How to Eat Healthy When You Don't Have Time to Meal Plan (or don't want to)
Is it possible to eat healthy without meal planning?? The surprising answer is “yes.” You can easily eat healthy, minimally processed foods without spending three hours browsing recipes on Pinterest (and getting side-tracked by beardless pics of Jason Momoa), or spending an entire day doing meal prep. Here’s how:
Rely on healthy convenience foods.
Have a shopping list with your favorite easy-to-prepare healthy foods printed and ready to go.
Make simple, no-recipe-required meals.
I’ll help you with #2. I have a printable shopping list for those days or weeks when you don’t have time to plan meals or you just don’t feel like it.
How to eat healthy when you don’t have the time (or the desire) to meal plan.
Does the phrase “meal planning” strike terror in your heart?
Every diet and fitness guru insists you must plan your meals every week.
If “planning meals” wasn’t enough, you also have to “prep your food.”
Food prep brings to mind images of mismatched, stained Tupperware containers lined up on a counter, each filled with four ounces of tasteless chicken breast and a sprout or two of overcooked broccoli. No thanks.
It is totally possible to eat healthy food without spending hours of your life paging through cookbooks, searching for recipes on Pinterest, or alphabetizing your shopping list.
You CAN lose weight without spending an entire Saturday afternoon chopping, peeling and slicing veggies.
There are actually real people who have reached their fitness goals without prepping seven identical containers of chicken and broccoli.
I’ll show you how (and give you a free printable no time to meal plan shopping list).
Have a back-up plan when you don’t have the time (or desire) for traditional meal planning.
As simple as meal planning can be (read about it here), there are days and weeks when we just don’t have the time or desire to go to even a little trouble to write a plan on paper.
Or, you might be a person who prefers to be flexible, wing it or go with the flow. I am very structured about some areas of my life, but I also like the freedom to choose food (or whatever) at the spur of the moment.
These simple steps work well when:
you’re super busy
you’re tired or don’t feel well
a snowstorm is on the way!
you just got back from vacation and there’s nothing to eat
you want to send a spouse or child to the grocery store for you
you just don’t feel like meal planning
Whatever the reason, it is entirely possible to eat healthy without traditional meal planning. Here’s how:
Rely on healthy convenience foods.
“Healthy” and “convenience” is not a paradox. Zucchini is a healthy food. Twinkies are a convenience food. Pre-cut veggies in a plastic tub is a healthy convenience food. Simple, right?
Today there are literally tons of healthy eating options that take little or no effort to prepare. Rely on these types of foods as the basis for your “no time for meal planning” meal plan.
pre-cut fruits and veggies
fresh pico de gallo
pre-washed baby potatoes
veggies in microwavable steamer bags
any easy-to-eat fruit or veggie
fast-cooking cuts of meat
burgers (beef, bison or turkey)
boneless, skinless chicken thighs (perfect to throw in the crock pot!)
eggs (raw or hard-boiled)
good-quality lunch meat
canned beans (black, kidney, pinto, etc.)
white or brown rice (precooked packets)
good quality protein bars
seeds (raw, unsalted)
soups (check ingredients)
oatmeal packets (whole oats or instant steel cut, plain)
whole-grain bread or crackers
beef or bison jerky
good quality protein powder
healthy entrees (I like Amy’s brand)
green smoothie mixes
veggies in steamer bags
frozen fruit or berries
sprouted corn tortillas
cauliflower crust pizza
These are just a few suggestions. The free printable shopping list contains these (and other) healthy ingredients. Use that list, or create your own!
You get to decide what “healthy” means to you.
There are a million definitions of good health. Create a list of foods you consider healthy that you can rely on during weeks when you want to eat healthy but don’t have time to meal plan.
If you eat keto you will include healthy fats like olives, avocado, and extra virgin olive oil, and you’ll skip bread and pasta.
If you count Weight Watcher points you may include some of their pre-packaged products.
If you are vegan you’ll stock up on meatless options, like veggie burgers, salads, and non-dairy smoothie ingredients.
2. Create a reusable shopping list with your favorite healthy foods.
Make a Word doc with a simple, healthy shopping list and print off multiple copies.
Or use a shopping app like ShopShop.
Whether you create your own list, or use mine, always have a shopping list ready for those weeks you want to eat healthy but don’t have the time or desire to meal plan. Grab your list, quickly fill a cart with ingredients, and soon you’ll have all you need for a week’s worth of meals.
Shop at your local grocery store, a big box plus grocery store like Super Target or Super Walmart, Costco or Sam’s Club. If you’re more high-end, try Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.
3. Make “no recipe required” meals that are quick and simple.
There are so many delicious, nutritious meals you can throw together quickly that don’t require a recipe. Save elaborate recipes for weeks you have the time or energy to cook.
Here are just a few ideas of super simple meals using the ingredients on my printable shopping list:
Quinoa with black beans and grilled chicken. Grill (or bake or pan fry) some naked chicken tenders. While the chicken is cooking, throw together a pre-cooked pouch of quinoa with a can of black beans. Heat and eat!
Green smoothie. Combine milk (dairy or non-dairy) with frozen fruit, a scoop of Greek yogurt, and a handful of pre-washed baby spinach. Toss in a little protein powder if you want even more protein.
Mexican Casserole and apple. For YEARS I ate an Amy’s frozen entree (like their Mexican Casserole) and a Pink Lady apple for lunch. It’s delicious and filling!
Steel cut oats with nut butter and berries. Use instant steel cut oat packets (I use Better Oats brand with flax seed), and combine with a scoop of almond (or other nut) butter, and fresh or frozen berries.
Bison burgers served on whole grain bread, with a side salad. No recipe required!
Rotisserie chicken with fresh steamed broccoli, and baby potatoes.
Big salads with canned beans, hardboiled eggs (buy they already cooked!), lots of prewashed veggies, and a sprinkle of nuts or cheese.
Tips for healthy eating when you don’t have time to meal plan.
It’s all about the food:
Choose a few items from each category on the shopping list.
Select healthy foods you like and will actually eat.
Level up the flavor by using herbs, spices, and seasoning mixes. (I am currently addicted to Jack Stack Barbecue All Purpose Seasoning, but choose your favorite.)
Don’t forget to drink your water! Throw in a few pieces of frozen fruit for an extra treat.
Take a peek at your store’s prepared foods and deli section. Often you will find delicious, healthy options.
Many meat counters have pre-seasoned chicken, steak and burgers. Also asparagus wrapped in bacon, stuffed mushrooms, and other simple sides.
Simple cooking techniques for busy weeks:
Use your crockpot. Dump your ingredients inside in the morning, and come home to a home-cooked dinner at night.
Grill burgers, meat, poultry, or veggies.
OMG do you have an air fryer yet?? We use ours ALL the time. I especially love making crispy skin chicken thighs and burgers, but you can cook so many foods in your air fryer. (This air fryer is ranked #1 on Amazon and you can check the current price HERE.)
The microwave is a great way to steam veggies, especially ones sold (either fresh or frozen) in steamer bags.
Do super quick stir fries with precooked white or brown rice (or try zoodles), naked chicken tenders or fresh or frozen shrimp, and prewashed veggies.
Plan a Healthy Life Tip: Keep the shopping list you just used (with the circled items you bought) on your refrigerator. That way you can see at-a-glance what your meal options are without digging through your pantry, freezer, or fridge.
Dump the guilt.
As you can see, it is totally doable to eat healthy foods without spending an hour (or more) meal planning or prepping on the weekends. Have a simple system like this, whether for special occasions, or to use every week is just smart. Feel ZERO guilt when you’re scrolling Instagram and see the meal prep goddesses and their professionally styled prepped meals.
I hope you can see how this simple system will help you eat healthy when you don’t have time (or desire) to meal plan. Happy “no time to meal plan” meal planning!
Don’t forget to PIN this post so you can find it in the future!