Most of us have great intentions of eating healthily at least part of the time, and a lot of people want to eat better than they currently do because they can feel the effects a poor diet is having on them.
Do you stand in the kitchen to eat while scrolling through your social media feed? Bolt your food down so quickly it barely touches the sides? Pick up a takeaway on the way home from work?
Not sleeping well, unsettled digestion, low energy and weight gain are all effects of eating a poorly thought out and low nutrition diet.
The challenge for a lot of people though, especially those of you who work long hours or have a busy family life (or both), is lack of time to eat well.
There is a common misconception that eating healthy is time consuming.
This post debugs that myth. Instead I will show you three easy ways you can eat healthy when you are really busy. Simple, cheap top tips that won't impact on your precious time. Try them, or at least one. No excuses, our body will thank you for it.
Store cupboard essentials
Firstly, keep your kitchen cupboards stocked with essentials for making quick and easy healthy meals. I don't mean crisps and chocolate to snack on after a long day at work. Think healthy essentials like grains (pasta, rice, cous cous, quinoa, oats) and tinned food (tuna, sardines, beans, lentils) as a start. They are all very cheap to buy and last for ages in the cupboard so you won't have to worry about the food going off. From these basic foods that are all very quick to cook or don't need any cooking at all it is very simple to prepare a healthy meal, with just the addition of a few fresh (or frozen) ingredients to boost the nutritional value.
Other kitchen cupboard essentials are nut butters, dried herbs and spices, rice or oat cakes, nuts and seeds. These are all nutrient dense foods that are ideal for snacks. Also, do make use of your freezer (other than for ice cream). Frozen vegetables like peas and sweetcorn are just as nutritious as fresh, and are so simple to add to a meal when you have not had time to go shopping for fresh vegetables. Other freezer essentials that will help you to eat healthily when you are really busy include frozen fish, which can be oven cooked in less than half an hour, and frozen prawns and other seafood, some of which can simply be added straight from the freezer to a quick stir fry.
Secondly, meal planning. Meal planning is not a new thing. It has been used for a long time by people wanting to keep on track with healthy eating or eating well on a budget. It works well, as long as you stick to the plan and factor in the food shopping required. Do you come home from a long day at work feeling tired, stressed and hungry with no idea of what you are going to eat for dinner? If so, you are far more likely to phone for a takeaway or snack on chocolate while a frozen pizza is cooking in the oven. Which brings us back to not sleeping well, unsettled digestion, low energy and weight gain.
Just think about the difference if you come home from a long, stressful day at work feeling tired and hungry with a clear idea of the quick, healthy meal you are going to prepare for dinner (and the right ingredients ready in your kitchen cupboards and fridge). You will be able to get started with cooking straight away, satisfied knowing that in 20 minutes or so you will be sitting down to a healthy meal which will leave you feeling satisfied and calm, ready for whatever you have planned to do that evening.
Same goes for lunches. Planning is crucial when you are really busy if you want to eat healthily. Without a clear idea of your lunch choice you will likely end of grabbing a sandwich, crisps and soft drink. Far from ideal as you will probably feel lethargic and struggle to concentrate all afternoon. By all means buy your lunch if you really do not have time to prepare something the night before (though I think most people can find or make the time to prepare even part of lunch) but make an effort to have a clear idea of what you are going to buy before you get to the shop.
Final easy way you can eat healthy when really busy is to embrace batch cooking. To some younger people batch cooking might sound like something only older people do but it is truly life changing when it comes to eating well without spending a long time in the kitchen. The basic principle of batch cooking is to cook more of a meal than you are actually eating that day, then freeze or put in the fridge the rest to have another day. It can be as simple as baking an extra salmon fillet or chicken breast at dinner for you to take to work the next day, which would give you the basic start to a healthy lunch. All you would then need to do is to add some salad (ready chopped and bagged is fine) and a source of carbohydrates like a wholemeal roll or some oat cakes, and you've got yourself a healthy lunch even though you've been really busy at work all day. The best, easiest way to batch cook is by cooking double quantity of food at the weekend when you probably have more time free. Make a large pan of bolognese or curry, eat some that day and freeze the rest into individual portions for those busy days when you don't have time to cook from scratch. Yes, you'll need to spend a few minutes warming through the food and boiling some rice or pasta, but everyone can find time for that. The point is that the bulk of the dinner is already made on a convenient day when you have the time and energy to cook.
It can definitely feel tough to eat healthily when you are super busy with little time to spare. But if you follow the easy top tips above you'll be able to live your life and also eat well. Everything in life worth doing takes time so think about if there are perhaps things that take up time in your daily life that you could stop doing in order to give you a little more time to plan and prepare healthy food. Your body will thank you for it.
If you want some guidance on meal planning or an assessment of your current diet and some ideas on the best changes to make please get in touch, I would love to help.
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Helen Morton, registered Nutritional Therapist and sports nutritionist, runner and food lover, sharing latest nutrition research and recipes.