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.
You might find yourself on this list of reasons you can’t eat healthier:
- Too busy in the morning (for breakfast) or evening (for dinner)
- You’re starving, and you cave in, and look for something convenient
- You don’t have time to plan meals or shop for a lot of things
- You have a family to prepare food for, and they’re picky
- It’s too difficult to learn new recipes and cooking techniques
- It’s too hard to learn how to eat all unprocessed, healthy foods
- You have to eat out at work, often more than once
- You don’t plan ahead to have healthy foods in the house
- Other things seem more important, so you don’t spend the time or energy on healthy food
- Shopping just seems too hard — you don’t have the energy for it
- Cooking for yourself seems like too much trouble
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.
This month, as we get started, if you find your problem on the list above, let’s agree:
- No meal planning
- No extensive grocery shopping
- No new recipes or cooking techniques to learn
- If you need to eat out, you should be able to
- 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:
- Drink water
- Drink tea (any kind, but unsweetened)
- Eat veggies as a snack (with hummus if you like) – carrots, broccoli pieces, cauliflower
- Eat fruits & raw nuts as a snack
- Have fruit or a vegetable as a side dish during one of your meals
- Add some nuts, berries and/or ground flaxseeds to your usual breakfast (cereal or oats, for example)
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!
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.
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!