Dieting for Busy People – Preparing Healthy Meals in Less Time

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In today’s world it’s not difficult to wake up, look at your schedule, and realized that you’re booked from breakfast to bedtime with important chores and duties to attend to. Whether you’ve got a day job you have to work or you take care of things around the house it can be tough to find a good balance.

Even more difficult, it seems lately, is finding the time to prepare healthy, wholesome meals that your whole family can enjoy.

Luckily things aren’t nearly as difficult as they used to be when it comes to preparing food and, with a little planning and good time management it can be a snap to make sure you have quick and easy healthy meals ready to go whenever you are.

Planning: The First Steps to Easy Healthy Eating

It might seem like common sense when you think about it, but planning out your meals is one of the most important things that you can do if you want to be able to have easy, healthy meals. It all starts with looking at the kind of healthy meals you want to make and have prepared.

The busier your schedule is, the more important it is to spend what time you have to cook effectively and efficiently. If you don’t have a good plan when you go into preparing your meals then you just end up wasting your valuable time, leaving you without both frustrated and hungry.

An important part of the planning process is building a “healthy food menu” for yourself.

You start by listing out all of your favorite healthy meal choices and making individual lists of what ingredients each meal takes. Whenever you go shopping you should have a clear idea of what you need to pick up for the meals that you want to make.

That way you save time by knowing where you need to go and what you need to pick up while also trimming the fat of unnecessary and “junk” foods you might want to pick up on a whim. When you put away your groceries, try grouping them by meal so when you go to pull them out for a specific dish you can just grab them all at once, saving you time and the effort of searching for them. When you take a little bit of time to plan it out now, you’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have to waste your valuable time.

Prepacking Your Snacks

One of the hardest things to deal with when it comes to losing weight is managing your portions. If you’re not proficient in scanning nutrition facts and labels it can be tough to judge what a good or healthy portion is, especially with snacks that are easy to munch or graze on absentmindedly.

You need to look not just at how many carbs, fats, and calories are in what you’re eating, but also how what the serving size is and how many servings are contained in each package.

Even if you pick up, say, a small individual back of chips or crackers it’s not uncommon to have that same small bag contain more than one serving, doubling or even tripling the base numbers you’re finding in the nutrition facts on the back.

That leaves one quick, simple solution to your portioning problems… do it yourself!

Making your own snack portions is easy and it’s also a lot cheaper than buying individual sized snacks. When you have a good understanding of what your snacking portions are it’s easy to get a larger package of your favorite snack and then use plastic baggies to separate them into your own on the go snacking portions.

You can use self-portioning for all kinds of things like sliced fruit, chips and crackers, or even more sparing foods like sweet treats. Just make sure you follow your own rules and, once they’re portioned, don’t go overboard and have more than one or any extra or you’re ruining all your own hard work!

Batch Cooking

This one is another great tip for when you don’t have a lot of time to cook a meal every night or multiple times a day.

The first step is to make a little bit of time, usually once a week at the beginning of the week or whenever you have the time to do a little shopping, and set that up as your “cooking day”.

Next you need to pick out all of those tasty meals you decided that you wanted to make for yourself and see which of them you can cook large portions of in advance. This works best with soups and stews, but it also works really well with casseroles, pot pies, or even individual meat and veggie portions as well.

The key to batch cooking is to pick a meal you can make a lot of or cook a lot of at once, get all of the cooking out of the way and, you guessed it, portion it all out into individual servings!

You can use resealable plastic containers and plastic baggies (these tend to work best) but in a pinch good old disposable plates and plastic wrap or foil will work as well. Once you have an entire week’s (or more!) food all portioned out and ready to go, you can simply label your containers and pop them all into the freezer.

Take each portioned meal out as necessary and microwave, bake, or heat it on the stove until it’s ready to eat. No fuss, no mess, and no extra time spent in the kitchen doing prep for just one meal.

In addition to the whole meals, you can cut prep time for specific foods down by making, portioning, and freezing specific sauces and ingredients that you can make in batches. Any preparation that you can do all at one or in one day/afternoon is less time that you have to spend preparing it when you actually want to sit down and eat!

Slow Cookers: The Busy Cook’s Best Friend

When I got my first slow cooker I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first.

To be honest I wasn’t sure how well it would work cooking a meal by just tossing it all in and letting it go. Now my slow cooker is my go-to piece of cookware when I want to put as little effort as possible into preparing a meal that I want to come out delicious and right on time.

Slow cookers are really just as easy as picking your recipe, tossing in the ingredients, and letting it sit and heat over several hours while you go about your day at home or at work with minimal tending.

Set up your meal in the morning, spend the day out shopping or working, and come home to serve up your ready to eat food.

Slow cookers are really great because there’s just so much you can make with them.

They’re perfect for soups and stews, meat dishes, sandwich filling, and even tasty desserts.

I’ve cooked everything from pulled pork for sandwiches to a decadent slow cooker cheesecake with as little effort as dumping everything in and letting it go. Slow cookers come in a wide variety of sizes so if you really want to, you can pick up more than one and have multiple meals cooking at once or a main dish in one with sides in one or more others. They really are a miracle helper for someone who doesn’t have hours to spend slaving away in the kitchen for delicious food.

Fresh Foods to Keep Around

A lot of quick meal making is having your ingredients prepared, but another great option is to have food and ingredients on hand that don’t take any kind of preparation at all. Fresh foods are not only delicious, but when they don’t take any prep work you can get straight to your meal and then right back to your busy day. Some fantastic low or no prep fresh foods you might want to consider keeping in your house include:

Fresh fruits – Apples, bananas, oranges… anything you can pull into individual servings
Fresh veggies – The kinds you can eat on your own (like celery and carrots) are the best
Salad ingredients – Different kinds of lettuce as well as filler like onion and tomatoes are fantastic
Lean meats – Perfect for on their own, wrapped with lettuce, or in sandwiches
Pre-portioned snacks – Like fresh trail mix or mixed nuts (stay away from salted ones though)

When you have fresh foods available to you and on hand in addition to your portioned meals, you’ll find that you’re less likely to go and reach for junk food instead.

Why would you dip into a bag of greasy, salty chips or a gross and unfulfilling microwave meal when you can have something tasty and healthy instead?

In addition to the foods that you should be keeping handy, you should try to avoid foods like:

Chips – Some are ok in small, controlled portions but don’t go overboard
Candy/Sweets – It’s easy to just pop these in your mouth and go, don’t risk it
Buttered Popcorn – You’d be surprised how much you can eat without thinking and it’s easy to make (plain is ok though in moderation)

Avoiding Temptation

This is the tough one for busy people who are just looking to get their hands on something to eat in a hurry. Temptation is everywhere, from the double cheeseburger on TV to the donut shop around the corner. Their ready availability makes it difficult to avoid these easy pitfalls and it really doesn’t help that they’re often tasty and cheap to boot.

If you’re worried about giving into the temptation of “trap foods” here’s some quick tips to keep in mind:

1. It’s only tempting if it’s available

This is the big one here, it’s hard to be tempted by something if you don’t make it available in your life. You don’t have to worry about snacking on candies or chips if you don’t keep any in your house. This is why you keep healthy alternatives ready instead, that way you don’t even have the temptation. Also try to avoid situations where you’re going to want to or be able to get ahold of unhealthy foods. Avoid routes that take you by fast food places when possible and always keep a healthy choice on hand to keep your appetite in check.

2. “Cheating” is not the end of the world

A lot of people tend to think that because they gave in once that it’s all over. The key to weight loss is commitment and perseverance. Say you find yourself snacking on something unhealthy. Take a mental note that you slipped up and try to avoid the situation that lead to the temptation in the first place.

3. Follow the plan

This brings it right back to the start, keeping with your plan can help keep you on track and focused. Making sure that you’re following your own rules of having healthy snacks ready and making sure you’re watching your food and portions is hugely important to avoiding tempting options. Why would you want to hurt your progress when you’re laser focused on your weight loss plan? That’s right, you wouldn’t!

In the end…

It’s a busy world out there full of things to do and occupy your time with. You don’t have a ton of time to spend worrying about how you’re going to be able to stick to your diet, maintain healthy eating habits, and still make sure that you get everything done in a day that you need to. Take a little bit of time to plan ahead, make sure you have the tools for keeping focused and having food ready and available, and you’re sure to find that even on your busiest days that you have plenty of time to sit down and enjoy something wholesome and delicious.

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[Revised and Updated for June 2020]
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