Meal Planning for Working Moms and Dads

How to Eat Like a (Time-Crunched) Nutritionist

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March is here...and although the spring weather hasn't arrived yet (at least in frigid New Jersey), National Nutrition Month has. was created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to raise awareness about the benefits of making healthy food choices and staying physically active. To kick off the month-long celebration, Hope Warshaw, a registered dietitian and well-known diabetes expert, published a terrific compilation of strategies that registered dietitians themselves use to eat well without a fuss in the Washington Post. Learning nutritionists' best kitchen secrets is the equivalent of getting shooting pointers from Lebron James or acting coaching from Meryl Streep, so you'll find some fabulous, fresh ideas in the article -- like keeping a tray of prepped salad ingredients in your fridge, stashing fruit in your car, and simplifying menu planning by posting a list of favorite recipes right on the fridge.

Since I will most definitely be stealing some of these smart ideas, I thought I'd return the favor by chiming in with a few of my own personal tips. I rely on these strategies day in and day out to streamline meal prep and make healthy choices my default option, no matter how crazy my schedule gets. I also urge you to share your own time-saving tricks in the comments section below, so we can all benefit from each others' real-life-tested solutions to healthy eating obstacles.

  • Stock up on no-prep produce. I make sure about half of the produce in my grocery cart is in ready-to-eat form, which means it doesn't require any chopping or prep besides washing. My staple items include baby spinach, bagged lettuce mixes, grape tomatoes, baby carrots, oranges, apples, bananas, grapes, and bagged frozen veggies. When I'm short on time, I can toss a handful of carrots in a baggie for lunch or saute a bag of spinach in olive oil...and squeeze in a few servings of produce without any hassle.
  • Have a few "mindless" breakfast options on hand. I need to leave the house before 7am, and I tend to dawdle in the morning (my husband would say this is an understatement). So, I usually end up leaving myself just a minute or two to grab breakfast before heading out the door. To stay on track, and avoid an empty stomach, I have two staple breakfasts I can grab-and-go on autopilot. One is a slice of whole-grain bread (toasted if time permits!) with peanut butter and a piece of fruit. The other is a Greek yogurt and a piece of fruit. I leave the house on time, breakfast in hand, minimal thinking required.
  • Make the most of your freezer.My husband and I stock up on family packs of chicken breast and containers of frozen ground turkey/chicken when they go on sale and stash them in the freezer. We split the family packs into baggies with 2 breasts (or portions) each so they're ready to thaw for a single meal (if you have a larger family, you can adjust the quantity accordingly). We also make big batches of turkey meat sauce, vegetarian chili, soups, and other freezable meals and freeze them in plastic storage containers or plastic quart bags. On Sunday nights, I pull a few proteins or meals down into the fridge to thaw and I'm set for dinners through the middle of the week.
  • When in doubt, roast it.I love the delicious, nutty taste of roasted vegetables, so I roast just about everything -- grape tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, broccoli rabe, cubed butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, you name it. The technique is simple. Cut your veggies into bite-sized pieces, arrange them on a baking sheet (lined with foil or parchment for easy clean-up), toss with a drizzle of olive oil and seasonings, and roast at 400 degrees until browned, tossing the veggies once or twice during the cooking process. This method will never fail you.
  • The richer the treat, the smaller the portion. Some of my favorite foods are also among the most calorie-dense -- creamy cheeses, warm fresh-baked bread, chocolate, and desserts of all shapes and sizes. I still enjoy these foods regularly, but in small bites. On the other hand, I eat abundant quantities of low-cal, nutrient-rich veggies and fruits to help me fill up on the good stuff. So, if we're having a simple dinner with cheeses and bread or crackers (one of my fave Friday or Saturday night meals), we'll also add sliced apples or pears, baby carrots and cucumber slices with hummus, and roasted beets to fill up most of our plate.

What are your secret weapons for stress-free healthy eating?

Last Updated:3/6/2014
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