In a perfect world we’d all have a few hours a day to devote to nourishing ourselves well—growing and harvesting our own organic produce (if that’s your kind of thing), planning well-rounded meals, carefully preparing beautiful and healthful meals all from scratch and then allowing ourselves plenty of time to mindfully savor those meals with friends and family. Doesn’t that sound amazing? It makes me smile just to think about all that. Of course, that scenario isn’t real-world for most of us. In fact, with the autumn season arriving, your life may be getting busier by the day.
You may have the best intentions when it comes to planning, preparing, and consuming balanced, healthful meals, but when time is tight, sometimes nutrition is the last thing on your mind at dinner time. It’s okay—you’re human! Cut yourself some slack. Then read on—the tips below will help you build nutrition right into your meal planning and prep, saving you time and effort.
Meal Planning Tips
“Planned-overs” are where it’s at when you know you’re going to have a busy week. The word “leftovers” has somewhat negative connotations. I rarely like to eat the same thing twice (my husband doesn’t mind it, luckily). However, when you’ve planned to have food leftover that you can turn into something else, well that’s just smart! What makes the best planned-overs? A roast chicken (pot pie or soup are my next day go-to’s), pork loin in the slow cooker (makes good taco stuffing later), or even a big pot of chili works (serve it over baked potatoes or mix with pasta for an easy “chili mac” in a couple days). Here are a few other ideas to get you started.
It’s okay to plan to eat out. In fact, if you know you won’t be able to make it home to prepare or eat dinner, get that on the calendar. It’s really those times when you fail to plan and resort to grabbing fast-food on the way home. Planning to eat somewhere where you have some healthy choices is ideal, of course!
Choose quick-cooking meat and poultry cuts such as thin-cut, boneless chicken breasts (you can cut them yourself or buy them that way), turkey cutlets, flat iron steak or thin pork chops.
Look for snacks that you can divide into single-portions, such as unsalted mixed nuts— it’s cheaper than buying individual portions of packaged snacks. (Here are a few more budget-friendly healthy eating ideas.)
Cut down on shopping trips by stocking up on sale items that you use frequently—provided you have storage for them. Pantry items like canned tuna, beans, low-sodium broth, and rice and other grains are frequently on sale and make it easy to throw together a last-minute meal.
Food Prep and Serve Tips
Pressure cookers are major time-savers (you can even put frozen food into it—don’t need to remember to defrost). And even though slow cooking isn’t fast, it does allow you to do something else while the cooker does all the work. Aim for one pressure- or slow-cooked meal per week (bonus points if you are cooking one of your “planned-over” meals).
If you’re running behind on food prep time, get your veggies pre-prepped at the salad bar. You can pick up a full salad or just the veggies you need for that pressure-cooker recipe.