I hear you…life is busy. We’re pulled in so many directions and stretched to capacity. We’re overworked, overtired and stressed. The idea of adopting a healthier way of eating can seem downright daunting, if not impossible. But considering that our diet is the second leading cause of death and disability combined, followed only by smoking (see here), it’s well worth trying create some healthy eating habits. Fear factor aside, healthy eating has been linked to increased energy, improved sleep and fitness levels, and a more positive mood. Who’d say no to those?! Eating healthier doesn’t need to take a lot of time. Here are my top 5 tips for eating healthier with minimal time and effort.
1. Plan in Advance
I think everyone would agree planning for our meals in advance makes good sense. It helps minimise grocery shopping trips, which saves time. Here’s our approach:
- Friday we check out our schedules for the following week to figure out how many meals we’ll need.
- We make a list of dishes to make that will yield enough meals with enough variety, then create a grocery list.
- Saturday we shop at our local discount grocery. Less often we also shop at Costco, a bulk food store and a health food store (or a higher end grocery store with a “natural” section). See my post here for what I like to buy at each type of store.
- We try to get cooking on the weekend when we have more time.
2. Keep it Simple
To make advance meal planning quick and easy, keep a list and build a rotation of simple healthy favourite entrees. My go-tos for free online recipes are Oh She Glows, Sweet Potato Soul and Minimalist Baker (this site includes many entrees). But to save time we can skip the recipe and build grain bowls or wraps on a regular basis. Here’s how:
- Choose 100% whole grain tortillas or an unprocessed grain base like quinoa or brown rice
- Choose lentils or a bean like chickpeas, black beans, edamame or tofu (I use canned lentils and beans to save on time)
- Choose at least one vegetable like steamed broccoli or kale, spinach, shredded carrots, cherry tomatoes or avocado
- Choose a dressing or sauce like barbeque (nice with black beans), lemon tahini (tasty with chickpeas), salsa, humous, or vinaigrette
Put them all together and we’re done!
3. Eat Leftovers for Lunch
We usually only need to make about five dishes per week, and that’s because we eat leftovers for lunch. This really decreases prep time. And since lunch for my husband is in a nut-free location, we ensure there are enough nut-free options when we meal plan.
4. Batch Cook and Freeze
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been saved by meals in my freezer! Despite our best efforts, life often doesn’t go as planned. We’re behind schedule the night we plan to cook up a meal. Or we’re delayed and haven’t yet had time to grocery shop. The next time you make your favourite freezer-friendly healthy meal, try to make extra to stash away. The ones we think freeze best are burgers, chilis, soups, and slices of lentil loaf. You can also cook and freeze in portions quinoa and brown rice for those grain bowls.
5. Eat Out, Order In or Grab-and-Go
I have to admit, one of my favourite ways to save time is to let someone else cook for me! If we choose wisely (and ideally avoid animal products), we can still eat healthy even when it’s not our own home cooking. Here are some of my favourites:
- Mexican rice and bean bowls or burritos ~ our favourite is Chipotle Mexican Grill
- Indian ~ we love dal and aloo gobi
- Thai ~ vegetable curry is really delicious
- Fresh salads and grain bowls ~ chain restaurants like Freshii and The Chopped Leaf specialise in these
- Vegan restaurants ~ in London Ontario we love Plant Matter Kitchen, Plant Matter Bistro, Plant Matter Café, Curley Brewing Company and V Food Spot
- Restaurants with a “plant slant” ~ in London Ontario there’s The Root Cellar, Zen ‘Za Pizzeria and Origins Co.
Check out Happy Cow for veg-friendly options in your city, or anywhere you travel to.
The Wellness Coach in me wants to add that it can take some time to change our eating habits…slow and steady usually wins the race. Also lots of self-compassion helps for when we may not achieve our goals. We can start the journey with just one meal, and build on our successes. Like anything else we value, invest in and work toward, healthy eating is well worth the effort.