Many of my coaching clients are busy moms, are full time boss babes and are often flying by the seat of their pants trying to juggle all the things, all while trying to fit fitness into their busy lives. As a new mom myself, I completely understand how challenging it can be to find the time for us.
A common barrier I see with clients is having little-to-no-time to cook. Whether it's because a lack of time for planning, or the lack of desire to cook an elaborate meal for the family, I figured this was a perfect opportunity to chat a bit about how you can still eat balanced and make healthy choices when you don't have time to cook.
First thing's first, keep it simple! We talked a bit about this a couple weeks ago when it comes to meal prepping, and cooking for you or for your family is no different; there’s no need to make fancy, elaborate meals. Healthy, balanced meals don’t have to require tons of prep, time and effort.
3 Steps to healthy eating when you don't have time to cook:
1. Start with Protein
When putting together your meals, it’s important to prioritize protein. Protein doesn't always have to be traditional things you have to cook like chicken, ground beef, steak or fish.
Here are some ready-to-eat, no-cook proteins:
Rotisserie chicken – A rotisserie chicken is an inexpensive, high-protein food that’s tasty, healthy, and can easily be used in several different dinners, like chicken tacos or chicken salads.
Deli meat – Adding cold cuts like turkey to a sandwich or to a platter or mixed veggies and hummus is a simple way to increase your protein. Try making some mouth-watering paninis or subs for an easy, high protein dinner.
Canned tuna, salmon, or chicken (packets work, too) – Canned meats and tuna packets are packed with protein that require zero prep or cook work. We loved making chicken salads on top of Daves killer bread or wrap for a balanced dinner.
Store-bought hard boiled eggs – eggs are also a great source of protein and healthy fats. They're great to eat whole for an on-the-go breakfast or topped on a dinner salad for some extra protein.
Canned beans and lentils – Canned beans are inexpensive option that provide fiber and protein too. Sprinkle some on those chicken salads or tacos we mentioned earlier!
Cooked shrimp – Cooked shrimp is great to enjoy either on its own with some cocktail sauce, or it can be added to tacos, or a yummy light Alfredo pasta dish!
2. Choose a Carb
It's no new news around here that we LOVE our carbs. "Carbs are our friend, no foe." Carbohydrates gives your bodies the essential energy it needs to function. Complex carbs, like oats and whole grains are slower digesting which can help keep you fuller for longer. Simple carbs, like cookies, and some fruit, digest more quickly and often don't leave us satiated for long. While your nutrition never needs to be perfect, we do want to be mindful of making most of our carb choices complex carbs. Complex carbs may also contain a higher protein profile than simple carbs - bonus!
Here are some no-cook carbs to try out:
Minute rice cups – I know we're on the no cooking theme, but does a microwave really count? It only takes a minute or two and comes in multiple varieties, like brown, white and wild rice types.
Steamable potato bags – these are so great to have on hand because they're self stable for a long time and can be made within minutes. Add cheese and greek yogurt as a sour cream sub for a higher protein loaded potato.
Tortilla chips – We're a big fan of nachos in the Hamilton household. Ya girl LOVES chips. Sprinkle some beans and cheese for those quick, no-cook proteins, and garnish with cilantro and green onion and salsa. Yum!
Bread – 100% whole wheat or sprouted breads will have more nutrients, fiber and protein than white or sourdough bread. Egg salad sandwiches are a satiating go-to!
Tortillas or wraps - you can make almost anything into a burrito or a wrap. If you're looking for even more fiber or protein in your diet, a lot of carb balance tortillas will likely be higher in both compared to traditional white flour tortillas.
Canned beans – yep, canned beans get placed into this category as well - protein and fiber.
3. Add Some Color to Your Plate
Many folks struggle to get in an adequate amount of vegetables and fruits in every day. It's important to note that there are some environmental barriers that makes this harder for some to achieve than others, including access to fresh fruits and vegetables, seasonality of particular fruits and veggies and also, where someone lives. Rest assured, there are still plenty of ways to get enough.
Here are some ideas:
Fresh fruit – For those who have easier access to fresh fruit, this is a more convenient way of getting in fruit (as opposed to frozen fruit for example). Examples of how to sprinkle this in: add to greek yogurt, berry smoothies or just simply add it to your dinner plate.
Frozen fruit – Fresh fruit has more nutrients right when it’s picked versus after sitting on the shelf for a few days; and frozen fruit is preserved right after picking, so you’ll actually get more nutrients from fruit when it's frozen. Frozen fruit is often more affordable than fresh fruit, but may be less convenient for ready-to-eat meals/snacks.
Fresh veggies with dip – dips are a great way to help increase your veggie intake, yes, even Ranch dressing. Although Ranch dressing is high in calories, there's no reason to place it off limits in its entirety, but you may get more bang for your buck by using a lighter version, or making your own with Greek yogurt and a Ranch packet. Dips like hummus are also a great dip option!
Microwavable veggies– Just like frozen fruit, frozen veggies can have more nutrients than fresh vegetables. Often times, microwavable vegetables are pre-cut/chopped and are a more convenient and affordable option.
Salad kits - salad kits always have a permanent spot in our fridge because they're so easy and versatile! You can make it as it comes, or add even more protein options and toppings to make it more of a balanced meal.
In my 7 years of coaching, I've seen many women not prioritize balanced eating because they feel like they need to wait until things slow down, and then they'll have time to cook picture-perfect meals. Spoiler alert: real life just doesn’t work that way.
Fun and elaborate meals are super fun and are almost always guaranteed to taste amazing. But if your real life doesn't have time for that, stop trying to dig your heels in the ground with it. Cut yourself some slack and know that that real life happens and it's still so doable to make tasty, EASY meals when you simply dont have the time (or desire) to cook a big, gourmet meal.