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Don't have time to cook? 3 common barriers to healthy eating, and how to overcome them

Updated: May 20, 2020

One of the simplest ways to improve your health and boost your energy levels is to cook more of your meals from scratch.

When you do, you’ll naturally crowd out processed foods that can contain inflammatory ingredients like additives, preservatives, trans-fats and sugar, and can make us feel sluggish and contribute to digestive symptoms and low mood.

But home cooking can be a tough thing to fit into your schedule for a variety of reasons. Here are the most common barriers I see as a Health Coach, and some tips I share with clients to help them overcome them.

How I help clients overcome 3 common barriers to healthy eating

“I don’t have time to cook. When I finish work, it needs to be quick and easy.”

We're all super busy these days. Even if in the current climate your commute time has been reduced to 10 seconds to the kitchen table, you will likely still have a demanding work schedule. You may also have children to look after (and be trying to school them from home right now), on top of socialising, trying to stick to an exercise routine and finding a bit of time to relax every day. It’s a lot.

For many of my clients, the idea of trying to fit cooking in every day is so overwhelming, they’ve fallen into a rut of barely cooking at all and relying on pre-prepared foods that make them feel sluggish and not their best.

Here are tips I share with them to help them move forward:

  • Cook once, eat twice (or more!): This is a huge time saver. I rarely make a meal now that I can’t get at least four portions from so that my partner and I can have the leftovers for a nutritious lunch the next day. You will spend the same amount of time preparing that one meal, and save yourself a half hour or more the following day, while receiving double the benefit from the delicious meal you’ve made.

  • Meal planning: Sitting down and planning your meals for the week might not be your idea of fun (yet!) but I promise you it will save you time, stress and money.

In my previous job, I used to nip to the supermarket after a long day at work, buying only what I needed for that day or for two days so I ended up making endless trips to the supermarket in one week.

Then when I did go, I’d be tired and would stress about what to buy and it would often end in purchasing packaged meals and high sugar products that felt easiest, but were pricier and didn’t make me feel good.

If that sounds familiar, try meal planning this week. Block in a half hour and think about what you’ll need for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Browse favourite recipes and get excited about the idea of having some downtime to be creative in the kitchen.

Remember my tip from above, and how you can make good use of leftovers. This will save you time and stress in the week, and help you to feel more in control of your schedule.


Cooking for one: “It just doesn’t feel worth it to cook for just me.”

This could be because you live on your own, or your partner, family or flatmates aren’t on board just yet with your healthy eating goals.

Firstly, I'm here to tell you that you are COMPLETELY worth it. Choosing to nourish and support yourself with nutritious food is an act of self-care, and you are 100% deserving of that love and priority.

That said, I know how this belief can hold us back and particularly when taking into account you have a busy schedule to contend with, it might feel a bit much to spend many evenings in the week cooking a complex dish for one.

This is where batch cooking comes into its own! Spend an hour or two once a week cooking a large quantity of one healthy dish, that you can then portion up and keep in the fridge or freezer, for a quick and nutritious meal when you need it.

Choose a time in the week when you can relax and really enjoy the process. Put some music or a favourite podcast on. For inspiration, check out Amelia Freer for simple and delicious batch cooking recipes.


“I don’t know what I should be eating.”

This one is extremely understandable. Nutrition guidelines and trends are confusing and there is a lot of conflicting information out there to navigate. The key thing is to go back to the basics and look at small shifts you can make.

What changes you make will depend on what your diet looks like currently, but rather than stress about specific ingredients at the starting block, choosing to make one or two additional meals per week completely from scratch is a great start.

Try including at least two vegetables in your meal (one being a dark, leafy green like spinach, spring greens or broccoli) and a whole grain (think quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat bread, millet or oats) alongside some protein.

To make your healthy eating routine sustainable, start small

If any of these barriers, or all of them, are affecting you, the best way to start making changes is by starting really small. I know that most of us have a tendency to go hell for leather and make drastic changes, but this could well lead to you not being able to achieve them, feeling discouraged, and giving up altogether. We don't want this!

Rather than deciding to change everything overnight, the key to sustainable change with healthy eating is setting smalls, easily achievable goals. You’ll be far more likely to achieve them, have them become routine and then you can build up from there.

I promise you that even making small shifts can add up to a huge difference in how you feel.

For more tips to fit healthy eating in to your busy schedule, and for quick recipes, sign up to my monthly newsletter (at the bottom of this page).

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