Jena DeMoss: Dietitian tips to pack nutrition into your busy schedule

Published 6:35 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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In today’s fast-paced world, busy schedules are often one of the biggest barriers to choosing foods that fit into our nutrition goals. Whether you’re a busy professional, a shift worker, a seasonal worker with long hours, a student, or a parent, it’s easy to fall into the trap of either grabbing fast food while on the go or skipping meals all together. 

Furthermore, it is difficult to make good food decisions when feeling stressed or overwhelmed with the demands of the day. The brain can only problem solve so many things at one time, which is why we’re more likely to give in to the craving for fast-food, something sweet, or caffeine when the pressure and stress build up. In the moment, it may feel like a caffeinated beverage and something sweet will give us quick energy, but it is not the type of lasting energy that will get us through a long day on the road, in the field, in the office, or in the classroom. This type of fuel may provide an immediate buzz, but it often results in an energy crash soon after. Instead, follow these dietitian tips to pack long-lasting energy and nutrition into your busy schedule! 

 Ensure you’re getting lasting energy from your meals and snacks by incorporating fiber, protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates and plenty of hydration. This combination will prevent the energy crash. Follow these tips to feel steady energy all day long! 

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1. Start your day with a protein-rich breakfast rather than a sweet one. 

Research shows there is a huge benefit to starting your day with adequate protein rather than anything high in sugar. A protein-rich breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the day to come in terms of energy levels. For on the go, try a breakfast sandwich, Greek yogurt with nuts, a protein shake, or leftovers already portioned containing meat or beans and vegetables for a solid breakfast to fuel your day without a dip in energy.

2. Invest in a good quality insulated lunch bag and ice packs for proper food safety.

Investing in a good quality insulated lunch bag and ice packs is essential for keeping your food fresh and cool throughout the day. It’s also an eco-friendly option that can save you money in the long run. Choose a lunch bag that is large enough to fit the necessary meals and snacks needed to get you through even the longest of shifts. Work will fly by as you look forward to enjoying the food you packed. 

3. Fill your lunch bag with nutrient-dense foods that provide fiber, protein, fats and carbohydrates. 

When packing your lunch bag, aim to include a variety of nutrient-dense foods that provide this winning combination of fiber, protein, fats and carbohydrates. This combination ensures your body is getting the nutrients it needs to function at its best and will keep you feeling full and satisfied throughout the day. When you’re on the go, it’s essential to have healthy items on hand to keep you fueled. Pack portable snacks like raw vegetables, single serve packs of nuts, balanced bars such as Good Measure bars, and whole pieces of fruit. Here are ideas for each nutrient category to create balanced meals and snacks.

Fiber: Choose vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, whole grains. 

Protein: Choose meat, fish, eggs, plant-based protein alternatives, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, cheese, Greek yogurt, and protein bars or shakes. 

Fats: Choose nuts and seeds, cheese and other whole-milk dairy products, avocado, mayonnaise, and foods cooked in oil or an oil and vinegar salad dressing. 

Carbohydrates: Choose fruits, whole grains, vegetables, milk and yogurt. 

Examples of balanced meal ideas:

• Salad with beans, sunflower seeds, walnuts, shredded cheese, cherry tomatoes, pepper strips, salmon, and oil and vinegar salad dressing using Chosen Food Avocado Oil, yogurt, berries

• Pepper strips with dip, high-fiber wrap with turkey, cheese, spinach and mayo, and an orange

• Carrots with hummus, chicken and brown rice bowl with guacamole, apple

Examples of balanced snack ideas:

• Good Measure bar

• Handful of almonds & strawberries

• Celery and peanut butter

• Hard-boiled egg and whole-grain crackers with cheese

4. Move for a few minutes after meals and get some time outdoors if possible.

When you can, move for a few minutes after meals. This allows your muscles to utilize some of the sugar in your blood from your meal, which helps prevent the after-meal energy crash. Try standing up to stretch, take a quick walk outdoors to get some fresh air, or time a more active work task after eating. This tip can be especially helpful for workers needing to sit for long periods like truck drivers out on a long haul, farmers planting in the fields, or office workers and students needing to spend long hours sitting at a desk. A short break to stretch out the body can be refreshing both physically and mentally on those extra long days. 

5. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. 

It can be tempting to reach for sugar-sweetened or caffeinated beverages especially when you’re on the go. However, these don’t take the place of water. Staying adequately hydrated is essential for optimal performance and for feeling your best. Bring a refillable water bottle with you wherever you go, and make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration. This is increasingly vital as we head into the warmer months for workers out in the heat. 

Incorporating a balanced diet into your busy schedule is possible with a little planning and preparation. By following these tips, you can ensure that you’re fueling your body with the nutrients you need to function at your best. Don’t let a busy schedule get in the way of your health goals and your desired energy level. Take a step in the right direction by connecting with a Hy-Vee dietitian for a variety of nutrition services including our virtual Freezer Meal Prep Workshops by visiting