Nutrition Articles

The Busy Woman's Guide to Eating Right

Too Busy to Eat Healthy? Not with These Strategies!

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You start out every day with the best of intentions. This is the day you're going to make time for a healthy breakfast. And for lunch, you'll get a salad from the deli down the street. When the 3 p.m. munchies strike, you won't hit the candy machine in the lunchroom. And you'll stop at the store on the way home to pick up some chicken breasts to cook for dinner.

But then the alarm goes off and you have to hit the ground running to get the kids ready for school and yourself dressed for work. You grab a cup of coffee on the way out the door, or worse, swing through the drive-thru for a caramel mocha calorie bomb.

But it doesn't have to be difficult or time-consuming to make healthy eating choices throughout the day. What it does take is a little knowledge and some strategic planning. Here are six ways to plan ahead for better eating options (no matter how busy you are), plus tips for making better selections when faced with another busy girl reality: dining out.

Breakfast
In an Instant: Of course you don't have time to chop veggies and make yourself an egg-white omelet every morning. But you can keep several simple ingredients on hand to make a super-fast, super-delicious, super-healthy fruit and protein smoothie that you can drink in the car or at your desk at work. Stock the freezer with your favorite frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or a mix). Keep boxes of shelf-stable soy milk, almond milk or coconut milk in the pantry. (Once open, you'll need to keep them in the refrigerator and use them within a week). Find a vanilla protein powder that you like and buy it in bulk to save money. Blend 1 cup of berries with 8-10 ounces of liquid and 1-2 scoops of protein powder. Find tons of smoothie and protein shake recipes at SparkRecipes.com.

Speed Tip: Buy a single-serve blender that doubles as a to-go cup to get out the door even faster.
 
Make Ahead: Bake a batch of healthy muffins that are high in fiber, fruit or veggies (think zucchini) and freeze them. Take one or two out to thaw the night before and they'll be ready to grab on your way out the door. You can even heat them up for a few seconds in the microwave once you get to work for a fresh-out-of-the-oven taste.

On-the-Go: Fast food breakfast options tend be high in fat and low in fiber but there are several drive-thru choices that will fill you up and not derail your good eating intentions. Get more waist-friendly fast food ideas from our Dining Out Guide.
 
Starbucks: Pick the Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wrap. With 290 calories, 6 grams of fiber and 19 grams of protein, it will keep you full until lunch.

McDonald's: The good old fashioned Egg McMuffin is a good bet here. It's got 300 calories, 4 grams of fiber and 18 grams of protein. Skip the cheese to cut the calories down to 250.

Subway: Almost any of the Egg Flatbread or Egg Muffin Melts make good morning choices. The Black Forest Ham, Egg White and Cheese Muffin Melt clocks in at only 170 calories with, 5 grams of fiber and 14 grams of protein.
 
Lunch
 
In-an-Instant: You're probably halfway out the door before you realize that you forgot to pack something for lunch. No problem! Just grab some lean ham or other lunch meat and mozzarella sticks from the fridge, squirt some mustard in a small plastic container and add a piece of fruit to the bag. Toss everything in the fridge at work and forget about it until your tummy starts to rumble. Then just wrap two cheese sticks in a couple slices of lunch meat and dip them in the mustard. Round out your meal with the apple, banana or other fruit that you brought.
 
Speed Tip: On Monday, bring a package of lunch meat, a package of cheese, a bottle of mustard and a selection of fruit with you to work. You can store them in the refrigerator so you always know you have a healthy lunch option at hand and don't have to slow down in the morning to pack something.
 
Make Ahead: A salad makes a fantastic lunch but it can be a little unwieldy (not to mention time-consuming) to pack and to eat at your desk. Instead, make a salad-inspired wrap the night before and you'll have a satisfying, healthy lunch. Just choose your favorite wrap or tortilla and layer with fresh veggies, cheese, meat, hummus or any combination. Find healthy wrap recipes here.

On-the-Go: So what can you do when you have a last-minute lunch meeting and you can't eat the healthy one you packed for yourself? To make the best choice at any fast casual restaurant, you'll have to do a little menu detective work. Watch out for terms like au gratin, smothered, stuffed and battered. Instead, look for descriptions that includes words like baked, multi-grain, poached or broiled or try one of these items from popular national chains:
 
Olive Garden: The Venetian Apricot Chicken is a really good choice for lunch. It has 290 calories, 6 grams of fiber and 29 grams of protein. Just watch out for those endless breadsticks at 140 calories a pop.

Friday's: Your best choice is going to be a soup and salad combo. Choose Tortilla or Chicken Noodle Soup with a House Salad plus breadstick and Low-fat Balsamic Vinaigrette for 540 calories, 6-8 grams of fiber and 20-23 grams of protein.

Red Lobster: Any broiled or grilled fish will make a great lunch choice paired with asparagus, broccoli or a side salad. For something a little different, go for the Wood-Grilled Shrimp Skewers at 360 calories and 27 grams of protein. If you choose the side salad to go with it, order Balsamic Vinaigrette or Fat-Free French to keep the calories down.
 
Dinner
 
In-an-Instant: Stock your freezer with pre-cooked grilled chicken strips for lots of fast dinner options. You can thaw them quickly in the microwave on half power. Pair them with frozen or bagged pre-cooked brown rice or use them to top a salad. Add flavor with balsamic vinaigrette or a squeeze of lime. You can add variety by playing with toppings like salsa, edamame or crumbled goat cheese.

Speed Tip: Toss the bag of frozen chicken in the refrigerator in the morning or the night before and it will be thawed by the time you're ready to eat.

Make Ahead: Nothing beats a Crockpot for a slow-cooked meal that only takes minutes to prep. You can make everything from lasagna to pulled pork to taco soup. Do your prep the night before and store the slow cooker bowl in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, put it in the pot and set the timer on your way to work. By the time you get home, dinner will be ready! Find healthy slow cooker recipes here.

On-the-Go: You're hungry, you're running late. You know the thing your kids will ask when you get home is, "What's for dinner." The drive-thru is calling your name. But you can still make a good choice even when you're in a hurry.
 
Chipotle: While those giant burritos can pack a major caloric punch (the tortilla alone adds 290 calories!), the bowls or salads can be a healthy choice. Just be sure to choose brown rice and lots of salsa and go easy on the cheese and sour cream. To save even more calories, skip the salad dressing and squeeze fresh lime on top instead. A Grilled Chicken Bowl with brown rice, lettuce, salsa and cheese has 475 calories, 4 grams of fiber and 44 grams of protein.

Applebee's: If you're in a hurry, Applebee's offers "carside-to-go" ordering where you call ahead and they bring your order straight to your car. They also offer an under 550-calories Weight-Watchers menu that includes choices like steak and shrimp or chicken and portobello mushrooms. Calories range from 300 to 490 (not including sides which can take the calories up to 550). All entrees range from 22 to 56 grams of protein and 3-6 grams of fiber.

Grocery Store Salad Bar: Fill small containers with pre-chopped salad toppings. Grab a bag of greens and a bottle of vinaigrette. When you get home, invite everyone to a fun salad bar at the dinner table!
 
What are your go-to healthy meal ideas when you're in a hurry?
 
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Member Comments

  • Yeah....It's really about prep isn't it? I mean, I will prep 2-3 egg white veggie omelets for breakfast the following week because I love them in the mornings before work or make egg cups ahead of time on the weekend. The high fibre muffins are a great idea too, but That also requires prep. You really need a lot of patience and time...I'm not one to eat cold cereal for breakfast in the morning, so there are tradeoffs, right? I also like the Starbucks egg white spinach wrap too. I would stay away from the McDonald's suggestion of the egg mcmuffin no cheese. If i'm in Mcdonalds, I would have the sausage cheese egg mcmuffin and 2 hashbrowns if given the choice, so i would disagree with the mcdonald's suggestion. Interesting article though. Thx!
  • I'm not very good about planning. The only thing that helps is that I have basically the same thing for most breakfasts, so I kinda know the drill. Don't work outside the home, so I can make breakfast or lunch, dinner a little later. Sympathize for those under this pressure. This is helpful for when and if, though.
  • ETHELMERZ
    The egg white sandwich from Subway is a joke, they have little circles of egg white laying around, yucky. Get the McMuffin, you will feel better all day because you actually ARE something!!
  • I we want to be healthy we should not bet to busy to plan .
  • best thing plan plan and eat smart some of us don't have Red lobster or want to spend that money
  • The Friday's meal choice is like half my daily calories. :(
  • The Starbucks Spinach & Feta Wrap has been a go-to for me when I'm on the go. The nutrient profile really works for me too! I find it tasty and satisfying.
  • So many great tips! I am seriously going to try to limit my red meat as suggested - a BIG step for me! I love fish, especially WILD salmon. Thanks for a fine article.
  • When fish is on sale I stock up. I then vacum pack the fish that is not going to be eaten that day. Some of the frozen fish in our local supermarkets is from China. I avoid that frozen fish that is sold in a bag. You never know what their standards are compare to ours And how old the fish is..As for as clean up so you don't have a fishy smell in your kitchen, lemon juice or tooth paste, a little on your hands with get rid of the smell. This come from a long time fisherman. Enjoy your seafood.
  • Regarding seafood, yes, it's expensive but I usually stock up when it's on sale. I know fresh is always better but that's not always an option. Plus, I get so bored of eating chicken and turkey. However, seafood doesn't stink up the house! If your fish is smelly, there's something wrong with it.

About The Author

Megan Patrick Megan Patrick
Megan Lane Patrick has been a professional writer and editor for the past 16 years, and was a chronic dieter for at least 30. A combination of weight-loss surgery, mindful eating and daily exercise finally allowed her to maintain a weight loss of more than 100 pounds. When she's not lifting weights at the gym, you can find her walking shelter dogs as a volunteer for the SPCA.