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Too Busy To Cook Real Food?

I sometimes question my commitment to real food.

Some days the siren song of the pre-made, the heat-n-serve, the quick-and-easy calls to me.

“Just pick me up . . . I’m a pretty little box . . . you need me . . .”

“Just put me in your cart . . . My chemicals make me deceivingly delicious . . . you want me . . .”

“I’m waiting for you on the endless shelves of the inner aisles . . . I’ll take less than 30 minutes
of your time . . .” 

For a brief moment, I agree, “Oh yes. I do need you. I do want you!”

Why do many Americans not eat a real food diet?  I have an opinion or two about this.  First, many people don’t understand what real food is or why it’s important.  It’s simply a lack of knowledge.  Fortunately, information is pretty easy to find.

The second obstacle is that we Americans are busy!  I don’t know how other real foodies do it, but I make most (not all!) of our meals and snacks from scratch. Even though it’s worth it, it’s time-consuming and tough to fit in after work, soccer practice, errands, homeschooling . . . you get the picture.

Over the years I’ve learned several tricks that make sticking to a real food diet easier.

6 Tips for When You’re Too Busy to Cook Real Food

Meal Planning is Essential to Sticking to a Real Food Diet

When you are busy, it’s easy to forget about dinner until it’s dinner time.  When you are a real food cook, you sometimes have to think about dinner (and all of the other meals) a day or two in advance. It is important to have a meal plan.  Plan a week or even a month in advance. (Get my free printable weekly or monthly meal planner here.)

No time to come up with your own meal plan?  I highly recommend Real Plans, which are meal plans for a real food diet that you can customize for any dietary intolerances or preferences.  Read about my experience with Real Plans here.

If you’ve been living the real food lifestyle for a while and can pull together your own recipes, I highly recommend Plan to Eat to organize your meal plan. I currently use Plan to Eat and I love it.

Having a meal plan for the week or month also allows you to spend less money when you shop because you only buy what you already know you’ll need.

Practice Once-a-Week or Once-a-Month Cooking

Once a week food prep and cooking is a dream come true for many real food cooks.  If you could get a week’s worth of dinners prepped in an hour each week, you’d save so much time and make a real food diet work for your family.

I was great at making extra batches of baked goods, but I couldn’t figure out how to prep my dinners in advance without it becoming an unorganized mess.

I got some help from a few websites and books. Here are the resources that helped me.

Once a Month Meals

Once a Month Cooking


Keep Some Real Food Convenience Items On Hand

While it’s sometimes tough to find convenience foods that truly fit the description of real food, I think it’s important to give yourself a break from time to time by using some pre-packaged foods.  I find that it helps to keep snacks like Lara bars or maple chocolate fudge on hand.  Those are special, sweet treats for us that break up the monotony of our usual menu.

Check out my favorite prepackaged real food snacks here.

Embrace the 80/20 Real Food Lifestyle

Now, I’m not suggesting that you run out and buy dinner-in-a-bag and a boxed cake mix for dessert–you need to choose your 20% carefully–but sometimes a meal from the health food chain store is in order.  At least you know what their standards are and that they are usually higher standards than other chain restaurants.

Ask Your Family for Help

Real food planning, preparation, and cooking can be a lot for one person to handle.  Involve your family in the meal planning and preparation.  If you have children, I think this is especially important.  In fact, one of the best ways to get children to eat real food is to involve them in food prep and cooking.

Our fast-paced society has left little time for teaching the next generation how to prepare real food.  Pass on your knowledge of food preparation to your children and use your time in the kitchen to bond with them, as well.

You’d be surprised how your children can learn to properly use a knife or even prepare a whole dinner for the family.

Check out these tools for teaching your children to cook.

Teach children knife skills

Teach your kids to cook without stress

Use Your Tools

In a recent conversation with a fellow real foodie, she mentioned that it would be nice to not feel like Ma Ingalls every time she prepared a meal.  Oh boy, did that resonate with me!  I’m one step closer to a bonnet and a covered wagon every day, I think. I’ve got your pioneer woman right here!  

So to avoid the feeling of every meal being a giant production, use your tools.  Got a slow cooker? Use it! Have you ditched the microwave?  Get a counter top toaster/convection oven.  Try an InstantPot for maximum time savings in the kitchen.

We may be eating the old-fashioned way, but that doesn’t mean we should forget those modern conveniences that are safe and save time and effort.

Don’t give up, even when life gets busy.  Keep reminding yourself that the health benefits of eating a real-food diet is worth it!

Do you have tips that I didn’t list?  Share your story in the Time for Real Food Series.

6 Tips for When You're Too Busy to Cook Real Food

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