How to Make Healthy Meals When You Have No Time to Cook

11 Comments

Everyone loves the idea of healthy eating, but putting your plan into action is easier said than done. Between working full time, taking care of your family, looking after an older adult, and other day to day activities, putting a healthy meal on your dinner table might be the last thing on your mind. The good news is that there are tons of ways to make simple meals that are fast and healthy. All it takes is a little planning and a few, simple cooking techniques.

Plan to fail or fail to plan

Surely you've heard this one before, but it's true. Having a plan is essential to taking control of your kitchen, even during the busiest of times. Setting aside 30 minutes a week to figure out what you're going to cook for the week can save you a bunch of headaches throughout the week. When planning your meals, figure out what main dishes you're going to prepare, which nights you're going to eat leftovers and which nights you're going to eat out. Try to cook at least three nights a week and eat out no more than once a week. Be sure to plan out what you're going to purchase at the grocery store, to help avoid extra trips during the week.

Make use of your freezer

On weekends, take advantage of your free time and cook up a storm in the kitchen! There are plenty of foods you can make in giant batches and freeze in smaller portions for later use.

Foods like meatballs and pasta salads hold up especially well. If you're feeling adventurous, try this savory herb and bean stew that's full of folate, vitamins, and fiber. You can even make this Malaysian chickpea curry that takes only 20 minutes! With meals like this, all you need to do is boil some water for whole-grain pasta or brown rice, add a salad of pre-washed greens, and you instantly have a healthy meal.

Have easy breakfast ingredients

Sometimes it seems like breakfast is a mad dash for the door. If you're trying to take care of your family in the morning and get ready for work, it can be difficult to balance all of your responsibilities.

It helps to have healthy items on hand that you can easily mix and match for tons of different breakfast ideas. Some healthy items include:

  • Whole-grain cereals with less than nine grams of sugar per serving
  • Instant oatmeal (buy the plain variety so you can control the sugar and calories)
  • Fresh fruit like apples, bananas, oranges, and berries that are easy to eat on the go
  • Low-fat, low-sugar dairy options like milk and Greek yogurt
  • Raw nuts like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.
  • Seeds like flax and chia that can be mixed into cereals or smoothies
  • Free-range, organic eggs
  • Sprouted grain, whole-grain, or gluten-free breads, bagels and English muffins
  • Grass-fed butter and coconut oil for cooking and baking

With these foods, you can make dozens of different items for breakfast. Toss Greek yogurt, berries, and some chia seeds into a blender for a healthy smoothie that takes five minutes to make. Whole-grain cereal with a little cow's milk or almond milk, some chopped walnuts, and a sliced banana is a fiber-rich meal that will definitely keep you full all morning. If you like something more savory, eggs that have been cooked in coconut oil or grass-fed butter (yes, butter) is a fantastic way to burn fat and lose weight.

The key to making breakfast simple is to have lots of these items on hand so that you'll always look forward to the most important meal of the day!

Eating sensibly and healthily doesn't need to be an arduous task. Having an arsenal of recipes, ingredients, and simple cooking tips can determine whether your day is filled with wholesome, rich nutrition or fast food and take out. Empower yourself with the right tools to make healthy choices each and every day!

Taji Mortazavi is the founder of We're Talking About Food. She is devoted to democratizing health, and believes anyone CAN live a healthy lifestyle regardless of age, medical illness, budget, etc. Many online journals have published Taji’s health and fitness articles. Find out more by visiting her site, and following her on Facebook or Twitter.

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11 Comments

I think that Taji presents some good suggestions in this article. I'm not convinced she is writing for the correct audience, though. She envisions someone who works out of the home, maintains a home for a family, AND is a caregiver to an elder. And she talks about all "free time" this person allegedly has on weekends? Ho ho ho. :D

There doesn't seem to be enough acknowledgement of how set in their ways seniors can become, and how dementia can adversely impact the willingness to try new things. A green smoothie for breakfast? OMG, Mother would be gagging before I set it in front of her.

My endocrinologist told me eating instant oatmeal is the equivalent of eating a bowl of sugar. Even though it starts with whole grain, by the time it has been ground into "instant" powder our bodies treat it as a very simple carbohydrate. Why bother?

Pasta salads freeze well? Really? That hasn't been my experience. Pasta hot dishes, yes. Salads, with ingredients like apple chunks or grapes and celery and raw green onions, chopped hard-cooked eggs and Greek yogurt or mayonnaise? I just can't picture it. Maybe there are some salads that would work better than the ones I make ... ??

Planning ahead is essential for survival. It is often nearly impossible to get in one shopping trip a week. It has to count.

Freezer foods are a godsend. But for the particular audience this is aimed at, discussing how to select healthy already-frozen meals might be more to the point.

Having easy ingredients on hand makes a lot of sense. And remembering to use up the perishables (bananas) soon after shopping day and save the long-shelf-life items (almonds) for later is important, too!

Free range, organic eggs? Because when you raising a family and caregiving you can afford to pay triple the usual price for eggs?

By the way, not everyone loves the idea of healthy eating. My mother doesn't give two beans for it. My son is actively opposed to it. I personally think it is a terrific idea. I think the suggestions here mostly make sense -- for me. I'm not sure how they fit into the context of over-worked under-funded exhausted caregiving.
I think the article contains good advice but failed to take into account the constrainsts a working caregiver faces.
It is important to figure out the prioities of the meals.
Just because you are home all week end does not mean you can or want to spend the time cooking batches of meals for the following week and planning menues..
iI may cost a little more to buy convenience foods such as frozen vegetables especially those you can cook in their packets in the microwave but its still cheaper and healthier than take out. Nothing wrong with buying a pre roasted chicken on the way home from work, microwaving the veg and using dried potatoes for a meal on the table in the time it takes you to change your loved ones depends.. Make friends with your slow cooker. Throw the fixings for a stew together the night before keep in the fridge and start the cslow cooker before you leave in the morning..Buy a premade pastry case and use to make a quiche. pop it in the oven for ten minutes to cook the pastry while you prepare the fillings then add the fillings and return to the oven. this will take about 45 minutes to cook so relax and pay some bills over a glass of wine and tell your loved one about your day at work or heaven forbid listen to their list of complaints about day care. Cook a large roast or a turkey at the weekend and you will have the basis for many dishes during the week from sandwiches to curries and everything in between. hard boiled eggs make a quick breakfast even if Book does not have time to eat before work.
Book why don't you throw one in your purse and a banana and eat them with your mid morning coffee break. A bagel and cream cheese fills a big hole as does cereal or even a hunk of cheese and crackers. Scrambled eggs take about two minutes in the microwave which is about the time it takes to toast a slice of bread.
deserts can be a pie with fresh or canned filling you bake with the quiesh the night before. ice cream is a good standby as is fresh or canned fruit with a little cream.
frozen fries in the oven take about 18 minutes and taste as good as fried. A potato in it's skin takes about 5 minutes in the microwave. if the ingredients are pre prepared a stir fry takes only as long as the rice takes to cook which is about 15 minutes. It may be even good to buy the mixed veg either frozen or from the supermarket. Purchase a pre cooked pizza shell throw on the toppings and about 20 minutes in the oven out comes fresh pizza. buy a frozen on or takeout if you must but it's fast. This is not a frugal lifestyle but that is not the object here it is about surviving in the modern world when you have to wear so many hats you can hardly remember which one you are wearing at the time.
Book you can use canned or frozen fruits or veg in those smoothies which are a lot cheaper. living frugally takes a great deal more time and effort but that was not the purpose of this article.
I'm not into cooking/preparing meals. I don't have the time in the mornings to grab something for breakfast. As it is, I don't even have time to crack a hard boiled egg and eat it. I've accidentally found out that an egg for breakfast can sure help stave off the hunger when it's not yet 11:30am. As for smoothies, I bought The Bullet. When I went to the store to buy the berries/fruits, I was shocked how expensive those little package of fruits cost. So, smoothies are no longer an option. But, I do like to read tips for quick meals.