When you're short on time, it can be tempting to call for takeout or swing by the closest fast food joint. Although these options are quick, they're less than ideal. Both are often packed full of sodium, unhealthy fats and refined carbohydrates as well as excess calories thanks to their large portions. Instead of doing damage to your health, you can easily prepare your own delicious meals in less time than it takes to wait for pizza delivery.
"Breakfast should be about simplicity," says Michelle Dudash, RDN, Cordon Bleu-certified chef and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families."If you have the right breakfast essentials on hand, you can whip up a balanced meal in less than five minutes."
For a quick way to boost your whole-grain intake in the morning, Dudash recommends making overnight oats by combining thick-cut oats, milk and fresh fruit in a mason jar and letting it sit overnight. "The next day, enjoy it cold or nuke it to warm, and sprinkle with nuts or seeds," she says.
Protein-rich breakfasts aren't impossible on hectic mornings, either. "Make a batch of egg muffins in advance and freeze them for quick and easy mid-week breakfasts. They defrost in under two minutes and are an easy grab-and-go, protein-rich option," says Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, culinary nutrition communications consultant and founder of Nutritioulicious.
Homemade lunches are usually nutritionally superior to eating out, but many of us opt for purchasing lunches simply because we don't have time. "By doing little preparation on the weekends, lunches can be prepared in minimal time during the work week," says Katie Serbinski, MS, RD and creator of MomtoMomNutrition.com. "Wash, peel and chop fresh fruit and veggies as soon as you get home from the grocery store. Then, place them in reusable, sealable plastic containers where they can be added to a variety of meal options."
Dudash recommends preparing lunches the night before, her go-to being a superfood wrap made using "last night's roasted protein like fish, chicken or beef inside a whole-grain tortilla wrap with leftover vegetables, a big handful of salad greens and a bit of vinaigrette."
Quick and easy dinners don't have to be boring or bland. "Keeping your pantry stocked with quality, nutrient-rich ingredients is key in being able to whip up a quick, nutritious meal," says culinary expert Holly Clegg, author of Trim & Terrific Kitchen 101. She recommends taking advantage of time-saving shortcuts like purchasing pre-chopped greens, seasonings and vegetables to simplify dinner preparation.
"Using recipes that serve a dual purpose can also be a great timesaver," Serbinski says. "For instance, try making a large batch of shredded chicken, which can then be used to stuff tacos, top salad greens or bake into casseroles."
When you do have time to prepare more elaborate recipes, use it as an opportunity to save yourself time on more hectic days. "Double the recipe and place half in the freezer to pull out for dinner another time," Clegg says. "Freeze casseroles and soups in individual portions to be reheated quickly for a meal on-the-go."
Don't forget about snacks! If you allow yourself to become too hungry, especially on a busy, stressful day, you may find yourself reaching for unhealthy options. "Make your own pre-portioned snack baggies of homemade trail mix using nuts, dried fruit and plain popcorn," Levinson says. "These can be thrown into your purse or briefcase without the worry of spoilage while still satisfying you thanks to the combination of fiber and healthy fats."