Healthy Meal Planning for Busy Workers

Learn more about how meal prepping can help you live a healthier life, while also saving you time and money.

Let's face it — people don't enjoy cooking after a long and draining day at work! This leads many busy workers to order takeout, which often lacks the nutrients needed to re-energize and provide sufficient nutrients. Since the mind and body are deeply connected, this can have detrimental effects on mental health, energy levels and your ability to show up in every other aspect of your life. We spoke with Vandana Gujadhur, a Registered Dietitian who is a part of the Inkblot network of lifestyle coaches. Gujadhur helps us understand how meal prepping can help us live healthier lives while saving time.

What is meal prepping?

Meal prepping is the concept of planning and preparing nutritious meals ahead of time. It is particularly useful for those with busy work schedules, as it reduces the time spent cooking, the cost of food, and the amount of food waste created. Meal prepping allows you to make more conscious meal decisions, reduce your intake of sodium-rich foods and help you reach your nutrition goals.

Tips for meal prepping with a busy schedule 

We asked Gujadhur to give us some tips on meal prepping effectively. She broke it down into two main stages: planning and preparing. 

Meal prep planning stage 

1. Create a log of meal ideas

As you come across new recipes, either online, through cookbooks, or passed down from friends and family, keep a log of various meal ideas. Gujadhur explains that decision fatigue is a major reason people order takeout after a long day. An editable list linking to fun and exciting new recipes can greatly reduce the burden of decision fatigue and better plan for your grocery runs. Get the whole family involved by asking them what their preferences are and adding meal ideas to a shared google document. 

2. Organize specific meal themes for each day of the week 

Here’s where you can make meal-prepping fun. Eliminate stress by organizing your meal prep for the week, and create food themes to help motivate you and your family to participate in the process. For instance, you can have themed days, like Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, and Stir-fry Saturdays, to introduce variety to your meals during the week and make healthy eating more exciting. 

3. Schedule time in your week to plan your meals 

A little time spent planning can make the preparation stage run smoother and save time later in the week. Prioritize the time you spend planning by building it into your weekly schedule. For instance, if you go to the grocery store every Sunday before you leave, spend 15-30 minutes deciding your menu for the week and building your grocery list based on that. 

4. Decide how often you would like to cook

The amount of time you have to cook varies depending on your preferences and schedule. Take some time to reflect on what is realistic for you. If you only have time to cook on the weekend, cook more meals at once to set yourself up for the rest of the week. If you prefer fresh meals and want to limit eating leftovers, consider meal prepping more frequently — every other day, for instance. 

5. Plan your meals based on what you already have 

Beyond encouraging a healthier lifestyle by increasing your intake of home-cooked and unprocessed foods, meal prepping can also limit food waste. Take some time to review your cabinets, fridge and freezer every week to assess what ingredients you already have. Try to find recipes that use those ingredients to reduce your spending at the grocery store. 

Meal preparation stage

1. Start with the foods that take the longest to cook

Gujadhur recommends preparing the food that takes the longest to cook, such as whole grains, legumes, and roasted vegetables. This will save time in the kitchen and allow you to multitask while they are cooking. During the preparation stage, you can also prepare your protein and chop your vegetables so they are ready to go when you need to cook during the week. 

2. Multitask, batch cook, and make homemade frozen meals for lazy nights

She also suggested making multiple dishes at once. For instance, when your food is cooking in the oven or a soup is boiling, wash vegetables or chop up ingredients for a salad. Consider making double or triple the amount of every recipe and freezing your leftovers for lazy days. Rather than resorting to takeout or the sodium-rich frozen food you find at the grocery store, eating a homemade frozen meal is a great way to take care of your nutrition on busier days. Gujadhur also suggests using leftovers in different ways to introduce variety into your week. 

What does a healthy and balanced meal look like?

Gujadhur explains that a balanced meal includes the following:

  • A fist-sized amount of carbohydrates and starches, such as sweet potato and whole grains like rice and quinoa. 
  • A palm-sized amount of protein such as meat, fish, poultry, legumes, and tofu 
  • Healthy fats such as cooking in canola oil, nuts, seeds and fish
  • Half a plate of vegetables — ideally two different colours to ensure nutrient variety
  • Fruit, either as a dessert or as a snack throughout the day

Need some healthy meal inspiration? Gujadhur recommends using the following websites to discover healthy and nutritious meals that are easy to make: 

Nourishing your body is an act of self-care

The quality of your diet is an essential part of your ability to show up for yourself and others. Considering the role diet plays in ensuring high energy levels, stabilizing mood and our ability to feel good, treat eating well as an act of self-care. If you struggle with nutrition and preparing balanced meals, lean on your Inkblot EAP for additional support. At Inkblot, we believe in holistic mental health support. We offer Counselling and Advisory Services, including health, nutrition and lifestyle coaching. To access your advisory services, go to your Inkblot dashboard, choose the “Advisory Services” section, and get connected with the support best suited to your needs.

Sanskriti Ravi

Associate Content Marketer

Vandana Gujadhur, RD

Vandana is a Registered Dietitian with the College of Dietitians of Ontario and an active member of Dietitians of Canada and the Cardiovascular, Obesity and Diabetes networks. In addition to General Health Optimisation, Vandana specializes in cholesterol management (heart health), blood glucose management, vegetarianism, preconception (fertility) nutrition and pregnancy nutrition, high blood pressure, cancer, sports nutrition, weight loss and weight gain.