How To Eat Healthy When You Have No Time

by | Dec 7, 2009
Photo by liquene

Photo by liquene

I’m always pretty busy, but these past couple weeks I have been especially slammed with work. I have a big thesis committee meeting coming up in lab that I want to be very well-prepared for. I also launched a 25-page free healthy eating guide last week, all amidst my 30th birthday and Thanksgiving in different cities.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I do it all (I stay focused and work hard), but some of you have asked an even more interesting question:

How do I have time to eat healthy?

The most truthful answer is that I always have time to eat healthy, because it is not something I consider optional. Healthy eating doesn’t really take any more time than unhealthy eating, it just requires a little more foresight. Luckily I have automated my healthstyle so that healthy eating is actually easier for me than eating junk.

However, when time is especially strained I do make a few adjustments to save on prep time and clean up.

Here are a few tricks I’ve been using to have healthy meals in under 15 minutes.

8 Quick Healthy Eating Tips

  1. Focus on single vegetable meals. If I were asked to make the quickest meal I could think of, I would grab a bunch of kale, a clove of garlic, some sea salt and maybe some pistachio nuts, put them in a pan and cook them for about 7 minutes. You can do this with chard, spinach, fennel, broccolini or any other green vegetable. For protein and carbohydrate I throw in some beans or lentils at the end. These aren’t the most creative meals in the world, but they are healthy, filling, quick and delicious enough to make friends jealous. I could live on these dinners for weeks at a time, and they only leave one pan to clean.
  2. Count on legumes. As mentioned above, it is important to have something other than vegetables in your meals or you will get really hungry. Nuts are a great addition to anything, but the most bang for your buck is beans and lentils. I make huge batches of these once or twice a week and throw them in virtually everything I cook. A pressure cooker makes legume preparation a piece of cake. If I’m really in a hurry I will just dress some legumes with vinaigrette, maybe throw in some herbs or fruit and call it lunch.
  3. Eat salads. I also add beans and lentils to salads to make them more substantial. It takes less than 5 minutes to slice up some Napa cabbage, toss in some beans, cut up a pear and sprinkle on walnuts with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a quick lunch. Salads don’t require cooking and I just eat it out of the bowl I make it in.
  4. Scramble eggs. By far the fastest cooking protein you can get is eggs. Scrambling 2-3 eggs takes about 2 minutes. Saute some spinach with a little garlic (you can use the same pan if you cook the greens first) and you have a healthy homemade meal in under 10 minutes. This works for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  5. Eat breakfast for dinner. Eggs aren’t the only food that can break the typical American meal pattern. If cooking at night really isn’t an option, sometimes I will just double up on my normal breakfast of muesli, fruit and plain yogurt and have it for dinner. Sure I’d rather eat leafy greens, but intact grains are sure better (and faster) than the burrito place down the street.
  6. Cook in large batches. In addition to legumes I also make intact whole grains in big batches and freeze them in single servings. These can be thawed in the  microwave in 1-2 minutes and added to any meal (stirfry, salads, soups, etc.) to make them more satisfying. During the autumn and winter I also rely on roasted winter squash like kabocha for additional vegetables/carbohydrates. My favorite is to cut a kabocha squash in half, remove seeds, rub the inside with olive and sea salt and roast, face down for 30-45 minutes at 400F. Three or 4 slices of winter squash make a plate of greens a lot more interesting. Store your cooked squash in a tupper and add it to various meals throughout the week. I like kabocha, red kuri and delicata squashes because, unlike butternut, you can eat the skin (no peeling).
  7. Have a reliable takeout option. The only trouble I sometimes run into is not having enough ingredients in the house to make a solid meal before heading out. For times like this I rely on a local artisan market, Bi-Rite, that has awesome healthy prepared foods. I’ll pick up a pint of lentil, chickpea or quinoa salad from their deli fridge and a piece of fruit, then I’m good to go. It is worth it to hunt down a place like this near your home or work that you know you can count on to pick something up in a pinch. Whole Foods has great prepared food options if you can find one near you.
  8. Carry fruit and nuts. The worst case scenario is that you get stuck outside the house with nothing but vending machines within walking distance. If you always have trail mix or nuts in your bag you can usually put off a meal until you can find something healthy. Don’t leave home without it.

What tricks do you use to eat healthy when you have no time?

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17 Responses to “How To Eat Healthy When You Have No Time”

  1. Stephanie says:

    Carrying fruit and nuts is one of those key tricks I teach my clients. You can keep a bag of trail mix in your car for a month and it won’t go bad.
    BODA weight loss

    • Max Barry says:

      Totally agree with Stephanie…highly recommend nuts/seeds and fruits to all my clients, as well.
      As a Certified Personal Trainer, and foodie, I realize how important it is to prepare AND enjoy your food.
      Custom trail mixes make it fun, too! Up the antioxidants with some goji berries, cacao nibs, and coconut shreds.
      Finding a high quality, 100% pure protein powder (such as a sprouted rice/chia) can satiate your hunger, and thirst.
      Lara bars, and jerky make the list, too.
      Be Well,

  2. Nora Lisman says:

    I find that many of my clients get lost in their work during the day and thus end up ordering in greasy sandwiches or pizza. So I advise my clients to buy bulk salad ingredients and keep them in their work refrigerator. Many grocery stores now carry pre-chopped and washed salad and veggies so you can literally make a salad in about 2 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to order in and so much better for you.

    If it was up to me, all of these veggies would be bought local at a farmer’s market – but when it comes to eating healthy in a hurry, this is a great option.

  3. Great post Darya!

    Just like you, I have been quite swamped as of late, so these suggestions are very helpful and much appreciated.

    I laughed when I read number 5, as just last week I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal w/ granola, flax, and fruit for dinner. Not sure if you find this, but while it did the trick (I was no longer hungry and avoided a bad meal decision) – it just felt so wrong to eat breakfast that late in the day! It somehow tasted wrong – not sure what that’s all about.

    Also, huge fan of number 8. My girlfriend and I travel quite a bit to rather random locations (i.e. Jordan, Malta, Turkey, Russia, etc) where food (at least food that you can identifity) is not always easy to come by. I have serious mood issues when I haven’t eaten anything in a while (the “hangries”). So now to avoid me getting into a foul mood we always pack some granola, a couple bannanas, apples – basically anything that can take a beating in a backpack and still be edible. It has made our travels much more enjoyable – especially for my girlfriend:)


  4. Kim says:

    Here is the problem I frequently encounter. I want something hot and filling… I don’t like salads for lunch because it isn’t hot enough to warm my soul. I want a burger or pizza really only because it is warm. I eat a lot of soups, but this ends up being boring and therefore really easy to skip out on the healthy and go for a veggie burger or egg rolls or pasta or something HOT and full of carbs.

    • Darya Pino says:

      I hear you. That is when beans are great. Mixing beans/lentils and maybe some pre-cooked greens or roasted vegetables can be zapped in a couple minutes and is really good. Also, when I’m eating a salad as a meal I always add warm rice or beans, as well as nuts. It actually does satisfy that craving. I’m somewhat famous among my friends for making “warm salads.” And people love them. Here is an example recipe.

      Warm Sausage Salad A la Trader Joe’s

      • Kim says:

        Thank you ma’am. I will try this. I love salads… I never really thought to eat beans as a “side” to the salads. I notice the salad you linked to had an avocado in it. Should I be avoiding these? I thought that they were fattening?

    • Darya Pino says:

      Avocados are great!! One of the best things you can do is eat extra fat to make vegetables more satisfying. It’s way better to eat fat than processed carbs. Use avocados, nuts and oils liberally.

      Not sure what you mean by “side.” I put the warm beans right in the salad. It wilts a little, but in a good way 🙂

  5. toni says:

    thanks for the information, your blog is very good and interesting

  6. J.D. Meier says:

    Beans and lentils really are a winner.

    I really like the convenience of bananas.

  7. Kim says:

    Thanks for inspiring me! Here is what I had as my “salad” today on this ice cold day…
    I took some spinach and sauteed it in olive oil and garlic .. let it “melt” down a bit… took it of the heat.. tossed it with a bit of feta cheese and chopped up pine nuts (about a small handful)
    and it is DELICIOUS!

    Thanks again.

  8. Trader Joe’s has a chickpea salad for about $3 i grab when I’m downtown and don’t want to eat crap for lunch.

  9. Dee says:

    The answer is be late… These days, I focus on preparing meals even if I’m running late…. I know- not a good idea, but I’ve grown to dislike going to buy ordinary food…

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