We know what it's like to be crazy busy and feel like cooking dinner is the absolute last thing you can handle. It's me pretty much every single day. That's why there are weeks every now and again where my healthy-eating habits just fall completely to the wayside while I focus on work, traveling, or something else. I talked to Brooke Alpert, RD, founder of B Nutritious, about what I — and others like me — can do when I am overwhelmed and can't be bothered to spend time in the kitchen cooking healthy meals. Here are the five tips she said to always keep in the back of your mind.
1. Take Advantage of Your Freezer
Brooke recommends keeping your freezer stocked with healthy foods that can come together quickly. "Loading up your freezer with frozen fruit and veggies is a great option because you don't have to worry about them going bad and they take a minute in the microwave or on the stovetop to heat up," she told POPSUGAR. There are plenty of things you can whip up with frozen ingredients (you can even turn to microwaveable meals), and none of them will take much time out of your day.
2. Buy Already-Prepped Foods
There's no shame in stocking up on pre-cut, pre-mixed, or basically ready-to-go ingredients. Grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have an excellent selection of prepared foods to choose from. You can even look into meal delivery services like Brooke's favorite, Daily Harvest. "Having their smoothies and vegetable bowls in my freezer is the best backup plan ever. All you need to do is add liquid and blend or heat and eat — it's simple," she said.
3. Master a Few Go-To Meals
When you're pressed for time and just can't be bothered to spend what little you have in the kitchen, you need to fall back on your staples. Brooke suggests always having ingredients on hand for a few quick, healthy meals, like cauliflower fried rice and a pasta-style dish. For the cauliflower rice, you need frozen, riced cauliflower that you can microwave to heat. Scramble an egg, toss it with the rice and a little tamari or soy sauce, and you're done. If you're craving pasta, Brooke has an unbelievably easy recipe. "Take some frozen spinach, heat it up, add tomato sauce and store-bought meatballs, and you have a great veggie-heavy pasta-style meal," she said. It really is that simple.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Order Takeout
But be smart about it. "Making sure you have a protein source and a fiber source from greens is the number one goal," Brooke said. While you might be inclined to order a salad, it's not always your best option. Be wary of everything that comes mixed into it. You should be topping your salad with more veggies rather than croutons or bacon. Go for a lean meat and a sensible dressing. And if you want something like candied nuts or dried fruit (my favorites), use them sparingly, because they do come with extra sugar.
As for meals outside of salads, use your common sense: select veggies over fried side dishes and choose lean cuts of meat that aren't breaded. As much as I love everything Chick-Fil-A serves, I know I'm better off with the grilled nuggets and a side salad than I am with fried nuggets and fries, no matter how delicious they are.
5. Keep Smart Snacks Around
Sometimes I get so busy in the evenings, all I can manage is a few snacks here and there that collectively kind of work as dinner. Brooke recommends keeping things like yogurt, almonds, and snackable fruits and veggies on hand so that you can reach for them in a pinch. While I'm sure I'm better off eating a meal rather than grazing over several hours, when I've chosen snacks like apples, carrots, and Greek yogurt, I've essentially covered all my bases.
While your best bet is to snack between meals and eat a healthy, balanced plate at meal times, don't put too much pressure on yourself to always do that. Stressing yourself out more when you're already busy and trying to eat right won't make it any easier. In fact, the times I've let myself get too caught up in what I should eat and not knowing what to do, I've made completely wrong decisions that I had to recover from the next day.
So, like Brooke said, "food is essential to sustain your busy day." Keep healthy foods in your kitchen all the time and don't stress too much about it. Once you get in the habit of eating healthier, it gets worlds easier to keep it up.