Quite often I hear, “I want to eat healthy, but I’m too busy.” There are many pieces to the proverbial health puzzle, but in my book, nutrition is the biggest. Ignoring the healthy eating piece is like driving a car on low fuel and saying, “I’m just too busy to stop for gas.”
I relate and empathize with this time crunch issue. I run a business, as well as a household complete with a plethora of kid activities. To keep it real – my busy life will always make eating healthy a challenge. 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, better focus and great health that good nutrition uniquely gives me. I want that for you also. These 10 tips are not exhaustive, but are ways that have helped me make eating healthier, easier and more time efficient.
- 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 what you’ve cooked in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days, or freeze individual meals for up to three months. If you have time, set aside a half or a 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.
- 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.
- 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 or baby spinach and make rollups. They take about three minutes and can be eaten in the car.
- Go frozen. Because I have a little girl, I’ve had to watch the movie Frozen at least 43 times, but in this instance 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. Shopping at warehouse stores like Costco (if you buy quality items) can be a time and money saver if you have the freezer space.
- Go canned. I’m not a huge fan of canned vegetables like green beans, but I stock up on canned wild-caught salmon, and vegetable and chick broth. 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 items like roasted red peppers, capers and artichokes make it simple to assemble last minute meals.
- Choose pre-prepped. Because I’m not a chopping fan, pre-prepped foods have become a lifesaver. At almost any time, you will find Trader Joe’s Healthy 8 Chopped Salad in my fridge. I even had it for breakfast this morning mixed with a hard-boiled egg (and I didn’t get arrested!). I mix together a little dressing made with low-sugar mayo, balsamic vinaigrette and lemon juice; it’s becomes a family favorite. Chopping up eight different veggies would take me a millennium. There are other pre-prepped items like coleslaw that help save you time.
- Snack well. Let’s be honest. There are some days everything will go “cray-cray.” Having a stash of healthy snacks already prepared will become your lifeline. Always strive to have healthy snacks on hand to grab such as 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.
- Keep it simple. My husband is delusional about my cooking. He tells people I’m a good cook. 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 olive oil, sautéed fresh baby kale and watermelon for dessert. Total prep time: 20 to 30 minutes. Also, take advantage of the crock pot and pressure cooker and let them do some of the work for you.
- 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, it can increase your quality of life. You may not be able to 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.
- Get help. There are many ways you can do this. First, look within your 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 who deliver healthy meals. They deliver boxes filled with the exact ingredients and recipes right to your door. There are also companies that will prepare cooked meals you can pick up. The hot food bar at Whole Foods is a go to for me at least once a week; many grocery stores have them. Just make good choices by sticking with mostly veggies and protein.
Yes, healthy eating takes some planning. Yes, it takes some thought. Yes, it is worth it. One of my patients is a high-ranking government official who names the governor of his state as his boss. The man is busy. His career and family obligations caused him to place his health on the back burner and the consequences were severe (diverticulitis, IBS, insomnia, overweight and pre-diabetes). He decided to make changes and finally take the time to make healthy eating a priority:
"When I first was referred to Lindy Ford by my physician, I expected to get a diet regimen to assist in losing weight. What I received was far more than that. I received counseling on eating habits, where to buy healthful food, the necessity of reading labels and taking time to plan and eat healthy. I lost 24 pounds in less than three months, feel much better, sleep better and have more energy. My cholesterol, triglycerides and other values all improved significantly. I am now comfortable with eating healthy and will continue for life. It was a great life-changing experience for me."
Are you too busy to eat healthy? Is your car too busy driving for gas? Eating healthy will pay you back with increased energy, clearer thought, increased productivity and a higher quality of life.
Lindy Ford, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Nutritionist who runs Lindy Ford Nutrition & Wellness, LLC, a private practice in Wilmington. She received her degree in Nutritional Science from the University of Maryland, College Park. She treats each patient according to their unique physiology so they can achieve long-term results. For more information, visit lindyfordwellness.com, call (443) 417-8352 or send an email to [email protected].