When it comes to eating healthy when you’re busy – the struggle is real.
Whether you’re a mom of three, single and starting your own business, or deep in the throes of school and a full-time job – chances are, you’ve felt the pain that comes with balancing numerous obligations. And while the obvious remedy is to un-obligate yourself, there are phases of life that require us to work at a higher capacity to make ends meet.
Eating healthy when you’re busy is challenging because when you’re overcommitted, something’s gotta give. Most of the time, the easiest thing to do is sacrifice our health – and we put sleep, healthy eating, and/or fitness on the back burner.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall into a rhythm and get comfortable with the sacrifices we’ve made. However – over the long term, these sacrifices affect our ability to perform the tasks we’re prioritizing, which means we’re a whole lot less effective at doing all the things that are making us busy.
So, let’s review. Too busy = Sacrifices to health = Less effective and productive = Even busier.
Sounds super fun, huh? Of course – it’s very much so not, which is why it’s incredibly important to prioritize eating healthy when you’re busy, and learning the skills that will allow you to do so.
7 Tips for Eating Healthy When Busy
While there’s much to be said about shifting priorities, reducing obligations, and choosing the road less busy, eating healthy and nourishing your body can absolutely be done when time is limited.
So – what’s the secret? It’s all about preparation, strategy, and balance. Get your pens and pencils ready – things are about to get serious.
1. Become a Bulk Master
Eating healthy when you’re busy is all about knowing how to cook more with less time. First things first – when you do have the time to cook dinner, double or triple the portions. If you typically sauté a pound of ground beef, sauté two or three pounds instead. Or, if you’re making a dozen meatballs in the oven, whip out an extra pan and go ahead and make 24. The extra food you don’t eat can be stored in the fridge or freezer for days time is limited.
Foods that are great to cook in bulk and store well in the freezer include liquids like chilis, soups, and stews; patties or meatballs made from ground beef, turkey, pork, or chicken; and sides like rice or stir-fried vegetables.
On days you plan to cook dinner, give yourself an extra ten minutes in the morning to lay out the meat you plan to cook, and chop up any vegetables you plan to use in your dish.
On the weekends or when you have a day off, taking an hour or two to make breakfast foods or snacks in bulk will help fuel you throughout your “on” days. I recommend cooking a couple batches of hard-boiled eggs on the stove-top, cooking 2-4 pounds of whole sweet potatoes in the pressure cooker or oven, baking chicken or a large fillet of fish in the oven, and cooking up large batches of egg muffins, homemade waffles, or bread, which all store well in the freezer.
You can also chop up some vegetables and throw together a large salad to eat from throughout the week. When doing so, it’s best to keep the salad in a large airtight container along with a paper towel, which will absorb moisture. Bulk cooking is a great time to catch up on podcast listening. Might I recommend this one?
2. Equip Thyself
With the right equipment, eating healthy when you’re busy becomes second nature. First, investing in extra storage containers to preserve both liquids and solids is key. I personally use wide-mouth mason jars for dried goods and smaller servings of liquids, and larger Le Parfait jars for bulk storage of liquids like chili, stews or bone broth in the freezer. Also, airtight glass containers and reusable BPA-free bags are great for storing solids and keeping foods fresh over the course of the week.
For long days away from home, I highly recommend using an airtight stainless steal container to take food with you. You can take this to work, on airplanes or to conferences – and pack it full with 1-2 meals worth of food to keep you satiated. Typically, we pack ours with hard-boiled eggs, sweet potato, raw veggies tossed in olive oil, a slice of raw cheese, and some protein like sausages or salmon. (Yes, that’s all in ONE container.) I also recommend having your own stainless steel water bottle and coffee mug with home-brewed coffee at your side so aren’t tempted to indulge in the more expensive, fancy pants ones.
And lastly, the stars of the show when it comes to eating healthy when you’re busy is the slow cooker and pressure cooker. If these are both new to you – don’t be intimidated. I can’t express to you how easy they are to use and prepare food in. With the slow cooker, you simply take 5-10 minutes in the morning to prep some food – and you’re rewarded with a beautiful (and darn tasty) dinner when you come home in the evening. Slow cookers are also an awesome way to make food in bulk because of how much food they can hold.
If you forgot to do any sort of preparatory work in the morning (hey, it happens to the best of us!), the pressure cooker is an incredible way to make food in half the time, and cook things like sweet potatoes in bulk. Check out my Slow Cooker Spicy Sweet Potato Stew recipe to get started with the slow cooker, and check out this fast cooking chart for the pressure cooker.
3. Stash the Snacks
When you’re short on time, food, and running on empty, non-perishable snacks are the perfect back-up plan for eating healthy when you’re busy. To make sure your back-up plan is always in place, I recommend purchasing snacks in bulk, having multiple stashes at home, work, and in your bag/purse, and making it a priority to purchase more before you’ve run out.
You can purchase many non-perishable snacks in bulk online, which can be done with a few clicks on your computer. Many wholesome snacks are also now being sold at both specialty and conventional grocery stores – and can be picked up on your weekly or bi-weekly trips.
So, what snacks make for an awesome meal in a flash? My favorites include:
- Jerky – Check out Epic Bars or Tanka Bars
- Fruit and Nut Bars – Check out Larabars, Simple Squares, or Ona Bars
- Raw nut and seed mixes – Purchase raw nuts and seeds in bulk and make your own mixture
- Dried (no sugar added) fruit – Our favorites include dried cherries, mango, raisins, and pineapple
- Individual packets of almond butter or coconut butter
- Fruits like apples, pears, or avocados – Yes, these are perishable. But, if you shop local and seasonal, they’ll last a good 2-3 weeks
4. Strategically Shop
One of the biggest hurdles when it comes to eating healthy when you’re busy is actually having the time to get to the grocery store and do the shopping needed to make good food. This is why it’s important to strategically shop, and get a combination of foods that will last you throughout your allotted time.
If you can only get to the store once every two weeks, stock up on fresh vegetables and fruits, which can last up to 2.5 weeks in the fridge when stored with this handy-dandy preserver tool. In the event you run out of fresh foods, purchase foods that are easy to prepare from the frozen section – including frozen bags of organic vegetables or berries.
For easy to cook sides, purchase dried goods like rice or quinoa in bulk – and have them stocked in the pantry and ready to use when you need them. I recommend soaking grains in water, which is super easy to do and makes the grain cook up faster.
Lastly, I’m a huge fan of shopping locally. Check out this website to see what farms and farmer’s markets are around you that you can drop by once a month. Shopping locally means getting food that has virtually no “transit time,” which increases the preservation of the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants and phytonutrients it contains. It also means getting food that will last a hellova lot longer than food you’ll find shipped from other countries at the grocery store. Also, farmer’s markets are great places to stock up on eggs, which will last 4-6 weeks in the fridge, and easy to cook meats like ground beef or whole chickens.
5. Embrace the Freezer
While I’ve made hints to how handy it can be in previous tips, the freezer is quite possibly the most valuable tool when it comes to eating healthy when you’re busy. Yes, eating fresh is important – but, balancing fresh with frozen throughout busy times is the best way to make the most of the time available to you.
First, the freezer is great for stocking up on virtually all kinds of meats, as well as bags of frozen vegetables or fruit. Stocking up on these things once a month reduces the trips to the grocery store or farmer’s market, and leaves a lot of food at your fingertips when you’re hit with a busy day, or you’ve run out of fresh food.
You can also use the freezer to preserve fresh foods you’ve purchased in bulk or when in-season. For example, some foods – like berries, peppers, or pre-cooked squash or potatoes can be diced and stored in freezer bags for long-term use.
And of course, the freezer is great for stashing pre-cooked dinners you’ve made in bulk like meatballs or stir-fried rice and vegetable, and grab-n-go items that can be made in bulk in your off days.
6. Know Your No-Prep Foods
In addition to non-perishable snacks, there are quite a few no-prep foods that can be thrown together to make an easy lunch or dinner in a flash.
The first, and most obvious – includes items like apples, pears, or bananas, which can be paired with a variety of nut butters. You can also purchase vegetables like baby carrots or broccoli spears, and dip them in pre-made guacamole, or tossed them with spinach and olive oil for a quick salad.
For protein, I highly recommend always having cans of wild tuna, salmon, or sardines in the pantry, which can be thrown on top of a salad or a bed of greens – or mixed with guacamole. Organic pre-sliced deli meats are also a great protein source, which can be rolled up with spinach and avocado inside to create handy little rolls of goodness. Of course, I recommend purchasing pre-sliced meats from your farmer, or in a pinch – from a reputable brand like this one.
Some other no-prep whole food options are olives, sliced avocado, sliced raw milk cheese, raw nuts and seeds, dried coconut flakes, and canned coconut milk – which tastes fantastic when poured on top of frozen berries. And while I don’t recommend using Mr. microwave all the time, it’s definitely helpful to have a variety of whole, raw sweet potatoes on hand, which can be cooked up in a few minutes in the microwave. Drizzle with coconut oil and almond butter to kick your life up a notch.
7. Ditch the Perfectionist Mentality
Friends – take it from someone who’s been here, there and everywhere when it comes to pursuing health and happiness with the “perfect” food. You will get nowhere fast if you believe eating healthy is all about strict rules, willpower, and unwavering perfection. In fact, the idea that health doesn’t exist without perfect adherence to a specific protocol isn’t only downright wrong, it also can being incredibly damaging in the long-run.
In other words, the stress you put on yourself trying to eat all the perfect things is way more detrimental to your health – both physically and mentally, than any spoonful of peanut butter will ever do. (Unless you’re allergic, of course. Which in that case, stay away.)
Health, and the pursuit of a healthy body is about balance, and recognizing what works best for you and your needs. Some days will be better than others, and that’s perfectly OK. Simply striving to eat nourishing foods most of the time, and letting go of the urge to judge yourself for times you don’t will put you on the path of vibrant and lasting health throughout your life.
What are some of YOUR favorite recipes for eating healthy when busy? Share in the comments below!