Whether it’s a holiday season, a huge project at work, or just lots of change, we all have times in our lives when we’re very busy. Busyness comes with a tendency to put everything else on hold, especially our health and fitness goals. Even though it may feel easier to just focus on the deadlines at hand, putting your health and fitness priorities on hold can lead to regret and some difficulty when it comes to prioritizing those goals back into your life when the busy time is over.
Especially in busy times, you want to be running at your best. When you’re not nourishing yourself with healthy food or moving, you’ll start to feel tired and less energized, much like you did before you made your health and fitness changes.
Plan it Out
In order to set time aside for yourself, you have to make it. This is where planning is crucial. At the beginning or end of each week, write out all of the major things you have going on (meetings, appointments, events, plans with family or friends, major work or personal deadlines). This will then help you see how many meals you need to find recipes for, when you may be eating out, and when you’ll need to pack more snacks due to longer days away from home or your next meal.
Once you know how many meals you have to plan for, you can choose recipes and meals for the week. If it’s a super busy time, choose from a list of recipes you cook a lot that don’t require too much prep a day or so before, lots of techniques or equipment, or special occasion ingredients you rarely buy.
Make your shopping list and go shopping for everything you need for entire week. Find a time, either on that day, or another day that week, to set aside time to get your food ready. From there, you can approach your cooking from two ways.
Two Cooking Approaches When It’s Busy
Batch Cooking: Batch cooking means you make a lot of food in one day that you can portion and eat throughout the week. Depending on how many meals you make and what you’re making you can also use part of one dish for another meal. For example, if you make a quinoa salad that’s 3 to 4 servings and you’re only cooking for one or two, you can use the rest of those servings in other meals paired with other food.
Batch cooking is preferable if you know you’re not going to have much time before or after work to make your meals for that day or the next day. To make the most of batch cooking, portion out your meals in reusable containers so you can just grab it, warm it up, and eat.
Meal Prepping One Day, Cooking Another: If you have more time in your schedule or a partner that can help, you can take those hours you’ve set aside just to prep, knowing that the day of you’ll be cooking and putting the meal together. Meal prepping on one day could include cooking any grains ahead of time, washing, chopping, peeling or dicing produce, making any sauces the meal will have, and/or possibly cooking proteins ahead of time.
Not everything can be prepped ahead of time. Certain produce needs to be prepped at the time of the meal because of how perishable it is. Hold off on prepping things like fresh tomatoes, apples (especially if you’re not using it in a meal for a few days), or any other produce that oxidizes or gets soggy when not cooked or consumed right away. Once you’ve got everything prepped, store your ingredients in reusable containers and label what dish they’re for.
If there are times you can’t cook because of a lunch or dinner meeting or event, still be on the lookout for the healthiest options possible. Make sure you have vegetables or fruit on your plate and stop eating when you feel full. You can still have something a little more indulgent than you usually do, just make sure you’ve got some balance with healthy produce and portion sizes.
At a Restaurant: If you’re at a restaurant, ask the waiter about how certain food is prepared (fried, grilled, battered, poached…) and see if you can have your meal prepped in a way that fits your diet better. This could look like asking for steamed vegetables or baked proteins instead of them being fried, grilled or cooked in food you’re trying to cut down on.
If you can choose the restaurant, check the menu ahead of time to see if there are healthy options that you would enjoy. Also when ordering, ask how large the portion is. If the serving is huge and you know you’re in the clean plate camp, ask for the meal to split and put in a to-go container so you don’t have to worry about overeating.
At an Event: If you’re at an event, look for the healthier options and ask the servers (or your host if this is at someone’s home) about the food. To play it on the safe side, eat a filling, healthy snack before the event so you’re not ravenous and eating whatever you can find. If the event is at a friend’s house, offer to bring a dish or appetizer that you know is healthy. This way, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy the food is, you’ve got something you can eat and not be worried about.
When You Need to Make a Mid-Week Grocery Run
For that day where plans changed, you forgot to plan a meal, or you’re just looking for something quicker, there are still options you can pick up at the grocery store that require minimal prep and will keep to your healthy eating.
Prepared Foods: Several grocery stores have a deli or prepared foods section where the food is made that day, in the store. It’s less likely to be overly processed since it’s intended to be consumed that day.
Whole Foods has an entire section in their store dedicated to prepared foods, with a wide variety of healthy options from soups, salads, warm and cold foods. Still find out what ingredients are in each food and stay aware of your portion sizes.
Assembling a meal: if you don’t have a prepare foods section in your store, assemble a meal with some basic ingredients. If you eat meat, grab an organic, preservative-free rotisserie chicken from the in-store deli. You can pair this with some pre-washed salad greens, as well as some frozen vegetables that you can quickly roast at home in about 20-30 minutes. If you don’t eat meat, you can swap out the meat with a can of beans, tempeh or tofu (they’re pretty quick to cook), or even a sweet potato (which can be cooked in a microwave for 8-12 minutes, depending on the size and thickness).
Regardless of how long or short this busy time is, know that you can still make yourself and your health and fitness goals a priority. Carving out some time not only to cook, but to eat and enjoy a quiet moment amongst a crazy day will keep you grounded, nourished, and ready to continue your day.
Healthy Eating 101 will be back with healthy desserts upgrades.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Second Photo Credit: Pixsooz/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Yeko Photo Studio/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Andrey Bayda/shutterstock.com; Fifth Photo Credit: Anneka/shutterstock.com