A dietitian’s guide to healthy eating whilst living a hectic 21st century life
We may well aspire to cooking up a weekly bone broth, fermenting our own vegetables and swanning around the kitchen with elegant poise, but the reality of our hectic schedules makes these aspirations a forlorn hope.
Let’s be honest, who can find the time when we barely get the opportunity to do our washing, feed the cat or call our mum occasionally?
Trust me, you are not alone in your frustrations.
The good news is that you do not have to dedicate long hours each week to build a strong nutritional platform that will support both weight control and optimal energy levels.
Instead, we just need to be a touch more mindful about what we eat and we need to think ahead a little.
This is not radical revolution but rather thoughtful evolution. And it will put you on the right path to better nutrition.
Plan your food week
Fail to plan and you plan to fail. Cliche, I know but when it comes to nutritional eating there is much to take from this statement.
Healthy practices are as much about planning as they are about knowledge. If we are honest with ourselves we know what we should and should not be eating. We know there are good fats and bad fats; we understand processed foods are not as healthy as natural; we get that late night snacking on doughnuts and ice cream is probably not a wise idea.
However, life gets in the way. There are often situations where our food consumption decisions would have been different had we the supplies on hand to have chosen wiser.
This is where planning comes in. Take control by dedicating time each and every week to planning some (but not all…way too hard) of your meals, snacks and treats in advance.
Once you have worked out that you’ll need to grab lunch on the run a couple of times or that your partner will be away on a business trip or that the kids have a ‘syllabus’ day home from school, you can then make the necessary arrangements to have healthy options on hand.
Set aside some time on the weekend or early in the week to scan your diary and those of the family to see what commitments will cause ructions in your normal eating schedules. A little foresight goes a long way to ensuring our meal choices are healthier and our snacks more nutritious.
If you’d like to knock up a batch of our nourishing and delicious overnight oats – perfect for a week of ready-made breakfasts – please see here.
Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore
Very few people have the time to prepare a healthy, nutritionally balanced meal on a daily basis especially if they are not cooking for others.
This may be because cooking and eating well is not on their top list of priorities, or due to jam packed schedules but whatever the reason there is no need to feel guilty.
Rather the trick is to keep a supply of back up options in the fridge or freezer so should you find yourself home for dinner, there are better options on hand than the local KFC or Indian takeaway.
One option is to cook when you do have time and then freeze a few favourites – spag bol, stir fries and soups freeze well and can be reheated for both lunch and dinner. Look into purchasing a vacuum sealer for effective food storage.
Air fryers are now extremely popular and are certainly a healthier option if your favourite home-cooked food is fried. And one of their not-so-well-known super powers is that they revive and crisp up last night’s take away far better than the microwave will.
If you’d like to know more about what you can cook in an air fryer, please see here.
There is also the option of healthy meals planned and delivered each week. These delivery services are increasingly popular and can make both shopping and cooking a good deal less stressful. You pay for it, of course, but it is certainly cheaper than take-out after take-out.
The key dietary area that suffers when we are not organised with our food is our intake of nutrient rich vegetables. Often foods we grab on the run contain very small amounts of salad or vegetables leaving us with a carb and fat rich diet.
Vegetables and salad are low in calories, they bulk up meals so we eat fewer calories overall and they are rich sources of vitamins, fibre and essential nutrients.
A dietary pattern that frequently sees us consuming less than 2-3 cups of salad or vegetables on a daily basis is one that is also likely to see us feeling bloated and gaining weight over time.
For this reason, when you are grabbing meals and snacks on the run, always focus on increasing your salad and vege intake.
Order extra sides of vegetables when eating at a restaurant; look for vegetable based dishes when enjoying Asian cuisines and actively seek out salads and soups for lunch.
Utilise the convenience of online shopping
Whilst we may not find ourselves at home often enough to need a full supermarket shop or order groceries regularly online, don’t forget how handy it can be to have some supplies delivered to work.
Unlike home, we are generally at work a certain number of hours each week, and often there is someone there to sign for the delivery (however, during Covid lockdowns this situation was reversed!)
A weekly delivery of staples and snack foods such as fresh vegetables, tins of tuna, nuts and protein balls and protein powders for easy snacking can go a long way in helping to prevent the daily trip to the vending machine (or local cafe) for high calorie pick-me-ups.
Having ready supplies of your favourite yoghurt, nuts, cheese and crackers on hand to serve as nutritious snacks puts your nutritional needs on firm, healthy and sustainable foundations.
Schedule in low calorie days
Chances are if you are trying hard to balance work, life and relationships there are a number of days each week when you eat and drink a lot more than you should.
This is perfectly normal and dietary perfection is neither achievable or a desirable goal.
However, an effective strategy that helps strike a balance between ‘real life’ and healthy nutrition is to regularly compensate for higher calorie days by scheduling a ‘light’ day or two.
We are not talking intermittent fasting here, just a simple tactic of scheduling days of lighter calorific intake to help buffer the effects of food over-indulgence.
This may mean a day each week of vegetables, fish and soup or a couple of weekly meals of low calorie soup, whatever you can regularly schedule into your routine to strike a good balance for you.
As a general rule of thumb, a light meal of fish or soup on a Sunday or Monday night followed by a day of fresh vegetables, juice, salads and fish works well each week.
I believe that the jury is still out on the effectiveness of cleanses and fasts that encourage the partaking of juices alone, or no food whatsoever. These are extreme regimes and have the potential to play havoc with your long term metabolism.
And if you think a liquid breakfast might be just what you fancy, why not try our nourishing protein shake recipe?
Take note of your skin
Given that skin cells are one of the body’s most frequently replaced cells, it is not surprising that a healthy diet means healthy skin.
More specifically, there are a number of key nutrients including Vitamins A, C and E, zinc, long chain unsaturated fats, amino acids (found in protein rich foods) that are directly involved in building new skin cells.
These can all be targeted in a balanced diet if you are looking to improve the quality and look of your skin.
In general, a diet that contains plenty of nutrient rich foods including fish, lean red meat and lots of brightly coloured fresh fruits and vegetables will generally supply all the key nutrients that you need.
And when coupled with the right amounts of fluid in the diet this should result in healthy, glowing skin.
Unfortunately busy lifestyles can mean that some of these nutrients are left lacking and for this reason dietary supplements may be of help to ensure busy people are still getting all the goodies they need for glowing skin.
If your skin is looking a little lacklustre, the first thing to do is check your intake of the key vitamins involved in skin cell formation – Vitamins A, E and C.
Simply aiming to include a couple of serves of red, orange or yellow vegetables or fruit in your diet on a daily basis will ensure you are getting enough Vitamin C and beta carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A.
Whilst a handful of nuts, walnuts and brazil nuts in particular will bump up your intake of Vitamin E.
These vitamins are not only directly involved in skin cell formation but they also act as antioxidants, helping to prevent existing cells from damage.
Taking a multivitamin can assist in topping up your daily dose of these nutrients should you find yourself struggling to eat enough fresh fruit and vegetables on a regular basis.
Next, make sure that you are getting enough long chain unsaturated fats. These fats, which are found primarily in oily fish such as salmon and tuna as well as in walnuts and grain based breads and cereals have a key role within the membrane or wall of a skin cell.
Both the flexibility of the skin as well as its moisture content is influenced by the essential fats in our diet, which can be deleteriously low if individuals are following an extremely low fat diet.
Aim to eat oily fish at least three times each week and grab a handful of nuts as protein and healthy snack once a day to bump up your intake of good fats.
Finally, if you find that your skin is not looking its best, make sure you are including enough protein rich foods in your diet.
Protein rich foods including lean red meat, seafood and eggs not only offer essential proteins the body needs to build all issues, but they are also excellent sources of zinc which is involved in new skin cell production as it helps Vitamin A to be released from the liver. Ideally we need to consume zinc rich foods every single day.