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6 Low-Effort Ways to Eat Healthy on a Busy Schedule

Eat Healthy On A Busy Schedule

You Can Eat Healthy on a Busy Schedule

When you feel busy, it can be challenging to prioritize eating healthy. You may feel like you don’t have time to plan meals, grocery shop, and cook. And after a hectic day, you may feel like indulging in something like pizza rather than grilled chicken and a salad.

But by following these tips for making healthy eating more convenient, you’ll find it doesn’t take as much effort as you thought to eat healthy on a busy schedule.

1. Simplify your grocery shopping

The average person spends 41 minutes in the grocery store per shopping trip. Add commuting time, and you spend an hour per shopping trip. Why shop for an hour two times a week when you don’t have to?

Here are a few ways to spend less time shopping.

Grocery shop less frequently

Unless you have very little storage space, you don’t have to go on a grocery trip two times a week. Your goal should be to go grocery shopping only twice per month. Determine how much milk, eggs, bread, etc., will last two weeks and buy that amount in bulk. Plus, buying in bulk saves money!

Have your groceries delivered or ready for pickup

Thanks to COVID-19, convenient grocery shopping methods, such as grocery store pickup and at-home delivery, are widespread. Both methods save time because you no longer walk up and down aisles to shop or wait in a long check-out line. The at-home delivery also saves you the commute time. 

Stock up on “pantry” staples

You don’t need to make as many trips to the grocery store when you have plenty of pantry staples at home. Staples allow you to put together a nutritious meal even when you haven’t meal planned for that day.

Suppose you always have on hand, for example, oatmeal, eggs, bread, brown rice, apple, frozen spinach, frozen peppers, frozen salmon, olive oil, and seasonings.

In that case, you can quickly throw something together for any meal of the day, like oatmeal with warmed cinnamon apple slices for breakfast, egg on toast for lunch, and stir fry salmon with rice, peppers, and spinach for dinner.

Plus, you’ll spend less time grocery shopping because you’ll have a core list of foods you always buy.

2. Purchase ready-made ingredients and meals

Who said you had to cook an hour to make a healthy meal? You can save time and effort using pre-prepared ingredients, like pre-cut celery and onion, for example, for your homemade soup.

And you can assemble a speedy, well-balanced meal with ready-made foods like a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, a 90-second grain pouch, and a 2-minute frozen vegetable pouch.

Or, you could try a meal delivery service for the highest level of convenience.  

These time-saving foods will cost more but are well worth it on busy days. They are also nutritious for you, as long as you keep an eye on nutrition labels and opt for low-sugar, low-salt, low-additive options whenever possible. 

Fruits and Vegetables

Eating healthy can be bothersome simply because you don’t want to spend the time and effort to chop up vegetables for a recipe! 

If this is a barrier for you, spending a little extra for pre-cut fruits and vegetables when grocery shopping is worth it. It makes cooking feel so much more accessible after a tiresome day.

Also, remember frozen fruits and vegetables (with no added salt or sugar) are a healthy alternative to fresh produce. So, stock up on microwavable frozen vegetable bags to ensure you always have a nutritious side dish on hand that can be ready in five minutes!

Salad bags that contain dressing and toppings are also a highly convenient side dish that will help you meet your daily vegetable servings. Or make the salad a nourishing lunch or dinner by adding pre-cooked chicken or salmon.

Grains and Side Dishes

The same can be said for grains and other side dishes. You’ll find ready-made sides and grains in your grocery store’s deli section, freezer aisle, and shelf-stable grain sections.

Instant microwavable grains like brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, etc., are convenient ways to meet your daily servings of whole grains. Pair them with a protein and a ready-made vegetable for a complete meal.

healthy meal delivery low effort healthy eating

Main Courses

There are also ready-made main dishes in the grocery store that you will mainly find in the deli section and freezer aisles. Think whole rotisserie chicken, hot-and-ready main dishes, meal kits, and frozen dinners. Read more about frozen meals in the next section.

Meal delivery services are also available, which deliver ready-made meals like Epicured, Veestro, Factor, Tempo by Home Chef, and Daily Harvest. Although, as I explain in my review of Daily Harvest, you may be better off using their dishes as sides rather than mains.

3. Your freezer is your friend

Convenient and quick healthy meals can often be assembled from freezer foods. You may have already picked up on the importance of the freezer from the tips already discussed in this article.

Your kitchen freezer may be enough, but buying a freezer chest for your garage or basement is worth considering if you have the means and space.

Freeze staples bought in bulk

As I explained earlier, buying in bulk will help you grocery shop less frequently. Plus, consistently having healthy staple ingredients on hand lets you assemble meals quickly without a meal plan!

To do this effectively, you’ll need to utilize your freezer since fresh ingredients expire. Meats, vegetables, fruit, and even grains can all be kept in the freezer, allowing you to go a whole month without grocery shopping.

Freeze ready-made meals and ingredients

This goes for ready-made meals and ingredients, too. There are healthy frozen dinners available in grocery stores like Amy’s, Sweet Earth, and Healthy Choice. Also, some meal delivery services, like Daily Harvest, require you to store their meals in the freezer.

Cook “freezer meals”

A strategic meal planning strategy is to purposely cook more of a dish than you need for the week and then store it in the freezer for a later date. Foods like soups, stews, casseroles, and seasoned meats are easy to freeze and reheat on a busy day. Here are some healthy freezer meal ideas.

4. Try time-saving cooking methods

If you’re not sold on ready-made meals and still want to cook, there are a few convenient methods that simplify the cooking process.

Slow-Cooker Meals

Slow-cooker meals allow you to place everything in one pot in the morning or the night before and then have the meal ready to eat later in the day. Here are some healthy slow-cooker meal ideas.

Sheet Pan Meals

Sheet pan meals are super simple to cook and clean up afterward. Place protein and vegetables on a sheet pan, add oil and seasoning and bake for 30-45 minutes. Sure, it’s not as fast as a microwave meal, but it takes minimal effort when you’re tired from a long day. Here are some healthy sheet pan meal ideas.

Batch Cooking

Batch cooking is when you cook proteins, vegetables, and grains in batches and then mix and match them throughout the week. For example, I’ll cook chicken breasts, salmon, tofu, brown rice, quinoa, broccoli, sweet potato, and salad greens on Saturday.

I can mix and match these ingredients for lunch and dinner during the workweek to make balanced, microwave-ready meals. I might have chicken with rice and a salad on Monday, and on Tuesday, I might have salmon, quinoa, and broccoli.

5. Find the healthy options on take-out menus

To eat healthy on a busy schedule, you may think you can’t order takeout like you want. That’s not true!

Some days, you won’t be able to avoid getting a quick meal through takeout, and there are strategies you can use to make it a nutritious meal.

healthy take out options when busy

Know what you’re looking for

First, identify ahead of time restaurants in your area that provide nutritious choices. You may find local restaurants but also well-known chains like Subway, Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Roti, etc.

Knowing what is available to you will make it easier when you must make a quick choice about what to eat, and it will help you avoid an impulsive, unhealthy choice.

Also, know how to identify healthy menu options even at restaurants not traditionally known for their healthy choices. Look for words on the menu like baked, broiled, grilled, light, steamed, diet, oil, whole grain, and whole wheat. Look for lean proteins like chicken, seafood, tofu, and beans. Choose a fruit or vegetable as a side when given the option.

Be mindful of portion sizes

Sometimes, large portion sizes are an issue when eating out. To manage portion sizes, consider ordering the small or kid’s size. Or, order an appetizer or side dish version of the main. However, if you end up with a large main dish, you can save half for a meal the next day.

6. Don’t skip meals or let yourself get too hungry

You may be tempted to skip or delay a meal when you’re in a rush or have a packed schedule. This is a dangerous game because you may not get enough nutrition for the day and because it’s associated with choosing high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar foods later on.

When you feel starving, your brain tells you you need something substantial and high in calories. So, you can end up choosing foods you may otherwise wouldn’t. You’re also likely to struggle with portion control. To avoid this diet pitfall, keep ready-made meals and high-protein snacks on hand, both at home and at work.

Schedule your meals

Another helpful practice is to add meal breaks into your work calendar so meetings don’t get scheduled over them. Don’t forget a calendar reminder so you don’t accidentally work through your break!

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How to Eat Healthy on A Busy Schedule

Samantha Shuflin is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) in Chicago, IL that helps high-performing professionals thrive through nutrition and wellness, and ensure busy schedules never compromise health goals.

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