“I don’t have time to eat healthy.” How many times have you heard that?! How many times have you said it? I’ll speak for myself – I hear that a lot. Let’s be honest… that is not a good excuse. Nowadays, we are all extremely busy. I know that I certainly am! Between seeing clients during the day, doing schoolwork, working on my blog, hosting two podcasts, working on other outside projects like my Paleo Women Lifestyle Program and ebooks, I still make time to exercise and eat healthy. You can absolutely do it! There is always time for what you prioritize. Beyond that, though, nowadays it’s pretty darn easy to create a healthy meal in less than 15 minutes thanks to amazing new products and kitchen appliances.
Many people say they’re too busy to eat healthy instead of admitting what the actual issue is, which is usually that they just don’t know what to eat that’s healthy or how to cook quickly. The truth is that it’s just as quick and easy to make a healthy, whole-foods based meal as it is to make an unhealthy one. My meals usually take me 15 minutes to throw together, 30 max. Usually even less than 15 minutes, though. If it’s 30 minutes, most of that is just waiting time during which I’m doing other things. I’ve always been a busy gal, and there are a few key strategies I’ve found and stuck with over the years to make sure that I always fit in a delicious paleo meal every night, made with real-food ingredients. Time to share!
- Always keep an emergency stock of healthy food in your freezer. All of my clients and the women in my Paleo Women Lifestyle Program know how serious I am about this! Keep a bag of frozen veggies and frozen proteins in the freezer. Anytime you’re in a pinch and have no groceries, you can pop those out of the freezer and toss them in a sauté pan or in the oven. You don’t even have to defrost! I also recommend always keeping smoothie ingredients in the freezer. If you ever need a really fast meal, you can just blend up a smoothie!
- Stock up on some pre-made Paleo frozen meals. We are lucky to live in an age where healthy food is just as easy and convenient as unhealthy food. I was so excited when I recently found out about Primitive Feast, a company that makes high-quality, paleo frozen meals. They have grass-fed beef meatballs in marinara, chicken masala, grass-fed beef chili, chicken in bell-pepper sauce, and chili verde with chicken! All you have to do is pop one of the meals in the microwave for about 4 minutes, or you can heat them up in a pan for a few minutes.
I also always have Paleo on the Go meals stocked in my freezer! These are delicious, AIP-friendly paleo meals that can be heated up in their containers and taste divine. They specialize in making comfort food that’s healthy, paleo, and autoimmune-paleo-friendly! My code “WELLNESS” will get you $10 off your first order!
I also love Balanced Bites Meals! During the week I often heat one of these up and throw it over some extra greens I have on hand. These meals have generous protein portions and taste incredible. You can heat these up in the microwave for just a few minutes and you’re good to go! If you use the code “crwellness” at checkout, you’ll get a free chicken broth (20 oz, $10 value) with your order!
- Keep non-perishable items in your pantry for an emergency, preferably proteins and fats. Foods like canned fish and nuts are great to always have on hand for when you’re in a pinch. Worst case scenario, you eat canned fish and nuts for dinner. Not very exciting, but it’s still a healthy meal!
- When you’re cooking, always cook in bulk. Do not cook for just one meal at a time. This is an easy way to make one meal extend into many. If you’re going to have chicken for dinner, cook 1-2 pounds. If you’re having broccoli, cook two heads of it. If you’re making zucchini, fill up a whole tray. Just cook as much as you can at once! That way, you have leftovers. If you always have leftovers, you can always reheat them from the day before. Also, take a bit of some of your cooked food and freeze it! That way you can always pull it out and heat it up really quickly, since it’s already been pre-cooked.
- Get it out of your mind that cooking takes a long time. It does not. Utilize all of your burners and all racks of your oven. If you’re pressed for time, chop everything up into smaller pieces, turn up the heat, and throw a lid on any pans to get your food to cook faster. Sautéing veggies can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes, and roasting vegetables takes anywhere from 15-30 minutes. It’s not ideal to cook at high heat, but it’s much better to eat a whole-foods meal that was cooked at high heat than resort to unhealthy takeout. Proteins usually take less than 10 minutes to sauté and about 15-25 minutes to bake.
- Plan ahead, and grocery shop in bulk. Think about how much food you might need, and buy enough food for the week at the store, not just enough for 1-2 days. I can get by with going to the grocery store once every 7-10 days. Only buy healthy food at the grocery store so that that’s your only option throughout the week. Also, think about what you’re going to have for your meals. A lot of people get home after work and haven’t thought about what they’ll have for dinner, and then they get overwhelmed with making a choice. If you already know and have a plan, you can head straight to the fridge, take out whatever you’re cooking, and cook it! If deciding beforehand stresses you out, make a pact with yourself to cook whatever you see first in the fridge. Planning can be as simple as just thinking about what you’re going to do as soon as you get home while you’re driving there. Plan in your mind with something like, I’m going to immediately walk in the door, open the fridge, pull out my chicken and cauliflower, and toss it in the oven. Have a plan of attack so you don’t waste time.
- Have a go-to one-pan meal. One pan meals are easy and quick because you can pop everything onto one pan and it all cooks at the same time. Having a go-to meal in general is helpful, because you can always just make that whenever you don’t know what to make. A common one-pan meal is something like salmon with asparagus and zucchini, since they all cook for about the same time. You could toss those all in the oven on the same baking sheet at 415*F for 15-20 minutes, and they will all be ready by the time you finish putting your things away and getting comfy for dinner!
- While foods are cooking, you can multi-task on other things. While something is in the oven or microwave or sauté pan, you could be changing your clothes, pulling out the dishes and getting your silverware ready, putting away your things from work, and so on. The first thing you should do when you get home is put your food in the oven or on the pan, and then do everything else. While I have food in the oven, I usually take off my makeup and wash my face, change my clothes, maybe answer a few emails or messages, and get out my plate and silverware. By the time I’m done with all of that, my meal is ready. If you get home and wait until you get fully “settled” before cooking, you’ve wasted time that you could’ve spent “settling” while your food was cooking!
- Pre-cut your veggies or buy them pre-cut. This saves so much time. If I feel like I’m going to have a busy week, I will usually buy all of my vegetables pre-cut from the store. Trader Joe’s is great for this! If I feel like I will have a busy week but I have time at the beginning, I’ll set aside 30 minutes after I grocery shop to chop up everything I bought so it’s ready to go throughout the week, and I’ll just listen to a podcast or watch a video while I’m doing it!
- Make sure your cooking tools are easily accessible. If you can, leave your pans out on the burners. Leave your baking trays in the oven. When they’re already out and ready to go, that’s one less step for you to take. Also, keep your cooking oils right next to your stove so you can quickly grab and go. I also like to buy pre-cut parchment paper so that I can just pull out a sheet and toss it on my pan to roast.
- Utilize a slow cooker. Slow cookers are great because you can throw all of your ingredients in at the beginning of the day, leave, and come home to a cooked meal. This is also great for making huge batches of soup! You could toss in ground beef, tomato sauce, peppers, and zucchini, and come home to a nice chili. You could toss in chicken, broccoli, and cauliflower and come home to a big batch of protein and veggies to get you through the week. Slow cookers will keep your food warm until you’re ready to eat, and there’s nothing better than walking in the door to a hot meal! All you have to do is remember to toss the food in at the beginning of the day – write yourself a sticky note!
- Use a microwave if you need to. I think we all know by now that microwaves are generally not a “healthy” way to cook your food. However, I’m also a realist. When you’re short on time, there’s no shame in using a microwave to cook up a healthy meal. I poach eggs in the microwave, steam vegetables in the microwave, and heat up proteins in the microwave when I need to. It’s much better to have microwaved meat and veggies than order in a Domino’s pizza!
- Always have big containers of salad greens in your fridge. When in doubt, make a salad. If you already have salad greens, all you have to do to make a quick meal is put some greens in a bowl, toss on some oil and vinegar, and throw on some protein like one of the Primitive Feast frozen meals, leftover meat from the day before, or even some canned fish. If you have extra leftover veggies, then add those in too!
- If you’re short on time, cook foods that cook fast. Vegetables like asparagus, zucchini, yellow squash, bok choy, cauliflower rice, and leeks cook faster than foods like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Similarly, a thin cut of protein like a thin fish will cook faster than a thick piece of steak or thick chicken thigh.
- Have groceries delivered to your door. Search your area and see what services are available to deliver groceries to you. Oftentimes you can even set up recurring orders so the same thing gets delivered to you each week, and you don’t have to think about it. This will save you the time of going to the store and doing the actual shopping. All you have to do is open your door, and you’re stocked up!
- If you do have time on the weekend, meal prep so that you always have things ready to go throughout the week. Egg “muffins”, chia puddings, roasted chickens, or paleo casseroles are all great things to prep at the beginning of the week if you have time.
- If you somehow literally have nothing at home to cook, head to a Whole Foods or a grocery store rather than eating takeout or going out to an unhealthy restaurant. Logically, this will take you the exact same amount of time. You can pick up some things for dinner at the salad bar or hot food bar just as easily as you could go to a fast-food restaurant and order something. If you don’t want anything at the salad bar, grab some veggies you can steam for a few minutes in the bag, an avocado, and some canned fish to make a super quick meal as soon as you get back. Plus, while you’re at the grocery store, you can pick up groceries for the next day so you don’t run into the same problem again!
I hope these tips helped you realize that it is always possible to cook a healthy meal, even when you are extremely busy. Once you get into a rhythm, start to feel the health benefits of consistently eating healthy meals, and discover how little time it takes, you’ll wonder why you ever made excuses before!
*This post is sponsored by Primitive Feast, but all opinions are my own. I would never work with a company or recommend a product that I don’t truly love and use myself!