Many of us have busy schedules – whether it’s work, school, running around after family, time spent getting from A to B, social life, or other commitments, our days can be pretty full! Being short on time can be a real obstacle to eating healthy, and eating healthy is all about the choices we make. Have breakfast at home or eat on the go, pack a lunch or eat at a cafe, snack on an apple or a chocolate bar, cook dinner at home or grab takeaways.
To be consistent with healthy eating habits, you need to make things as easy for yourself as possible! Here are some tips to help you out.
Become a pro in the kitchen
Cooking at home can save a lot of money while also giving you control over the ingredients so you know exactly what’s going into your food.
The best way to build up your skills in the kitchen is to just get in there and practice cooking. Search the internet for your fave takeout and restaurant meals, and practice cooking them until they become an easy option. The more you make your favourite recipes the quicker you get at making them. If it goes wrong, have an emergency backup meal prepped in your freezer just in case, and take the time to figure out what went wrong so you can avoid it next time!
It can be overwhelming attempting a lot of different unfamiliar recipes in one week. Try cooking one new recipe each week to expand your repertoire. Make sure it’s on a day where you’re not rushed for time so you can go through it step by step without feeling the pressure of getting it on the dinner table quickly.
As you get better at cooking and your recipe options become more varied, this will go a long way to making sure you don’t get bored with your food.
Plan your food in advance
The majority of households only have around nine dinner meals that are used on regular rotation. This limited home menu roster is often true for lunches and breakfasts as well; if you bear this in mind, it makes it very easy to plan your food.
You don’t need to plan out your meals in detail, but having a general idea of what you’re going to do each week will be helpful. This will make meal prep time quicker and easier, and you’ll be able to check in advance that you have all the ingredients you need (and that if any ingredients are in the freezer, you’ll know to take them out in enough time for them to defrost!).
Some options that can work include:
- Planning around protein – Have seven lean protein options planned, one for each day of the week, and plan your meals around them. This can work well if you shop for what’s available and well priced on your shopping trip.
- Planning around recipes – Some people prefer to know which recipes they want to cook, then buy the ingredients for them. This can be great for variety, but it can be time consuming selecting recipes in advance.
- Planning around what you’ve got on hand – Got ingredients you’ve already bought that need using up? This way of doing it is great for reducing wastage and getting creative with your cooking.
Write down your top breakfast options, lunches, dinners and snacks and stick it on your fridge or somewhere else obvious. These foods aren’t necessarily your favourite options, but your easiest healthy go-to recipes you’re most likely to create on your average day. Check out how to create a healthier shopping list for tips to put this together.
It’s a good idea to have the ingredients for these permanently in your cupboards and fridge. If something runs out it gets added back onto the shopping list straight away. You might like to tweak these recipes to change them up, swapping out one lean protein for another, or substituting an ingredient for a different flavour.
The ultimate way to make healthier eating easy with a busy schedule! There are a number of different ways to do this, including:
- Chopping vegetables in advance and keeping them in containers in the fridge for quicker food preparation on the day of cooking.
- Setting aside time to cook full meals and snacks, then portion them out and store them for the week ahead.
- Cooking larger quantities of your regular weekday meals and storing the leftovers for extra meals later.
- Half prepping meals, such as chucking smoothie ingredients into containers ready to tip into the blender, or making a generic cooked mince, onion and tomato combination that can be split up and later turned into lasagne, bolognese and burritos.
- Make a meal the night before or at the beginning of the day and put it into a slow cooker.
Go crazy on the fruit and veg
Having plenty of vegetables and fruit in your diet is a cornerstone of healthy eating. Ensuring you have variety in this department is good for your digestive system, your general health and your immunity, so it’s important not to skimp on produce.
To make sure this happens you need to make it as easy as possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating fresh produce, frozen, or from a tin, as long as you’re eating it you’re getting vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (special natural chemicals you can only get from plants) and fibre. If you struggle to get to the shops, many areas have produce box services available where you can get fresh fruit and veges delivered to your door each week.
If peeling, slicing, dicing and grating vegetables is too much work, make it easy on yourself. We mentioned before you can chop some veges in advance as part of meal prepping. A food processor may be able to quickly do the job for you. In some instances such as roast vegetables, you don’t need to peel the skins – you can just leave them on!
Large handfuls of spinach and chopped silverbeet leaves can go into just about any sauce (bolognese, curry, stew…) without altering the consistency or taste. Leftover veges can be used up in savoury muffins, frittatas, quiche or omelettes. Leftover fruit can be used in crumbles, porridge or sweet muffins.
Be smart about your time
Know which meals are best for you to make on days when you’re extremely time poor. Don’t aim to make something complicated, new, or time consuming on a day when you only have half an hour to cook – save that for the evenings when you have more time to trawl through the recipe books and to prep your food.
Easy options include stir fries, grilled meat with roast veg and salad, or if you’re into soups and stews a slow cooker or pressure cooker can be good investments.
Some appliances can be huge time savers. You can get a single pot-style appliance that does sauteing, slow cooking and pressure cooking all in one. Slow cooking means you can chuck everything into the pot at the beginning of the day and it will be ready and waiting for you by dinner time. Pressure cooking means that if you forget to use the slow cooker or run out of time at the beginning of the day, you can whip up a tender flavourful meal in a short time in the evening.
A good food processor is great for creating baby foods, purees, soups, curry pastes, sauces, and all sorts of recipes from scratch quickly. If you get a more expensive one it may even come with attachment discs for special tasks such as grating and chopping.
Also don’t turn your nose up at rice cookers. They’re one of the cheapest appliances you can get (around $30), and your rice will turn out perfectly fluffy every time without having to constantly watch it and stir it.
Have backup options
Some days it will fall apart and you’ll have either forgotten to defrost the meat, don’t have all the ingredients you need, or just plain ran out of time. Have a couple of emergency recipes up your sleeve that you could use in these situations (eggs are often good for this – a self-crusting pastry-free quiche, omelettes, frittatas…) or meals stored in the freezer as a backup.
It’s also good to know your healthiest takeaway options for emergencies, special occasions or days when you’re just too tired to cook. Remember, there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods and there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself every now and then; your journey to your nutrition goals is all about the choices you make on a day to day basis and how they add up over time!