Healthy Eating When You Don’t Have Time or Energy

By Leo Babauta

What should you do if you want to eat healthier, but you don’t have the time to cook, and your lack of energy causes you to cave in to junk food?

The answer is to start simply.

During this Healthy Eating module, you’re not going to worry about meal planning, extensive grocery shopping, preparing and storing all kinds of foods. Not if time and energy are your obstacles, at least (those of you with the time, energy and motivation, feel free to dive into new recipes!).

For those who need to eat healthy but in a simple way, let’s focus on some easy snacks or side dishes.

Shopping will be a snap — just take a few minutes to pick up one or two items. Preparation is zero or minimal.

How do we do this? Let’s take a look at some ideas … but before we do that, let’s talk for a minute about the obstacles many of you are facing.

Common Obstacles

You might find yourself on this list of reasons you can’t eat healthier:

And so on. There are other related problems, but you get the idea.

How will we solve these? We’re not going to — not right away, at least. We’re going to start with stuff that’s easier and takes less time & energy.

Our Solutions

This month, as we get started, if you find your problem on the list above, let’s agree:

  1. No meal planning
  2. No extensive grocery shopping
  3. No new recipes or cooking techniques to learn
  4. If you need to eat out, you should be able to
  5. When you’re hungry, you should be able to eat something convenient

Sound good? The truth is, we’re not going to be able to solve all these problems right away, and if we let them stand in our way we’ll never learn to eat healthier. So let’s keep our focus very small, on one heathy eating habit a week that will be easy and convenient.

Once we get good at those small changes, we can take a gradual approach to dealing with the bigger problems.

How to Start Out

This month, you should pick one of these healthy alternatives each week:

You could also make a quick salad if that doesn’t seem too hard — but if it does, stick with one of the things above. They don’t require much shopping, and almost zero preparation. No planning either.

Let’s take one example: you’re going to eat carrots & hummus for an afternoon snack this week. You just need to stop at the store, pick up one or two bags of baby carrots, and a couple of containers of hummus (lots of flavors to choose from!). That’s super simple and shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes. Now all your shopping and planning and prep work and cooking are done! Now just take some to work (or eat at home if you work at home) and eat it in the afternoon. Do it daily.

Other examples: you could eat apples and raw walnuts/almonds for a snack instead. All you have to do is buy some apples and raw nuts! Or if you want to make your morning cereal/oatmeal healthier, add some berries, nuts and ground flaxseeds (just buy three things!). You can eat blueberries & raw almonds as a side snack if you normally eat toast/bagels/pastries/eggs. Or if you want to add some veggies to your dinner, you could order a veg side dish (skip the cheeses or sauces added), or just microwave some frozen broccoli or mixed veggies, and eat with your normal dinner. Yes, the rest of the meal might be unhealthy, but we’re going to win this in baby steps.

You could change your entire diet at once, but that’s not going to happen, and you won’t stick with it. You could learn some great new recipes, but there’s no need to do that right away. Let’s start simply!

Bonus Points

If you want to take a slightly larger step, do one of the small things above, then take 10 minutes to rid your home and office (the parts under your control at least) of junk. Go through the fridge and pantry and toss out cookies, chips, pastries, ice cream, etc. Just buy one or two healthy snacks to replace them.

Having the junk out of your home is a great step to take, because it’s not hard to do, and it makes you much more likely to reach for the healthy alternatives if you don’t have the tempting junk in the house. It’s one of the first things I did and it changed my entire diet.

Later Steps

Don’t worry, we’ll change your entire diet eventually. Just start with baby steps, like a healthy snack in the afternoon or evening. Once you’re used to that, it becomes your new normal. Now you can make another baby step, like adding some fruits/nuts to breakfast, and then that eventually becomes the new normal. Then you add veggies to your lunch, then dinner, and you have a new normal that’s way healthier than before.

Later, you can learn one simple recipe, and add the ingredients to your shopping list. Make that, and if it’s simple it won’t be too difficult. Soon that will be a part of your weekly meals. Now add one more. And later, another. And so on.

As for eating out … eventually you can look for healthier alternatives at the places you normally eat … or find other places that have good healthy alternatives.

One step at a time. You’ll make a bunch of small changes, over time, and eventually you’ll be super healthy. You’re just not going to do it all today.

Focus on one small change today, and continue it tomorrow. That’s all you need to think about!