When it comes to healthy-eating barriers, lack of time tops the list for many of us. Life gets busy and messy, but even when you feel like you have zero time and your own needs are down at the bottom of your to-do list, I swear it’s totally possible to eat well. Here are the tips I give my nutrition clients—I use them too!
1. Plan it out.
You don’t have to make a formal meal plan every week (or ever, for that matter), but even just five minutes spent looking over your calendar for the coming week and noting which meals you’ll be eating out or at home on the go provides some guidance.
To give you a real-life example, I keep a very basic Monday to Sunday list in the Notes section of my phone, where I can jot down what I plan to have for meals each day of the week. It helps me organize my thoughts and minimize grocery waste. Plus, it’s super-easy to adjust if plans change. I’ve also had clients share calendars and Google docs with their partners and families to make it easier to coordinate.
File this one under "clichéd for a reason." Taking an hour or two to prep some food for the days ahead can save you time and money. You can do as much or as little as feels realistic, and know that you can always break it into chunks through the week. An hour spent on Sunday afternoon and then another on Wednesday night, for example, can make a world of difference.
Sure, you could make an assembly line of mason jar salads and chia pudding parfaits if you want to, but you can also just roast up a sheet pan of different vegetables and make a pot of grains or beans so you have some precooked ingredients to play with later if making whole meals ahead just doesn’t work for you.
3. There's no shame in shortcuts.
Don’t overlook frozen fruits and vegetables or pre-chopped produce. If you can buy your zucchini pre-spiralized or your cauliflower already riced, go for it. A rotisserie chicken is also a great example of something that can be repurposed for multiple meals.
4. Do your grocery shopping online.
Yes, there’s a delivery charge, but remember, your time is valuable. For less than 10 bucks (in most cases), you’ll save yourself the time spent traveling to and from the store, the actual shopping, and all that interaction with cranky strangers—not to mention the heavy lifting.
Added bonus: Many online retailers make it easy to shop from past orders, making it harder to run out of staples or forget to actually grab that specific thing you came for.
5. Make extra.
If you turn on the oven to make one thing, why not make all the things? Batch like a boss-lady and toss a bunch of chopped veggies with olive oil and spices on a sheet pan and roast together. Make multiple servings of a protein or grain or something like beans, and squirrel away some extra in the fridge or freezer. Soups, stews, and chili are also great batch-cooking choices.
6. Make lunch while you make dinner.
This one is simple but a major game-changer. While you’re making dinner, use those ingredients in your lunch for the next day too. Those crispy chickpeas and that cauliflower rice will be just as delicious over salad tomorrow with a lemon tahini dressing as they are with the sauteed kale you’re enjoying tonight.
7. Unlock found time.
Take advantage of handoff dishes that can cook while you go about your day. Dust off your slow cooker and let it do the heavy lifting. We often think of the crockpot for hearty winter meals, but it’s fantastic in the summer, too, when the last thing you want to do is slave over a hot stove.
Another of my favorite hacks: Throw some beaten eggs or whites and veggies in a cast-iron skillet and let your frittata bake in the oven while you shower and get ready. Thirty to forty minutes in the oven at 400°F should do it. Extra-awesome: A frittata makes a few servings, so you’ve just made several meals in one go.
There’s no shame in meal delivery services that do all the cooking for you. There are all different companies creating delicious options to suit various diet needs. Many of these meals arrive frozen, so all you have to do is heat and eat, but there are some that deliver fresh meals daily.
If you prefer to do some of the cooking yourself, try a healthy meal-kit subscription. You’ll get just the ingredients you need for each particular recipe and learn some new skills in the comfort of your own home.
9. Scope out healthy takeout.
We tend to associate takeout and delivery with unhealthy food, but if you’re picking up the phone or placing an order online, it can be just as easy to order something that supports your goals. Being outside the restaurant environment may even help you think with a clearer head since you’re not distracted by lights, sound, and other subtle cues that can influence your food choices. Ask for sauces and condiments on the side and prioritize veggies and protein, especially if you’re worried you won’t be able to help digging your way to the bottom of a carton of rice.
Have a hard time eating just a serving at a time from that giant bag of trail mix? Make it easy by portioning each serving out into a resealable bag or container so you can pick one up and know that’s the amount you need. This is especially helpful when you’re traveling or having an on-the-go day—or if you know that keeping it real with a big container of something snackable is a staring contest you always lose.
11. Have a short list of what works.
It can be a mental list or a physical (or digital) one, but having some go-to foods in your arsenal helps you avoid overthinking when you’re pressed for time or your decision-making energy is wearing thin. It can be as simple as knowing what your favorite omelet is from that place down the street, or your go-to salad order at that bistro your team usually does lunch meetings at, or even which particular brand of soup you like to keep on hand for those dinner emergencies.
Some of us do better than others with "rules," but they certainly can streamline the decision-making process. For example, knowing that you have plain yogurt with berries and walnuts for breakfast means your autopiloted morning meal is easy and deliciously healthy. Or maybe you decide to make salad your lunchtime go-to, and alternate which proteins and veggies you put in there. If dinner is your weak spot, try working in a few theme nights like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Throwback Thursday, where you put a healthy spin on a classic favorite.
13. Make it a team effort.
You don’t have to go it alone when trying to stick to healthy habits. Get friends or family involved. Whether that’s meal-prepping together while catching up on a weekend afternoon or starting a healthy breakfast club with your partner or coordinating healthy takeout orders with your office squad, making it a group effort may make it easier to stay on track. Sometimes even just voicing your healthy eating intentions to a trusted pal can help you stay accountable.
14. Stick with what works.
You’re the expert on you, so honor what feels realistic and achievable. If you’re going through a particularly stressful or hectic time, give yourself permission to stick with what works instead of feeling like you have to make an extreme change to your diet. The only exception here would be something recommended by your doctor for a serious medical reason.
That said, if you’re feeling stuck or need help getting out of a rut, talk with your doctor or a dietitian to help you establish a routine that suits your needs and gets you working toward your goals.
Want to get your meal prep on? This spring vegetable bowl is great for your hormones and can be tweaked throughout the week so you're never bored. Also, this age-reversing snack takes less than five minutes to make.