throughout the week. When packing snacks for work or school, it may be helpful to use containers with dividers so that multiple food items can fit in one container without mixing together; this is especially useful if your schedule does not allow for a break between meals. And make sure to check out my post on how to make Adult Lunchables!
- Create a capsule pantry. This is a collection of non-perishable food items that can be used to make quick and easy meals. A capsule pantry typically includes items such as pasta, rice, canned goods, and spices. Having everything you need in one place makes meal planning much easier. And if you ever find yourself in a pinch, you’ll know that your capsule pantry has everything you need to get by.
- Use meal delivery services: These provide you with pre-planned meals and eliminate the need to make multiple trips to the grocery store. If you are looking for a convenient way to save time and money on groceries, consider signing up for one of the many meal planning services available online. Here are some that I love:
- Check out Meal kit services. These companies (like Blue Apron) send you all the ingredients you need to make a meal, along with instructions. All you have to do is cook and enjoy. Meal kit services are becoming increasingly popular, as they offer a convenient way to eat healthy without having to meal plan. Plus, they take the guesswork out of cooking, which can be especially helpful for busy weeknights. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a beginner cook, meal kit services are definitely worth checking out.
Healthy meals for a busy schedule
When learning how to eat healthy with a busy schedule, it’s useful to have some simple meals you can easily prepare at any moment. Here are a few meal ideas that you can quickly prepare when you’re strapped for time:
- Breakfast smoothies: Too busy for breakfast in the mornings? Prep some smoothie packs beforehand and in the morning, just blend and go!
- Overnight Protein Oats: Protein powder makes these overnight oats especially filling.
Lunch and Dinners
- Spaghetti and meatballs: This classic dish is always a hit. Plus, it’s easy to make ahead and freeze for future meals. Buy pre-made frozen meatballs and save time (buy plant based meatballs for a filling, vegan meal). Then it’s just a matter of cooking them into jarred spaghetti sauce and serving with pasta.
- Quinoa bowl: This healthy and filling dish can be made with whatever veggies you have on hand. Simply cook the quinoa (use precooked for faster cooking) and top with your favorite vegetables, protein (Rotisserie chicken or canned salmon work great) and dressing.
- Dutch Oven Chicken Noodle Soup: You can meal prep this comforting soup by chopping and freezing all the vegetables and using leftover Rotisserie chicken. Then it’s just a matter of sautéing the veggies and adding the rest of the ingredients to the pot on the day you’ll be cooking it.
- Bean Enchiladas: This vegetarian dish is hearty and satisfying. Plus, it freezes well, so you can make a big batch and enjoy it for weeks to come. Just combine refried beans, taco seasoning and cheese, and fill and wrap flour tortillas with the mixture. Freeze. Then it’s just a matter of pouring enchilada sauce and shredded cheese over them and baking until it’s bubbly. Easy!
- Mason jar salads: Mason jar salads are perfect for on-the-go meal planning. They’re an easy way to get a variety of nutrients in your diet. Plus, they’re convenient and time-saving.
How to eat healthy when you don’t have time to cook
If you don’t have the time or inclination to meal prep, there are still plenty of ways to get nutritious meals without too much effort. For example, most supermarkets offer an array of pre-prepared salads, sandwiches, wraps and other fresh snacks which make for quick and nutritious eating whilst on the go.
Something I recommend to my clients when teaching them how to eat healthy with a busy schedule is stocking up on no-cook items (or items you just have to minimally cook). You can just throw these items together to make a complete meal, like the ones pictured below.
Here are 3 meals you can easily make with these ingredients:
Chicken Rice Bowl: Pre-cooked chicken, microwavable vegetables, and microwavable rice
Meatball Pasta with Salad: Ready to eat pasta with jarred sauce, cooked frozen meatballs, spinach and cherry tomatoes tossed with salad dressing
Tuna Salad Wrap: Canned tuna, spinach, chopped cherry tomatoes, salad dressing, tortilla
Easy huh? Just the thing for when you’re coming home from work exhausted yet the day hasn’t ended yet (anyone else with kiddos here?)
How to eat healthy away from home
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to eat a meal at home. When talking about how to eat healthy with a busy schedule, some of my clients struggle with travelling for work, or when their day gets turned upside down. Well, sometimes, we just gotta dine out. And that’s OK! This flexibility is what intuitive eating is all about anyways.
First, don’t deprive yourself when eating away from home. It’s important that you allow yourself to enjoy the food and savor the experience without guilt. Instead of focusing on what you “shouldn’t” eat, reframe your thoughts by asking yourself “what do I feel like eating?” This question will help you tap into your body’s natural hunger cues and desires so that you can make more mindful decisions about what to order.
In addition to this, try ordering meals that are balanced in their macronutrient content. Focusing on having some protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats in each meal will ensure your body is getting enough essential nutrients while also helping you stay full for longer periods of time.
Finally, don’t forget to stay hydrated throughout the day even when dining out! Being sufficiently hydrated helps promote normal digestion while also keeping false hunger signals from taking over before mealtime arrives. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day as well as when you’re at the restaurant itself in order to keep yourself feeling energized between meals.
By following these simple tips and tricks, it’s possible to make balanced choices when dining away from home without sacrificing taste or satisfaction! Just remember to listen to your body’s needs and satisfy them with nourishing meals that are both satisfying yet still provide you with the necessary nutrients needed for optimal health!
I hope the tips and meal ideas in this post have given you some inspiration for how to eat healthy with a busy schedule. Did any of the tips resonate with you? What easy, on-the-go meals will you prepare this week?
Hi! I’m Melissa, Registered Dietitian and mother of two dragons. When I’m not talking nutrition you can find me rolling around the floor with my kids, sewing, crafting, cooking or missing the 90s (seriously, music just isn’t the same). Read More…