Too busy to eat healthier? Think again! Get these 12 tips from a registered dietitian on maintaining a healthy diet with a busy lifestyle.
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Between balancing the blog, multiple work contracts, and family life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt guilty when it comes to dinnertime and I have nothing healthy ready to go.
After all, I’m a dietitian so eating healthy shouldn’t even take effort, right? So wrong.
Whether you’re well-versed in nutrition and cooking, or just learning, balancing eating healthier while also keeping up with the demands of life can get super overwhelming.
However, after a few meltdowns over ordering takeout a few too many nights, I pulled myself off of the floor and started putting into practice all the tips that I’ve shared with clients over the years.
And guess what? It worked.
Especially when you’re surrounded by pretty images of food all day on social media, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking that a healthy meal has to look worthy of being served at Tom Brady and Giesel’s house.
But as most of us don’t have a private chef, it’s time to put those thoughts away and realize that eating healthier doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult.
In fact, it can actually boost our productivity and active lifestyles. It just takes a little leg-work in the beginning to get your new habits off and running.
If you’re reading this article, you probably don’t need me to tell you that what you eat is important. After all, there’s a reason the phrase, “Let food be thy medicine” has stuck around for so long.
But in addition to protecting you against chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, what you eat can also affect your current lifestyle (1).
In fact, studies have found that diet plays a key role in:
So, while you may think that you don’t have time to prep and eat a healthy meal, by not maintaining a healthy diet, you’re actually preventing yourself from being your best, most energized self.
Okay, so clearly maintaining a healthy diet is not only important for your long-term health, but it can actually help keep you energized and healthy for your current lifestyle.
But how do you actually do it? Below are my top 12 tips for keeping up with a healthy diet even when you have a busy lifestyle.
Research has shown that eating breakfast has numerous benefits for health, including keeping your circadian rhythm running on track.
However, for many of us, mornings are often the busiest. Whether you’re trying to fit in a workout or have kids to take care of, cooking a full breakfast is likely something that’s only possible on weekends.
So rather than skipping breakfast, or settling for a sugar-loaded pastry, give yourself a leg up in the morning by making breakfast ahead of time.
Personally, I like to prep my breakfast each night just before I start winding down as I find the process relaxing. But you could also make a big batch on a Sunday to have ready to go throughout the week.
Regardless of your schedule and food preferences in the morning, there’s a way to have something that’s nutritious ready to grab-and-go.
Here are some of the best breakfast ideas for busy mornings:
Personally, I find lunch to be the hardest aspect of maintaining a healthy diet with a busy lifestyle. And especially living in the city, getting takeout is a far too-easy fall-back.
One of the best ways to avoid the drive through or takeout is to prep your meals ahead of time.
Yes, it takes time to plan and prep, but by putting in a few hours on Sunday, you can avoid having to cook the rest (or a least most nights) of the week.
To make meal prep easier, look for recipes with 5 ingredients or less and ones with overlapping ingredients.
Picking one or two slow cooker or no-cook meals can also help cut down on the amount of time you’re spending on meal prep.
Oftentimes when we’re busy we tend to skip meals and munch throughout the day. And those snacks are typically not the healthiest.
Rather than settling for empty calories, have some snacks ready to go for the week.
While it’s still best to meal prep meals and snacks, at least by having nutritious snacks on hand, you can sub one of those for a meal if needed (just add a piece of fruit or raw veggies to help round it out)
Each week I make a big batch of homemade protein or granola bars to keep stashed in the fridge or freezer. As I work from home, I can just grab one when needed. But to take on the go, simply have some reusable snack bags on hand to toss one in.
Need some reusable bags? I like these cute printed ones from Langsprit.
Some easy make ahead snacks that I’ll cycle through include:
Don’t have time to make your snacks? Luckily there are some healthy store-bought options as well.
Whether you didn’t prep enough meals, ran out of time, or just aren’t in the mood for leftovers, it’s always a good idea to have a few frozen meal options as backup.
Finding the “best” frozen meal option really depends on your health goals. However, in general I recommend looking for products that have a relatively short ingredient list with foods that you recognize.
Also look for ones with a minimum of 10 grams of protein (ideally at least 20 grams) and some veggies mixed in. However, you can always pair one frozen meal with a bag of steamed frozen veggies as well if needed.
Below are frozen meals that I regularly keep on hand for quick lunches or even the occasional dinner.
While buying foods close to their whole forms will save you money, they don’t always save you time. And when you’re busy, time is money.
Rotisserie chicken, pre-marinated salmon filets, veggie platters, pre-spiralized veggie noodles, and even pre-sliced fruit can save you lots of time during the week and make it easier to make healthy choices.
Similarly for whole grains, look for quick-cooking ones (ideally without too much added sodium). For example, farro is one of my favorite bases for grain bowls and Trader Joe’s offers a 10-min cooking farro that’s awesome!
A balanced meal doesn’t have to be complicated. After all, as long as you have a source of protein, fiber, and healthy fat, you’re good to go.
Stir-fry’s, grain bowls, tacos, and pasta are all quick meal options that can be made by combining just a handful of pantry ingredients.
Some foods to keep on hand for easy meals include:
In addition to the foods listed above, I also like to have a few sauces on hand to make it easy to switch up the flavor without needing a bunch of additional ingredients.
In addition to salsa, I like to keep one or two other sauces in the fridge at all times. When I have extra time on the weekend, I’ll whip up a batch of peanut sauce or carrot ginger dressing.
But when life gets crazier, I’ll just pick up some Primal Kitchen Sauces. While I’m not paleo or keto, I appreciate how all of Primal Kitchen’s products are low in added sugars and made with whole ingredients.
Having a good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar on hand doesn’t hurt either for a quick and easy salad dressing.
As mentioned earlier, having at least one slow cooker or instant pot recipe planned can save you a lot of time during the week. Not only can you make a big batch at once, but there’s (usually) minimal prep involved.
Personally I like the slow cooker better as I like how low-maintenance it is, but I know others who swear by their instant pot.
I don’t know about you, but searching for recipes can become a dangerous rabbit hole.
And before I know it, I’ve spent an hour or more looking for recipes to make during the week when I could’ve already started making my grocery list and getting ready to go shopping.
Pinterest is my favorite way to do this. Simply set up a few boards to organize your recipes into.
For example, you could have one for sheet-pan meals, another for slow-cooker dinners, and a third for make ahead breakfasts.
As time is likely the biggest constraint, make sure that you aren’t pinning any recipes that take more than 20-30 minutes from start to finish (unless they’re a slow-cooker recipe).
Anytime you start a new habit, it can take time to get into a rhythm. I recommend setting reminders on your calendar or alarms on your phone to help keep you on track.
Whether you need help remembering to actually stop and eat or a nightly reminder to prep meals for the next day, find a way to help yourself out so you’re not stuck reverting back to old dietary habits.
Even once you have all these other tips down, chances are you’ll still have meals where you need (or prefer) to order takeout.
And one of the best ways to still stick to a healthier diet is by ordering more veggies.
For example, if ordering Chinese or Thai food, ask for an order of steamed vegetables on the side. Or if you’re getting pizza, get a family-sized salad to share.
At the end of the day, one of the worst things you can do is get stressed about not eating healthy “enough” or “perfectly.”
Life happens. And there are going to be nights of takeout food or lunches that may not have a serving of vegetables in them. And that’s okay.
Rather than beating yourself up over it and entering into a nasty cycle, acknowledge how much you’re balancing and be okay with not having an Instagram-worthy day of eating.
Also remember that eating healthy doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect.
A nutritious lunch can be a salad piled with a bunch of nutritious toppings, or it might look like a mish-mash of leftovers in the fridge.
Personally, there are days when the best I can do is a handful of crackers, a cheese stick, and some fruit. And that’s okay.
What’s most important is to find what healthy eating looks like for your schedule – not anyone else’s.
Want more nutrition tips? Check out some of my other articles, including:
If you found these tips for keeping up with a healthy diet despite your busy lifestyle, be sure to leave a comment and follow along on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook for even more dietitian-approved nutrition tips and realistic recipes!
Disclaimer: This information is meant simply for educational purposes and should not be mistaken for personalized nutrition advice. It’s always important to talk with your doctor or dietitian before making any changes to your diet.
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