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Healthy eating. How can it be done in the real world?

Healthy eating. How can it be done in the real world?

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.

  • Shop seasonal: we are used to having all fruit and vegetables available year round, but this is not necessarily a good thing. Items that have travelled round the planet or been in storage for a long time may be expensive and short on nutrients. Think about what it is in season, it will taste better and be better for both you and your pocket.
  • Be flexible: go for the special offers! While you should be shopping with a list in hand to avoid over-spend, don’t be ruled totally by it. If there’s a special offer on ingredients for something you enjoy, stock up, cook up and freeze the extra.
  • Do the maths: all UK shops now show cost per kilo for fresh food, although sometimes it is disguised as ‘price per hundred grams’ for more expensive items.  Offers vary weekly, so don’t be too loyal to one brand; a special offer may give you the chance to try something different.

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.