Endless advice on how we should all eat is all very well; but sometimes it feels as if the advisors think we all have personal shoppers and in-house chefs! Money, time and health issues can all make healthy eating a challenge.
‘Eat more fresh food’. ‘Cook from scratch’. ‘Don’t eat on the run’. All good and true messages, but when life is busy or other problems intervene, it can be easier said than done. There is a perception that eating healthily needs a great deal of time, a great deal of money or both. This is not necessarily the case – like many problems, it can be made a lot easier with organisation and forward planning. Until a change in circumstances upsets the plans, that is… Here are some ideas for keeping it all under control when real life gets in the way.
Not enough time
This is probably the biggest barrier to healthy eating. Who in the real world has time or energy for daily shopping and making full meals after a hard day at work? Fortunately, saving effort does not have to mean compromising on healthy eating.
If you can find any house room for a freezer, it will be your new best friend. Coupled with a slow cooker (not an expensive item) these two invaluable appliances allow you to make your own ‘ready meals’ by batch cooking and freezing. Making double or triple quantities of a stew, bake or casserole is really only a little more effort, and can be done on days when you have more time or more energy. Then on those busy days, there’s no need to reach for the phone to order a takeaway – just defrost a portion, cook up some frozen green vegetables plus rice or potatoes, and dinner is ready in half an hour. You know what has gone into it, and especially that the meal is not full of the excess sugar and salt that manufacturers tend to add.
Stir-fries are also the friend of the time-pushed. With a big wok, some noodles, vegetables (can be frozen), bottled flavourings and spice, dinner takes 10 minutes to chop and five to cook. Vegetables such as onions, mushrooms, peppers and courgettes are often on good deals and last well when correctly stored; so no need for frequent shopping which is the other thief of time. The flavourings and spices keep well, and are used in small quantities so do not add too much salt or sugar.
Soft food needed
This issue is not only for those who are catering for the elderly or those with swallowing difficulties. Any of us can find ourselves needing a tooth extraction or to have other dental work, and jaw injuries or surgery will also mean that vigorous chewing will be out of the question for a while. Those with children who are having orthodontic work will also come across this problem.
Immediately after the extraction or operation, it may be necessary to live on soup and drinks for a few days. Prepared soups are actually quite healthy – stay away from the ‘diet’ soups and go for vegetable or vegetable with meat recipes. Canning of food has been used for over a century as a way of preserving it; there’s no need to feel guilty about eating from tins. Do watch sugar levels though. (More about the benefits of canned food here).
Once the wounds have healed a little, move on to ‘real’ food – this is where chilli (not too spicy!), and well-cooked stir-fries will provide nutrition and variety. Who knows, the new menu may even be preferred to what was being eaten before!
Too much month at the end of the money
There are some tried and trusted tricks to avoid this one wrecking your healthy eating plan. Here are some ideas.
Getting into a healthy eating routine can be compatible with a busy life, even when there are extra restrictions on what can be served. Pick a quiet moment, make some meal plans and then look to stock up the cupboards when the offers are on.
If everyone wants to work full-time how on earth can families have the time to cook from scratch each day. Saying that, healthily is more expensive so families need a good income to eat well. Avoiding the trendy unseasonable veg helps. A freezer and batch cooking also helps, plus a real interest in food and nutrition so you can be bothered to cook from scratch in the first place.
doesn't seem too hard to me - stir-fries most nights in this house. Takes five minutes to chop things up, and some of my noodle specialities are one-pan so not much washing up either!
I think if you have discipline in your habits, you can just do it. Chopping a lot of vegetables twice per week, and keeping then in a closed pot in the fridge, works well for me and I have always food to combine with anything else.
Derek - I may have to work up courage for the power milkshake, I have to say I'll be sticking to my porridge or muesli with fruit..
I'm sure it's possible, with enough determination and organisation, to eat well even when you're busy. But if you're working a 14-hour day it's just so much easier to cave in to the convenience junk. I'm not saying that's excusable. Just easier. We're human.
I think it's just lazy to say healthy eating can't be achieved in the real world. If you put your mind to it, you can eat really well. And it doesn't have to cost the earth
Ok, I don't have the challenge of a family to feed. But I do have a very busy life and limited means, and I manage to eat healthily. It's all about being prepared. Cutting up some veg to take with you in a snack box really doesn't take loads of time. Porridge is cheaper and almost as easy to make as sugary breakfast cereals. As for fruit and veg going off, a little meal planning goes a long way. It just takes a little determination and organisation. Most people who are too busy to cook from scratch seem to have plenty of time to spare to update their facebook status...
I couldn't have put it better myself, Frank. Trying to feed a busy family with healthy food and without breaking the budget is a huge challenge (and not one that drinking raw eggs is going to solve, ugh). I do a lot of the stuff the article suggests - batch cooking and freezing, using the slow cooker, making lots of soups - but it's still a constant battle against the convenience of readymeals.
I've got a tip to add: A power milkshake. Ok it doesn't tick the fruit&veg box but it packs a protein punch, you can make it in advance and it'll save you from buying junk: Whizz up two raw eggs, a tablespoon of nut butter and whole milk to taste. That's it. Go with me on the raw egg thing. It tastes far better than it sounds and it's the perfect energy boost pre or post workout because it's so easy on your digestive system. Even my squeamish wife is a convert.
This is a really great resource but the problem remains eating fresh food every day and therefore eating healthily is almost impossible if you're a busy working person with a young family. Even where both parents are working affording fresh meat and vegetables can be an astonishing cost. There's also the problem of shelf-life - we often find that our vegetables go out of date before we have the chance to use them all. I'm not sure what the answer is for healthy eating in modern society. Thanks for this article though - it makes some great suggestions.