Why is it that when we’re short on time, eating well is one of the first things we sacrifice? Healthy food is so important for maintaining energy, optimal brain function, mood, weight, and managing or preventing disease. Eating nutrient-dense food is literally the thing that keeps us going.
So to keep healthy eating from falling off our radars when we get busy, here are my top tips. I’ve put them in order based on how much of the effort you have to contribute yourself, from you doing all the work to someone else doing most of the work. That way, you can determine what best fits your time allotment and budget.
- DIY Weekly Meal Prep
- Use someone else's free meal prep plan
- Use a cookbook to create a healthy meal plan
- Paid meal plans
- Paid meal prep kits
- Heat-and-eat meal services
DIY weekly meal prep (free)
If you know how to make healthy meals and enjoy cooking, then pick a day every week and make your meals in bulk.
Lots of people cringe at the thought of reheated food. But some things taste just as good or better as leftovers. If you need to freeze leftovers, it should be done within 3-4 days. Cool food rapidly by dividing it into smaller containers. Don’t ever keep items at room temperature for longer than two hours, and don’t thaw foods by leaving them on the counter. Thawing should happen in the fridge and is often not necessary before heating up a meal.
Reheat only what you plan to eat in one sitting, and make certain the temperature reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You can reheat food multiple times, but each time the taste and quality will degrade.
Use someone else’s free meal prep plan (free)
There are a bunch of free meal plans out there on various blogs and cooking magazine websites. Unfortunately, many are centered around food that is tasty and easy, but not necessarily healthy. I tried to weed those out and focus on a few that were actually healthy.
EatingWell has free recipes for just about any type of diet out there, from low-cholesterol to gluten-free to vegan. What I really like is that they include information about the macronutrients and calories for each meal. They also have 7, 14, and 30-day meal plans, and plans based on your diet and how many calories you should have each day to maintain or lose weight. If you want to lose weight, I recommend using a free calculator to estimate how many calories you should be eating to be at your ideal weight. Don’t go below 1200-1300 calories, which is the average BMR for many people (BMR = Basal Metabolic Rate: the minimum number of calories your body needs to keep functions going like breathing, and fueling your brain).
Then pick out your meal plan of choice, make your shopping list and prep as much as you can in advance. You can check out EatingWell’s meal plans here. Don’t forget to check out their other recipes, too!
This blog is all about living on a budget, and the author feeds her family of three on $65 per week (or less). She includes a meal plan, shopping list, and cost of all items. Be sure to read the comments for additional suggestions.
While this website has a paid smoothie kit delivery program, they also have free smoothie recipes on their page. The recipes have interesting combinations I haven’t encountered before, like Citrus Plum-a-tillo (with tomatillos) and Carrot Rhubarb Date. With 64 pages of recipes at 15 recipes per page, that should keep anyone amused with free smoothie ideas for a long time!
Use a cookbook to create a healthy meal plan
Over the long term, using a cookbook (or even a few of them) is often more cost-effective than a subscription meal plan. You buy your recipes once, and then you mix them up as you please. The trick to doing this in a healthy way is making certain you are choosing recipes based on nutrient value, not just flavor. It’s even fine to schedule in “treats” like desserts—life can’t be all about restriction.
RAW FOOD RECIPES ($12 PER COOKBOOK)
I want to insert a caveat here that although some people swear by a raw-food diet, in my opinion, there is not enough scientific evidence to support its health claims as being the best, healthiest diet ever, and the one everyone should eat. Nonetheless, I love eating raw meals as part of my diet, because they are some of the least processed foods, so often every ingredient has a purpose toward health. The recipes people come up with are pretty amazing, too. This author has 12 recipe books about raw food, with items that leave you scratching your head (how can this be raw?) like caramel apple pie, lasagna, and buckwheat biscuits. If you really want to go fully raw, I recommend going through a transition phase as most people find their digestive systems are unhappy with a complete change from a cooked to raw food diet. Luckily, she has a cookbook for that too.
SMOOTHIES ($37 FOR THE COOKBOOK)
When I’m trying to pack in a bunch of nutrients in a hurry, smoothies are my go-to meal. The problem is, some smoothies aren’t that filling—people will have a smoothie and have other food with it, which means they may be increasing their nutrition, but also their calorie intake. This is only a good thing if you need to gain weight; otherwise, a 300-500 calorie smoothie is enough to have as its own meal. If you’re going to do things this way (smoothie plus meal), then I recommend drinking the smoothie first, and then you’ll have less room for the other (potentially less healthy) food.
So the trick is to create a nutrient-dense smoothie that will make you feel full but is also calorically dilute. This plan claims to do all that, using real foods you can pick up inexpensively at the grocery store. While it’s marketed as a weight loss plan, 36 smoothie recipes are included, which you use for two meals per day and then eat regular food for your third meal. So it’s kind of like Weight Watchers, but without all the chemical-laden, processed ingredients. Plus, you only pay once to get the recipes, and it comes with a money-back guarantee.
Paid meal plans
Sometimes you have to put in a little money to save yourself some time and effort. If it’s in your budget, it’s often worth it, and may also save you money in the long run, because you’ll be buying fewer foods that you don’t eat.
$5 MEAL PLAN ($5 PER MONTH)
This meal plan has a free 14-day trial, and after that, it only costs $5 per month. The plan was developed by a mom who is budget-conscious and wants to feed her family simple, healthy meals. You get printables for the recipes and shopping list, so you don’t even have to worry about writing your own list. They also have a gluten-free version of the plan.
EMEALS ($5 - $10 PER MONTH)
This place did a comprehensive job of collecting recipes for different types of dietary needs. They have clean eating, diabetic, Mediterranean, heart-healthy, and more. They collaborated with many different recipe makers and even partnered with food delivery services, so you might not even have to go to the store to get what you need. They also have a 14-day free trial, so you can test whether this level of planning is helpful for you.
Paid meal prep kits
Sometimes, even the prep work of meals takes too much out of you. In this case, consider a service where the ingredients are already prepped—you have exactly the correct amount of each ingredient, often including spices. You just have to follow the recipe to create the meal, which often takes 30 minutes or less. If you hate chopping vegetables and measuring ingredients, but don’t mind assembling and cooking, then these meal delivery services could work for you. Just keep in mind they usually deliver a weeks’ worth at a time, so you’ll need to clear out space in your fridge and/or freezer.
HELLOFRESH ($4.99 - $6.49 PER SERVING PLUS SHIPPING)
These meal prep kits are said to have 30 minutes or less of prep time from box to table, with little or no prep of the ingredients required. Dietitians review and approve all the meals, and they’re always adding new recipes. Shipping is $6.99 per box. You can skip, pause, or cancel at any time. Right now (2/27/19), they are offering $80 off your first four boxes.
As a bonus, in their recipe archive, they list free recipes, so you can try some of their meals for yourself.
GREEN CHEF ($10.99 - $12.99 PER MEAL PLUS SHIPPING)
Green Chef is a great option because it caters to just about everyone. They offer meal plans for omnivores, paleo, pescatarians, vegans, vegetarians, keto, paleo, and gluten-free. They’re the only one out there I found that offers so many choices. You can even choose a family plan for 3-4 people.
They also offer GMO-free foods, and were the first company in their category to become certified organic by the USDA. Green Chef also has a focus on sustainability, by choosing suppliers who “reinvest” in the environment and use sustainable packaging. So you’re probably not going to find anything grown by a Monsanto farmer on their menu.
Shipping is only $6.99 per box, and they are currently (as of 2/27/19) offering $50 off your first order.
Heat-and-eat meal services
Some days, I really wish I had a subscription to one of these meal services because I’m just too tired to do anything other than eat a banana and peanut butter. Maybe I’ll get the chance to try one someday.
The idea of a freshly prepared meal free of preservatives and chemicals that you just have to stick in the oven or microwave sounds fabulous. It’s like having a personal chef in your fridge.
VEESTRO ($9.90 - $11.70 PER MEAL)
Being a vegan, this is one of my favorites for many reasons:
- 100% plant-based
- The packaging is all compostable and recyclable
- Every meal is marked with allergens, and there are soy-free and gluten-free choices
- 96% of ingredients are organic
- No preservatives
- You can switch out meals
- Free shipping
- They currently (as of 2/27/19) have a 25% discount off your first order with the code FROZEN
BISTROMD ($5.99 - $9.00 PER MEAL PLUS SHIPPING)
Registered Dietitians customize these meal plans based on your personal health needs. Plus, the company is headed by a doctor who is a medical weight loss specialist. They even differentiate plans for men and women, because we do eat differently and have different nutritional needs. Everything arrives ready for you to heat up.
Right now (2/27/19) they have 25% off and free shipping (normally $19.95) on your first week on their regular plans.
Their “Balance” program, which is A La Carte, has its own discounts, with 10% off and free shipping on the first order. All orders over $99 come with free shipping as well. With this plan, there are no minimum purchase requirements and you can re-order whenever you feel like it.
What’s your favorite healthy meal method?
This is a no-judgment zone. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the world who would look down on someone for admitting they need help to provide healthy meals to themselves or their families. But I’m not one of them. Heck, if I had the money to do it, I would probably pay a personal chef to make all my meals and deliver them hot to my door. I love to cook, but everyone needs some assistance once in a while!
How do you make sure you’re getting the nutrition you need? I’d love to hear your feedback, and if you’ve tried any of these services, let me know in the comments.