How to eat healthy foods despite a hectic schedule

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Most Americans have experienced the rush of daily living, with demands from work, school or family obligations. Eating healthy can sometimes take a back seat to more pressing matters.

“Although it may seem nearly impossible to make healthy choices when you’re so busy, there are tips and tricks that will make mealtime easier and save you time in the long run,” says Grace Fjeldberg, Mayo Clinic Health System registered dietitian and nutritionist.

To save yourself time, always have the essentials stocked in your pantry and refrigerator to decrease “emergency” grocery store trips. Always keep fruits and veggies available in any form, such as fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. When the fresh food is gone, canned or frozen options can help fill the gaps. Think convenience; in some instances you may want to consider purchasing pre-cut fresh veggies or fruit to save time.

Fjeldberg recommends having these foods available in the house for healthy meals or snacks:

  • Whole grains: rice blends, pastas, tortillas, breakfast cereals, crackers, English muffins or mini bagels, and breads/wraps.
  • Proteins: low-fat refried beans or other canned beans, water- packed tuna, lean pork, pre-cut lean beef, tofu, fish and poultry. Consider precooked meats and low-sodium, low-fat lunch meats.
  • Dairy: Low-fat yogurts and cottage cheese, low-fat string cheese, shredded cheese, and fat-free or 1 percent milk.
  • Other foods: Single-serve popcorn bags, whole-grain pretzels, hummus, single-serve peanut butter or low-fat dressing packets, single-serve dried fruit or nut packets and whole-grain granola bars. Also, keep pasta or pizza sauces in the pantry to add to your favorite whole-grain wrap or English muffin for a quick pizza.

Preparation tips and planning: So, you have all this wonderful wholesome food in your house, but now what do you do with it? The first step in saving time is prepping some of your grocery store goodies, Fjeldberg says. Once you get unpacked from your shopping trip, wash and prep fresh fruits or veggies you’ve purchased. By doing all of this chopping at one time, you’ll save time later in the week and do fewer dishes.

While washing and prepping fruits and veggies, heat up the stove to boil some of those whole grains you packed away in the pantry. Many whole grains take at least 30-60 minutes to cook. By cooking grains in advance, you can reheat them later in the week or add them to a cold salad. You can also pre-cook many meats to reheat later in the week.

Now that you have everything prepped, the fun part begins: planning. Most people view meal planning as labor-intensive and difficult. To avoid getting stressed about having specific meals planned, be creative in what you prepare. For example, if you have rice and chicken cooked, pull out a frozen vegetable stir-fry mix for a quick stir-fry. That same chicken you have cooked from the night before can be mixed with a Greek yogurt dressing and added to a wrap with fresh veggies.

With a small amount of preparation and planning, you can have a fresh, wholesome meal prepared in less time than it takes to order and wait for food at the local drive-thru.

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