Meal planning can save you time, money, and a lot of stress – but what if you don’t have time to cook? These simple steps will help you choose healthy options when you’re on the go.
I don’t know about you, but lately I feel like I’ve been racing from one event to the next. Work, rehearsal, cooking class, exercise, sleep (?), dinner with friends, hike in the mountains, fly to Kansas City, sleep, work, repeat.
Whew. I’m exhausted. And it’s all great stuff – I really have no room to complain. It’s just busy, you know? Hats off to all of those teachers out there who are really feeling the busy-ness of the season (looking at you, Meredith!).
In all of the chaos, eating healthy is still really important to me. As such, I’ve developed some strategies to stay on track even when life is a blur.
Step 1: Know your limits
One of the biggest mistakes I encounter when teaching someone to meal plan is that he or she is over-ambitious in how much to plan. It’s really important to set realistic goals in meal planning.
I’m the queen of over-committing myself, just ask any of my family or friends. But let’s face it – if I’m in survival mode, it’s not reasonable to expect myself to cook seven days per week for all three meals. And to be honest, it’s not necessary to cook that often, either.
For example: if I cook on Sunday, I can also prep a slow-cooker meal for another day. If I make enough to have leftovers, this will take care of another couple of nights. To know my limits I have to plan ahead – I have to know what’s on the schedule for the upcoming week and make a plan
Here’s a sample weekly dinner meal plan:
Sunday: cook dinner (All-Natural Broccoli-Rice Casserole) + prep slow-cooker meal (Lentil Frito Pie)
Monday: leftovers from Sunday OR back-up plan (because I don’t get home until ~9pm)
Tuesday: Slow-cooker meal (because I go on a run after work and don’t get home until ~6:30 and will definitely order pizza if I don’t have something already cooking at home)
Wednesday: leftovers from Tuesday (because I’m tired)
Thursday: quick dinner (One-Dish Grown-Up Mac & Cheese) (because #noexcuses)
Friday: out to eat (because FRIDAY!!!)
Saturday: fend for yourself! (because I don’t wanna figure it out!)
Boom. Whole week planned, only three cooked meals – and one of them just involves dumping a bunch of stuff in a slow-cooker before work. To help you get started managing your schedule and meal planning, download this free Meal Planning Template.
Step 2: Plan your Back-ups and Go-To Meals
Okay, okay. So dinner may be planned, but that leaves seven breakfasts and seven lunches to plan for the week. What’s a gal to do??
For all other meals, I like to do simple mix-and-match meals that you (or your spouse or your kiddos) can create on the fly. And you know what? It’s kind of fun and it takes a lot of pressure off of you, the Almighty Menu-Planning Guru.
Here’s the basic formula:
2-4 Proteins + 2-5 Carbs + LOTS ‘o Veggies!
Here are some lists of protein/carb/veggie ideas to get you started, as well as some sample pairings:
2 pieces string cheese + 1 pear/1 cup berries/15 chips + 2 sliced cucumbers
2 oz. almonds + 1/4 c. dried cranberries/1 apple/1 cup yogurt + bell pepper strips
2 Tbsp. Peanut Butter + 28 Wheat Thins/1 orange + celery/carrots
2 triangles Laughing Cow cheese + 1 c. apple slices/1 cup yogurt/ 1/4 c. granola + steamed broccoli
Okay, now you try! (Click here for a downloadable Mix & Match Meal Idea list, even more comprehensive that the one below)
Step 3: Follow through
Easier said than done, amiright? Taking time to meal plan and grocery shop can be such a chore; sometimes it’s hard to see the benefit. Let me give you my most logical argument for taking a couple hours a week to get the planning over and done with.
Think about the time it takes to NOT plan ahead: worry about what to fix, wonder if you have all the ingredients, find that you’re out of a crucial ingredient, so take a 20-minute trip to the grocery store.
Repeat this several times per week and you quickly add up the time to 3+ hours (not to mention the extra stress, worry, and endless questions about “What’s for dinner?” from the fam).
In contrast, I can usually find 30 minutes somewhere in my week to plan three or four meals for the week and make a grocery list. Shopping goes much more smoothly and much faster and I only go once a week.
Boom. Planning ahead for the win!
Of course, I’ve given you only one person’s perspective of how to eat healthy with little time. I’m curious about your own tips – what are your favorite ideas for easy meals? How do you manage to eat healthy with the family going in five different directions?
Godspeed in your journey of health despite the chaos of life.
Ann from Peas and Hoppiness.
Would you like more options for easy no-cook meals on the go? Download this FREE list of Mix & Match Meal Ideas to bring to the grocery store and stock up on quick options to grab when you’re running out the door.