Healthy Eating on a Busy Schedule

Life can get pretty hectic with family, work, school, and other responsibilities. This makes it challenging to prioritize our health. To make it easier to have a healthy diet in the midst of a busy schedule, try these ideas and tips:

  • Meal Planning: Schedule time each week to plan what meals you’ll eat that week and your grocery list. Consider the rainbow of fruits and vegetables every week as you plan. This will help ensure you’re getting a variety of nutrients, as each color offers different nutrients your body needs. Also, use weekly grocery store ads and plan meals around woman making list with store adwhat’s on sale. Have a list of your family’s go-to meals that you enjoy. Start with some of those meals each week and plan your other meals around those meals. You can try theme meals such as Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Fish Friday, and others that can help you think of a variety of nutritious meals to cook that week. Use a meal planning template like this one to make meal planning easier.
  • Organization & Keeping Stock: Shuffling through your refrigerator and pantry takes time. Keep your food storage organized so you know exactly what food you have on hand, saving valuable time. You can pick up pantry staples when they are on sale to build up your stock and be prepared to cook a meal on short notice. Here are some foods to keep on hand:
    • Pantry: oats, brown rice, canned beans, whole wheat pasta, lentils, canned tomato sauce, canned vegetables, canned fruit, canned tuna or salmon, canned chicken, low-sodium soup, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, white vinegar, olive oil, vegetable oil, ground black pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, salt, cinnamon, chili powder, ground ginger, basil, oregano, onion powder, non-stick cooking spray, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour
    • Refrigerator: fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, cheese, salad greens, yogurt, low-fat mayonnaise, low-sodium soy sauce
    • Freezer: chicken, lean ground beef, whole wheat bread, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables
  • Prep in Advance: When possible, prepare meals and snacks in advance. For example, snacks like trail mix and hard-boiled eggs can be made in advance and enjoyed throughout the week. When you cook foods like dried beans and brown rice that take longer to cook, cook double and refrigerate or freeze the leftovers. Cut up vegetables like carrots, celery, and cucumber that can be eaten raw and store in containers in the fridge for an easy snack.
  • Use Leftovers: Keep leftovers in the front of the fridge where you’ll remember to use them. Rather than throwing out those leftovers that you don’t know what to do with, combine them with another food to make a meal. Doing this saves money because you’re not throwing away the food you bought. For example, use leftover mixed vegetables in an omelet.
  • Slow Cooker: Take advantage of a slow cooker, which can do all the cooking of a meal for you. Set up your meal in the morning before work and dinner will be ready for you when you get home at the end of the day. You can also use a slow cooker to cook individual parts of a meal, such as shredded chicken or dry beans. If you use your slow cooker to make red kidney beans, make sure you boil them on the stovetop before finishing cooking in a slow cooker.

When your life gets busy, don’t let healthy eating be another source of stress. Keep it simple with useful tips like these to make healthy eating for your family as easy as possible.


Slow Cooker Enchiladas

Serves 8.  Serving size 3/4 cup.


1-15 ounce jar of salsa

1 can low sodium whole kernel corn, drained

1 can black beans, drained

1 8-ounce package of low-fat cream cheese


  • Combine chicken, salsa, beans, and corn in slow cooker.
  • Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.
  • When cooked shred chicken with two forks and stir.


  • Cut up cream cheese and stir into the chicken mixture, it will melt.

  • Serve with whole wheat tortillas, over brown rice, or to top a salad.
  • You can top with cheese, olives, cilantro, or avocado.



Healthy eating on a budget!

Eating healthy on a budget can be really hard, especially if you’re paying for rent, gas, and other necessities. However, it can be done. The first step to successfully budgeting a healthy meal is to just create a game plan for your groceries. Research and look up tips for healthy, low-cost meals and master the skill of finding the best deals on items.

Shopping smart is the key to eating healthy on a budget. Realizing that the “unit price” is the better option for you can be beneficial in the long run. Reading each food label can also help make decisions easier when being mindful of healthiness. Each aisle of the grocery store has deals and discounts. Finding those will also benefit anyone on a budget. Preparing healthy meals can be easier by using kitchen timesavers. This makes it easier because you can make meals faster and more efficiently. Looking up new recipes to try can also help make things less complicated. Plus, this can bring a family together by introducing new things to meals.
There are plenty of budget-friendly recipes to choose, from a slow-cooked beef stew to summer chicken spring rolls; there are a variety of healthy recipes that factor in a budget. There are other options such as a grilled salmon, avocado salad and pesto chicken kabobs.

There are even tofu stir-fry options for those who are vegetarians. Making menus for every 2-weeks is also a budget-conscious habit that can save money and benefit health-wise. Keeping grocery and pantry staples lists are also great ideas in following a budget. Referring to the ChooseMyPlate model can also be informative on which food groups are needed in each meal. Utilizing your resources such as SNAP-ED and FNS can also help save money and accomplish healthy meal preparation.



Taylor is a student intern working with EFNEP at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Pitt County Center.



How to Soak Dry Beans

Dried beans are an inexpensive low-fat source of protein and fiber that can be easily added into our diet.  They are easy to cook but must be soaked prior to using in a recipe.  This requires just a little planning and preparation before they are ready to use.

  1. Before soaking beans, pick them over, removing any small rocks or dirt pieces.
  2. Put the beans in a strainer or colander and rinse with cold water
  3. There are two methods of soaking beans – the Hot Soak and the Traditional Soak.  The Hot Soak allows you to soak and cook your beans in the same day.  Your beans will cook to a tender stage in about 30-45 minutes.
  4. To Hot Soak your beans, heat 10 cups of water for each pound of beans in a large pot until it boils.
  5. Add the dry beans and boil for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat, cover and let stand a minimum of 1 hour.  Soaking gets rid of many of the gas-producing substances in beans.
  7. To use the traditional soak method, simply cover your dried beans with 3 times as much water as beans.  Cover and soak overnight.  Beans soaked by this method will take about 1 – 2 ½ hours for them to be tender.

Whichever method you use, drain and rinse your beans with fresh water after soaking and before using in your recipe. If you don’t have time to cook dried beans you can substitute 3 cans of drained beans for 1 pound of dry beans.

Bean recipes from Cooking with EFNEP cookbook:


Makes 4 servings

Serving Size: about 11⁄2 cups


• 1 (16-ounce) can unsalted Great Northern Beans, drained

• 1 (14-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth

• 1 (16-ounce) can chopped or diced tomatoes, undrained

• 1 small onion, chopped

• 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

• 1 (10-ounce) package frozen, chopped spinach

• 1/2 cup macaroni


1. In a 2-quart pot, combine all ingredients except spinach and macaroni.

2. Heat until the liquid comes to a boil.

3. Stir in and break up spinach; bring to a boil again.

4. Stir in macaroni and simmer until pasta is tender, about 6–8 minutes.

Nutrition Information Per Serving

145 Calories, Total Fat .5g, Saturated Fat 0g, Protein 7g, Total Carbohydrate 28g, Dietary Fiber 7g, Sodium 135mg. Excellent source of vitamins A and C. Good source of iron and calcium.


Makes 10 servings Serving Size: 1/2 cup


• 1 (1-pound) bag dried beans (pinto, black, garbanzo, etc)

• Water

• 1 onion, chopped (optional)

• Salt and pepper to taste


1. Put dried beans in the colander and rinse. Remove any broken or discolored beans.

2. Put dried beans in a large mixing bowl. Add water to cover beans then add an additional 2 inches. Cover with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator overnight.

3. Drain beans and place in slow cooker with water to cover plus 2 inches.

4. Add onion if desired.

5. Cook on low for 8 hours or until

6. Add salt and pepper to taste

7. Drain if desired.

Food Preparation Tip: Experiment with adding different spices to beans.

Pinto beans can be mashed to make refried beans with no added fat. Refried beans can be used in tacos, taco salad, or as a main dish substitute.

Nutrition Information Per Serving

110 Calories, Total Fat 0g, Saturated Fat 0g, Protein 7g, Total Carbohydrate 20g, Dietary Fiber 7g, Sodium 170mg. Good source of iron.

Analyzed with pinto beans.