Tips for healthy food on the go

Batch cooking, smoothies, and lots of planning pay off when you're in a hurry.

We're all busy, and sometimes that can lead to poor choices when we're hungry. "Many people turn to prepackaged convenience foods, which can be lacking in nutrients and laden with fat, sodium, and calories," says Dr. Michelle Hauser, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a certified chef and nutrition educator.

But you don't have to sacrifice nutrition when you're on the go. Try these tips to keep meals and snacks healthy when you're in a hurry.

Plan ahead

"Healthy meals don't just happen. You have to make them happen," says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition for Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. "You have to plan meals and snacks a few days ahead, make a list and buy the foods you want to eat, and make time in your schedule to cook or prepare the foods." If you know you'll be on the go, make snacks ahead of time and keep them packed in your pantry or refrigerator. Planning is also key when eating out. "Select a restaurant ahead of time, review the menu online, and plan how much you will eat," suggests McManus.

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One large smoothie can be
used as a snack or a meal
throughout the day.

Cook in batches

"If you take the time to cook, make extra food to save time later," says Dr. Hauser. It's called batch cooking. You can do this with entire meals or with meal elements. "For example, when I cook brown rice, I always make extra," says Dr. Hauser. "I portion out the extra with a measuring cup onto a sheet pan, freeze, and then place the frozen 'rice cubes' into a plastic
bag in the freezer. The cubes reheat in the microwave in minutes and taste like fresh rice." Soups, sauces, items in a marinade, uncooked casseroles, breads, and spreads lend themselves well to freezing.

Eat nutrient-dense foods

Nutrient-dense foods are the ones with the most vitamins and minerals and the fewest calories. "They'll do a better job of satisfying you and can ensure that you maintain a balanced diet," says McManus. Try legumes (beans, lentils), dairy products (low-fat yogurt, eggs), avocados, leafy greens (kale, spinach), vegetables (Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, bell peppers), seeds (flax, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower), nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts), whole grains (barley, oats, quinoa, brown rice), fish (salmon, halibut, cod, scallops, shrimp, tuna), and poultry (chicken, turkey).

Try a smoothie

Smoothies combine all of the above principles. Toss as many ingredients as you like into a blender, and you'll have a drink that can be used for a meal or a snack throughout the day. It doesn't have to be fruit-based either. Dr. Hauser says to remember that vegetables make delicious smoothies as well. "Think tomatoes, watercress, carrots, celery, onions, beets, parsley, and spinach to make your own version of vegetable juice," she says.

Keep snacks simple

If you don't have time, don't get fancy; choose one to two ingredients. McManus recommends pairings such as plain, nonfat Greek yogurt and a few nuts; a tablespoon of peanut butter and an apple; chopped vegetables and a quarter-cup of hummus; and a serving of low-fat string cheese and a pear.