How to Eat Well When You Don’t Have Time to Cook
Last week I participated in a Twitter chat about nutrition for seniors and people living with cancer. One of the main themes of the chat was that it is critical for seniors to eat healthy foods. The same goes for caregivers, who are running themselves ragged.
An article about caregivers needing to better care of themselves revealed that caregivers experience stress related health issues up to three years after their caregiving duties are over.
As someone who lives with chronic illness and chronic pain, I reminded the people in the chat that sometimes, when you are upset or stressed, you don’t want to eat healthy. You want comfort food to make yourself feel better. For me, its chocolate or candy, since a lot of my old comfort foods are too heavy and make me feel nauseous. For many, it is convenience food like fast food, chips or cookies.
We can talk for days about how hard it is to get healthy meals into us when we’re too busy or not feeling well, but instead, let’s focus on what we can do to make healthy eating possible. Every little bit helps. These are all things I do in my home to make sure my family and I eat healthy foods.
- Cook Ahead: I have weeks when I feel well and am less busy. In those weeks, I prepare cook double portions of healthy meals and freeze them for the days when I’m busy or not feeling well. Some examples are pasta sauces packed with extra vegetables, soups, cook ground beef or turkey with taco seasoning, chicken pot pies and shepherd pies.
- Cut Corners: You don’t need to make a gourmet meal every day. If you are busy or aren’t feeling well, you could buy a rotisserie chicken and bag salad from the grocery store. The rotisserie chicken usually works out to about three meals in my home, so you get a lot of bang for your $5. Many grocery stores also sell pre-chopped stir fry vegetables and pre-cooked chicken (Tyson makes pre-cooked chicken strips). Just heat with some seasoning or stir fry marinade and dinner is done. If even those options feel too difficult, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, canned soup or scrambled eggs are perfectly acceptable dinner options.
- Snack Well: If you can’t make room for healthy meals right now, at least try to snack well. Keep fresh fruit, carrot sticks, broccoli, yogurt, nuts and cheese sticks front and center in your home. If you have it easily available and ready to eat, you’ll be more likely to eat a piece of fruit instead of a bag of chips. If I’m really craving junk food, I make myself eat a healthy snack first and then if I still want a snack, I eat the junk food. I usually don’t want it after I’ve had the healthy food, but if I do, I’ll eat way less than I would have if that was my only snack.
- Healthy Frozen Options: Many grocery stores have frozen meals that can be heated and served quickly. My favorites to stock up on are from Trader Joe’s. I typically buy several bags of the Mandarin Chicken and Beef and Broccoli to cook on nights when I don’t have time. Pair it with the frozen brown rice and a salad or some steamed vegetables and you have a nice quick meal.
- Healthy Take-Out: Eating take-out doesn’t have to mean greasy burgers and fries. Most fast food restaurants now have healthy options from salads to grilled chicken sandwiches. This article shares healthy options from a variety of restaurants.
I know first-hand how hard it can be to eat healthy meals regularly. There are days when I have the best laid plans and things fall apart. Yesterday was the perfect example. I put out ground beef to cook after I returned from a doctor’s appointment. My appointment ended up lasting 2.5 hours so I got home at 5:45 – too late to start dinner. We cooked up some organic baked chicken nuggets for the kids and I had my favorite standby – scrambled eggs and toast. Healthy dining doesn’t always happen, but if we try to fit it in the majority of the time, our bodies will thank us.