The Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center

Dilemma: Eating Healthy Dinners When You Don't Have Time

Posted on by Karen Sabbath, MS, RD, CSO

It takes too long. I don’t have time. Too much chopping. Everyone eats at a different time. I don’t have the right ingredients.   These are just a few of the comments people make when asked about making homemade healthy meals.

According to a study reported in Business News Daily, Americans spend 23 hours a week emailing, texting, and using social media. Imagine how well you could eat if you used some of that time to prepare healthy food, or maybe even get in a walk! With a small amount of planning, food that is prepared at home can be delicious, easy to make, and healthier than fast food or take-out. Let’s get started!


Protein foods: Purchase rotisserie chickens and freeze for future use. Other options include frozen fish fillets, boneless chicken thighs or breasts, ground turkey or chicken, and eggs. Canned tuna or, even better, salmon is great for sandwiches, salads, or even dinner. Vegetarian options include frozen soy beans (edamame), veggie burgers (make sure they have plenty of protein in them), and peanut or almond butter.

Grains and starches: Brown rice, quinoa, and wheat berries can be made ahead in large quantities and frozen in containers. You can also buy pre-made frozen grains, but you’ll pay more for them. Whole wheat tortillas are a great staple to keep on hand, as are whole wheat pastas.

Canned goods including beans/ legumes: Red, black, white... canned beans of all colors are great to have to add to soups, chili, tacos, or salads. Canned tomatoes can be plain or seasoned with Italian or Mexican spices. Tomato sauce in a jar is a great staple.

Vegetables: Onions, garlic, and carrots: these healthy vegetables last a long time and can be incorporated into lots of dishes. Too tired to chop onions? You can buy them already chopped. Same goes for carrots and cabbage. Again, more expensive, but ultra-convenient.

Greens: No energy to wash and chop salad ingredients? No worries. Buy them already chopped and in the bag. Don’t have dressing? A quick mix of equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard added to a jar and shaken makes a delicious vinaigrette.

Frozen vegetables: Buy them plain, without added sauces. Green beans, broccoli, carrots, peas, corn, and mixed vegetables (like Soycatash) are great to have on hand.

Fruit and nuts: Ramp up your salad or rice with pistachios, almonds, or hazelnuts, and add some dried cranberries or golden raisins for a sweet and crunchy bite. Frozen fruits and berries packaged without added sugar are a great addition to smoothies, cooked cereals, yogurt, or desserts, or are great when added to roasted chicken dishes.

Dairy: Fat-free or low-fat milk, or non-dairy milk alternatives such as soy or almond milk, are easy additions to meals. Yogurt and cottage cheese are great snacks.

Extras: Olive and canola oils, vinegar (balsamic and apple cider vinegar are both delicious), spices, and salsa.

  • Take time on a weekend to map out some menus for the week.
  • Find your recipes and make a shopping list based on your menus.
  • Double your recipes, and freeze what's left over for nights when time is short.
  • Make use of slow cookers that can be turned on before leaving the house.
  • Don't hesitate to enlist the help of family members.
  • Use leftovers for lunches.

Every meal should have a protein source, lots of vegetables, and some source of carbohydrate, found in fruits, vegetables, grains, bread, and potatoes. Whenever possible, opt for the whole grain option (Ex: brown rice, whole wheat pasta/bread). Meals in a bowl are very popular... just put a grain in the bottom of the dish, add a protein and loads of veggies, and top with your favorite sauce (tomato, teriyaki, or salsa, just to name a few). The possibilities are endless.

Allocating some time to eating well is a great investment in your long-term health and well-being. Foods taste better, are less processed, and can be tailored to your individual tastes. Try it for two to three weeks, and you’ll be hooked.