Meal planning tips for busy people

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One of the biggest struggles that most of us face today is feeling overwhelmed by our lives. We’re so busy in our day of Zoom meetings, that the thought of making another decision around food and what to eat tips us over into overwhelm. Quick, convenient foods end up in our bellies, putting us on the hamster wheel of experiencing low energy, and eating out of alignment with what is important to us – our health.  

(Photo credit Robin Stickel, Unsplash)

Meals don’t have to be this way. You don’t have to be a slave to overwhelm and resort to fast food, take out, order in, or processed foods on a regular basis. You can skip the afternoon slump (and the caffeine boost) with a little bit of pre-planning. Add in positive food cues, blended with flexibility, and you will dial up your energy and feel more in control of your health. Here are meal planning tips for busy people.

A word about healthy-ish

I am a dietitian. My professional title alone raises a range of experiences and expectations for people. What kind of dietitian am I? I am a food-loving, energy-filled person with a vibrancy for life and all that it has to offer. I am not here to be your food cop. I am not here to micromanage your food diary. I am here to add good-tasting food to your diet, not to take them away. 

I am nutritionally agnostic, meaning that I am not tied to one approach to eating. While I am an expert in food and nutrition, you are the expert of you and your life. I can help you be a healthier you.

Healthy-ish is my approach. This means sensible, healthful habits and choices, but without being strict, dogmatic or overly rigorous in  adherence. Healthy-ish means that our eating can fall on a continuum of healthful foods. When we dial up our intake of healthful foods, we usually feel better. But when we are too far on that continuum and are rigid in our approach, other problems like boredom, cravings, anxiety and isolation can creep in.

Meal-planning tips for busy people

Pack along foods, even if you are working from home

Managing our appetites is a little like managing our credit cards. Don’t wait until the point that you’re starving to make food choices, as this will almost always lead to eating in a way that is out of alignment with your true goals. Keep your easy-to-pack, healthy-ish snacks in your bag, your vehicle or at your desk. This way you always have healthy-ish choices right at your fingertips.


Snack foods that are easy to pack

The following foods are easy to prepare, and convenient to pack along. Experiment to find out which snacks best fit your preferences and lifestyle.  Be sure to keep any perishable foods in a cooler or use an ice pack. 

  • Sliced or whole apples with nut butter
  • Clementine or mandarin oranges
  • Grapes
  • Baby carrots, snap peas and cucumber slices with tzatziki
  • Pita and hummus
  • Sliced or whole pears and cheese
  • Apple fruit chips
  • Smoothie (in a thermos)
  • Baked oatmeal cups
  • Oatmeal and date energy bites
  • Nuts and raisins (you can make your own trail mix)
  • Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and/or sunflower seeds
  • Whole Food Snack Bars (such as Larabar)
  • Bento box snacks of strong cheese or cheese cubes, pickles and turkey pepperoni.
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Chocolate-dipped apricots
  • Sandwiches or wraps 
  • Prune Power Balls (energy bites)
  • Individual flavoured yogurt cups (pack a spoon).
  • Cottage cheese and pineapple
  • Cut-up rotisserie chicken (keep cool with an ice pack)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Canned tuna.

Make Midweek Meals Easy

Midweek days require a plan. With a little forethought, you can make sure your family has healthy-ish meals ready to go when you walk in the kitchen. Prep some foods the night before, or even earlier in the morning. You’ll have the peace of mind knowing that you don’t have to make another decision. You just have to “execute” your plan.   

Thai-inspired Noodle Salad

Taco Soup

Tuna sandwich

For more recipe inspiration, check out some of my favourite recipe websites.


TIME SAVER TIP:  Batch cook and plan for leftovers. When you do have time to cook, simply double the recipe and set the extras aside to use later in the week on a particularly busy day. It takes very little extra effort to double the recipe, and you will reap the benefits of time savings later in the week.


Read 9 Meal planning strategies for professionals.


Make Healthy-ish Work for You

Even with your schedule, you can still enjoy healthy-ish foods. With a little bit of planning, and adding in “food cues”, you can ensure that you and your family enjoy healthy-ish foods that support your lifestyle and your goals. Save the eat out, take out or order in for when it is by choice.

You can do this!  Let me know if I can help.

Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall MSc, RD Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian Calgary, AB.

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