Everything these days is about balance. But when you’re trying to balance a tight budget and a tighter schedule with healthy eating choices, the scales never seem to settle. Either you’re running out of time, the food is too expensive, or you’re not eating the way you want to.
There are, thankfully, a few simple solutions to help tip the scales a little more in your favor. Some things, like setting priorities, are universal. But from there, it all depends on your specific needs.
Here are our top tips for balancing your diet between healthy and easy:
1) Set Your Priorities
Although you’ve probably heard a lot about balance, you probably haven’t heard as much about setting priorities. Balance means different things to different people, and knowing your priorities is the first step in finding your balance.
If you struggle with identifying your priorities, as I do, try an app to help. Most allow you to simply input all of the things you want to achieve, and then the app randomly as you choose which of two entries is more important. You repeat this until the app has set your list of tasks in order from most to least important.
Once your priorities are set, you can move on to finding which tips best match your priorities. If you want to save time, meal prepping is going to be your best bet. If you’re more interested in sticking to strict dietary restrictions, you can focus your attention on your grocery shopping.
It all depends on your specific needs and priorities.
2) Go for Whole Foods
One of the easiest ways to get easy and healthy foods into your diet is to opt for whole foods. This means choosing the whole form of foods, like fruits, vegetables, and nuts, over health bars or junk food.
Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done, since junk food tends to be cheaper than healthy whole foods. In some cases, there are a few options for getting whole foods that fit your budget. After all, healthy eating on a budget is definitely possible!
If you are fortunate enough to have the proper budget to afford healthy whole foods, a few days of food journaling can help you identify places where you can substitute whole foods for prepackaged or convenience foods.
If you find yourself reaching for a protein bar as an afternoon snack, for example, consider switching that out for nut mix and some dried fruit. The swap will help you save money and reduce your sodium intake.
Whole foods don’t have to be raw, of course. You can swap out prepackaged side dishes for baked potatoes or steamed mixed vegetables that came from your freezer.
If you pick options without included sauces, you’ll take in fewer calories and save yourself both time and money!
3) Choose “Core” Recipes
I hate deciding what to make for dinner. Even if I plan ahead, it feels like putting together a puzzle I don’t have a picture for. But the longer I’ve made meal plans, the more I find beauty in go-to “core” recipes.
You don’t have to plan meals too far in advance to benefit from having some core recipes that you can make without constantly checking the recipe or thinking too hard about it. Because you make them so often, there is less pressure when you cook. That makes it easier to get through the task.
You know you’ll enjoy dinner and, if you make a little extra, you know you’ll enjoy your lunch the next day, too!
My absolute favorite go-to recipe is slow cooker pork adobo. I can start it late in the morning, and by the time my family is ready to eat dinner, it’s ready. I just add a salad and some rice, and we’re good to go!
Other great core recipes include a slow cooker creamy chicken and a red wine beef stew that is great for using up carrots, potatoes, and other veggies that need to get eaten. These recipes show up on my family’s menu every other week (at least!).
Core recipes make meal plans easier, make cooking easier, and help me follow my dietary restrictions without spending a ton of money or time.
4) Experiment with Meal Planning & Meal Prep
There’s a good chance you’ve already read countless articles praising meal planning and meal prep. And they are great tools.
But you don’t have to use both all the time. And if you do choose to employ one of these options, you can ease into it. That’s not something many people point out.
If you want to save time and still eat delicious, healthy meals, you’re going to need to plan ahead. Cooking healthy food—even simple whole foods—takes time.
If you’re tired or busy, odds are you’re not going to bother cooking an extravagant meal—or maybe even cooking at all. You’ll reach for convenience food that, in addition to being unhealthy, is usually more expensive.
But this doesn’t mean that you need to spend a whole day cooking meals for the week ahead. You can start by writing down your meal plans a day in advance, then making sure you thaw your meat and have all the ingredients you need. It’ll save time the next day and prevent breakdowns in the cooking process.
It’s tempting to jump into these habits head-first, but that’s a good way to burn yourself out and fall behind on your overall goals.
So if you find that these options fit your needs, start out slow. Ease yourself into your new habits, and you’ll find that they work better and last much longer!
As your needs change, so will the methods that work best to help you achieve your dietary goals. While meal planning might be ideal for you now, meal prep might become a better option if your work hours change.
Or you might find that your dietary needs shift, which means you have to put more emphasis on sticking to your budget and dietary focuses more than picking easy recipes. After you have settled your priorities once, redoing it will be easier when the need arises. Plus, you will be able to make changes that much more quickly.
Finding balance in your diet between healthy and easy is possible. It takes trial and error, as well as perseverance.
More than that, it requires patience with yourself. You’re going to slip up at some point, and it’ll take time for new habits to form.
But once they do, you’ll be glad you started when you did!