Despite what many busy people like yourself might think, healthy eating doesn’t have to be a crazy complicated ordeal that requires hours of time you don’t even really have. It’s the opposite, actually. If you use the right strategies (like the tips we’re about to share) and spend just a small amount of time planning ahead, eating healthy on a regular basis—even when you’re schedule is busy beyond belief—can become a practically seamless part of your life. With the following expert-recommended healthy eating hacks, you’ll have your healthy eating habits so on track it’ll hardly matter how busy your schedule really is.
Having healthy, satisfying snacks on hand is one of the best ways to make sure your healthy eating habits will stay on track at all times. “Make your own trail mix in bulk and portion it out in single-serving snack bags,” suggest Jenny Petitti, R.D., an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer. She recommends making it with whole grain cereal, dried fruit like raisins and salt-free nuts.
“One of my best friends is my insulated lunch box,” says Carol Phillips, a national health and wellness expert and the award-winning author of 52 Simple Ways to Health. “I always have it on hand to make it easy to keep healthy snacks, meals and drinks available to avoid becoming too hungry and being tempted to raid the sugar- and sodium-filled vending machine at work. Having it in my vehicle ensures I'll avoid buying an unhealthy meal when traveling and it can be a lifesaver when you are stuck in traffic.” Phillips suggests turning the habit of packing lunches and snacks for the following day into a nightly family ritual. “Preparing your lunchbox the day before is also a great way to reduce morning rush stress,” she said. “Take your stocked lunchbox with you every day, not only to work, but also on long errands during the weekend.”
“The key is to make a good shopping list and stock your fridge with it,” says Dr. Caroline Cederquist M.D., creator of bistroMD and author of The MD Factor Diet. “If you have it in your environment and it doesn’t taste bad, you’ll use it. The thing is people are busy, then they’re over-hungry and they’ll eat whatever’s available and feel really bad about it, and then eat more stuff and then they feel like the day is ruined. So the key is having it available.”
Cederquist also suggests making a specific list. Know exactly what foods you’re going to buy and what brands you’ll choose. On BistroMd, she provides a grocery list with MD Factor Diet approved foods, including which brands are the best to buy. “It’s a list of the things we use in my actual practice, she said. “Like, Trader Joe’s brands and things you can get at Whole Foods or Publix, specific brands that are lower fat, higher protein, lower sodium, whatever it is, so you can actually go with a targeted shopping list.”
“Stock up on convenient healthy foods,” says Megan Anderson, R.D.N., C.S.P., a dietitian and health educator at Northern Arizona University. “This doesn't mean frozen dinners and canned soups, which can still have added sodium, fats and sugars.” Instead, she suggests, opt for pre- cut and washed fruits and vegetables, as well as pre-portioned snacks, which can be great time savers, and often budget-friendly. “Some ideas are baby carrots, sugar snap peas, mini bell peppers, bagged salads, whole fruits, like apples, pears or bananas, pre-portioned nuts or nut butters, and single-serve hummus container,” she said.
“Gourmet meals every night would be awesome, but in the real world most people simply don't have the time,” Anderson explained. “A person can rely on ‘half-scratch’ cooking for those really busy nights. Basically, it’s taking something that may already be prepared, and adding a little more.” Some easy examples she suggests include the following: rotisserie chicken with frozen vegetables and a microwaved ‘baked potato,’ or brown rice with black beans, topped with a quick cabbage salsa made with pre-sliced cabbage, mango, bell pepper, tomato, and jalapeno. “I firmly believe every family needs a pizza night once in a while, so order just enough of a vegetable pizza for each person to have one or two slices, and serve a large bagged salad and some pre-cut vegetables on the side,” Anderson added.
“If you're too busy in the morning to put together a filling breakfast, make something in advance or the night before,” suggests Mandy Unanski Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in behavior change and creator of Nutrition Nuptials. “Overnight oats is a really filling breakfast that my clients love. A mix of oats, yogurt, milk, fruit, nuts and seeds is truly a hearty breakfast full of fiber and protein that will keep you full all day long. Grab it from the fridge in the morning and you're ready to enjoy." She suggests trying the following recipe: Mixed Berry Overnight Oats.
“Batch cook a grain, a vegetable and a protein over the weekend to put together healthy ‘Buddha bowls’ for a quick, no nonsense meal,” suggests Lauren Kretzer, a chef and plant-based health coach. “Taking an hour on a Sunday to prep and prepare a few essential components for healthy meals ensures that you can make healthy choices without much advance notice or time to grocery shop and prepare a meal."
“Go ahead and buy pre-washed, prepped greens and berries, cooked lentils, cooked beets and rotisserie chicken to make it easier to prepare meals and snack healthfully,” says Caroline Kaufman,M.S., R.D.N, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian nutritionist and blogger at CarolineKaufman.com. “You can even buy riced cauliflower at Trader Joe’s now, which is a healthy alternative for rice or mashed potatoes, or the base for a quick pizza dough.”
Let’s be honest, sometimes there’s no avoiding the frozen TV dinner. During those super busy times when this is your only viable option, don’t feel bad, Kaufman suggests simply doctoring it up a bit. “When you need to heat up a frozen meal, balance your plate by pairing it with fresh produce to maximize the health benefits and flavor and to make sure you feel full,” she said. “For instance, top a portion of frozen pizza with extra veggies, and add a salad made of pre-washed mixed greens with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers. Or top the pizza with an arugula and vegetable salad right after it comes out of the oven.” Other examples she suggests, add a fresh fruit and spinach salad to a frozen chicken and pasta entree, or a whole grain couscous veggie salad to a frozen lean meat dinner.
Cerderquist understands that there are plenty of working men and women who want to eat well and eat clean, but don’t necessarily have the time—especially active people who like spending the majority of their free time working out or playing sports. “The work of shopping for the food and preparing it and all of that can be too much, and active people can fall into dining out a lot, but those kinds of meals can always be heavier, with more sodium and everything like that,” she explained. For this reason, she says a food delivery plan like BistroMD’s might be the smartest and most efficient option. “The label of BistroMD is very, very clean,” she added. “Over the years it was like a breakfast, lunch and dinner diet delivery type service so people didn’t have to make any choices, but these days people can log into what’s called ‘My BistroMD’ and order just dinners or just lunches, so they could say, ‘I only want chicken dishes’ or ‘I only want chicken and fish,’ and they could get 20 meals that last a month, for example. Things that they like, but healthier versions of comfort foods without the work.”