How to Eat Healthy When You Don't Have Time to Meal Prep

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chicken and spinach skillet

Pictured Recipe: Chicken & Spinach Skillet Pasta with Lemon & Parmesan

Sometimes when the weekend winds down, I feel good knowing I rocked my grocery list, meal-prepped and have set myself up for a week of healthy meals. But sometimes we're traveling during the weekend, have too much going on or simply choose to spend more time doing fun family things, and on Sunday night I find myself staring at an empty fridge.

Sound familiar? There are lots of reasons why good intentions of meal planning for the week sometimes remain just that—intentions. But instead of ordering takeout or skipping veggies all week, here are five easy ways to eat healthy when you didn't have time to meal-prep.

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1. Simplify Your Plan, Instead of Throwing It Out the Window

scrambled egg pitas

Pictured Recipe: Spanakopita Scrambled Egg Pitas

If you normally plan out your dinners, and just didn't have time to plan and execute meal-prep on Sunday, don't let that all go to waste.

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2. Buy Pre-Prepped "Convenience" Foods

shrimp

Pictured Recipe: Sautéed Shrimp with Mango Salsa & Coconut Cauliflower Rice

You may spend a little more money, but when you don't have time to do the prep yourself, take some help from the grocery store. Plus, it's still cheaper than eating out.

  • Take advantage of prepped vegetables that don't require your slicing and dicing. Look for spiralized veggies (check the produce section and the freezer aisle), chopped broccoli, riced cauliflower, chopped salad greens and chopped mushrooms. Some produce is also ready as-is, so grab those items this week: baby carrots, snap peas and baby bell peppers.
  • Buy store-bought sauces that add flavor to quick meals and dress up your dinner, like pesto, tomato sauce, curry simmer sauces or salad dressings. It's nice when you can make your own to control the ingredients and sodium, but when you're out of time, it's also really nice to open a jar. Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with a few options.
  • Reach for pre-marinated meat. This not only adds flavor, it saves you time—it's ready to go straight into the oven or onto the grill. While your meat is cooking, you can assemble the rest of a quick meal by adding a whole grain and a vegetable.

3. Turn to Your Pantry & Freezer

chicken noodle soup

Pictured Recipe: Slow-Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup Meal-Prep Freezer Pack

A well-stocked pantry and freezer can help you put dinner on the table any night, but they're especially important when you didn't have time to meal-prep or shop. Keep frozen vegetables on hand to add to soups or stir-fries. Stock up on quick-cooking whole grains like quinoa and whole-wheat pasta. Canned beans can quickly become black bean tacos with just a few other ingredients. To really help out your future self, make these slow-cooker freezer meals and grab one when you need a complete meal.

4. Get Everyone Helping

If dinner usually falls under your domain, enlist help. Have your partner take on dinner for the night, make a grocery store run or just do some extra chopping. Give your kids specific tasks like shredding cheese or tearing up lettuce (try these 10 easy dinners kids can help with). Invite over friends and ask them to bring side dishes or salads—and you can tackle the main. Just because you normally handle most of meal-prep doesn't mean that you can't get the whole gang on board.

5. Streamline Breakfast, Lunch and Snacks

overnight

Pictured Recipe: Creamy Blueberry-Pecan Overnight Oatmeal

The week your fridge is looking bare is not the week to go crazy over breakfast and lunch meals. Keep these simple and focus most of your mealtime energy on dinners. Choose staple foods that will sustain you. For breakfast that might look like overnight oats, yogurt and fruit with granola, or toast with nut butter or avocado. At lunch, pack up some salads with prewashed greens, canned beans or fish and store-bought dressing. Add some whole-grain crackers and you're good to go. Keep snacks easy too. Look for snacks that are portable and healthy—think an apple, almonds or cottage cheese. Then grab and go.

WATCH: How to Meal-Prep a Week of Healthy Lunches for Less Than $20

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More Easy Dinner Ideas:

5 Secrets for Getting Dinner on the Table No Matter How Busy You Are
7-Day Dinner Plan to Cook Once and Eat Twice
30-Minute Dinner Solutions: The Ingredient Staples You Should Always Have on Hand

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lisadvalente
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Here's how you can still eat healthy meals this week, even if you didn't have time to meal prep.
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Lisa Valente
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chicken and spinach skillet