Do you know anyone who is not busy? In 2020 it seems we are not really living unless we fill the calendar to such an extent that we do not have a second to spare. Over-scheduled days inevitably mean we have less time for tasks we would have spent many hours on in years gone by – the cooking, shopping and food preparation that ensures we eat a healthy, nutritious diet and saves us plenty of dollars (and calories) compared to picking up prepared meals on the go. So if you are keen to maintain your commitment to healthy eating this year but know time will get the better of you eventually, here are the best food hacks for the time-poor.
1. Find 10 minutes
Planning is the key to dietary success. Knowing what you are going to have for dinner at least half the week; knowing what you need to cook and knowing what ingredients you need to pick up at the shop. But if you don't schedule the time to do this planning you will never be in control of your nutrition. Take 10 minutes on a Saturday or Sunday to make a list of your key meals for the week ahead, what you need to buy and when, and what you need to take to work each day. Even a minimal amount of meal planning has been shown to have health benefits. A study of more than 40,000 French adults published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity found those who meal-planned, even occasionally, reported greater food variety, better diet quality and were significantly less likely to be overweight.
2. Skip the supermarket
If you enjoy eating, cooking and preparing food, chances are you also enjoy food shopping but let's be honest, we all waste much time and money in supermarkets waiting and buying items we do not really need. If your time is precious, you will save hours each week by ordering at least some of your grocery staples online. Once you have set up a shopping cart online it becomes easier to re-order each week plus you can earn rewards and discounts through your retailer. Ordering your groceries online kickstarts your weekly meal planning as you are forced to consider your meal options in advance.
3. Cook occasionally
Cooking from scratch every day is a time consuming, often expensive way to prepare meals. Making a one-off meal does not lend itself to using ingredients over multiple meals, nor does it help to maximise leftovers. Rather, batch cooking hearty staples such as pastas, stir-fries, pies and soups gives you multiple meals and leftovers. It also means you can freeze some meals so you have back-up options for those nights when time gets away from you.
4. Two for one meals
Leading on from batch cooking, it is time to get smart about the meals you do cook. Busy work days or working within school hours means lunches can suffer when time is tight. One of the easiest time management strategies that also benefits our nutrition is to always take your dinner leftovers for lunch. Not only does this mean you are cooking or preparing food fewer times each week but it is a cost-effective way to enjoy a filling, nutritionally balanced lunch minus the often exorbitant takeaway or grab-and-go lunch prices. Stir-fries, pasta dishes, pies and roasted vegetable dishes can be easily reheated for lunch.
5. Plan your meals after dinner
If you are super organised you may plan all your meals in advance, but for those of us not as efficient, taking five minutes immediately after dinner while you are still in the kitchen is an opportune time to plan and pack your food for the next day. Leftovers can be packed away for the next day's lunch, snacks planned and packed and even some breakfast preparation completed so you can hit the ground running the following morning.
6. Have your snacks delivered
How often have you shopped for your food in advance and purchased all your snacks only to forget them as you walk out the door? With supermarket delivery services readily available, don't forget that they can also deliver your snacks and/or lunch supplies straight to the office. You can set up your weekly order to be delivered at the start of the week and it will all be there ready to go.
7. Know your top 10
That is, your top 10 go-to quick and easy meals that you can prepare in 10 minutes or less. You may want to cook restaurant quality meals at home but the reality is this takes time and energy, which few of us have much of at the end of each day. Having a handful of easy meals you default to will ensure you still eat well no matter how pushed you are – think egg-based meals such as omelettes or frittatas, grills and frozen vegies, tinned fish, baked beans or soup and even healthy frozen meals – all options you can grab and prepare in a few minutes on those days when that is the best you can manage.
Susie Burrell is a nutritionist and dietitian.