Healthy Eating for Busy Lives

By Traci Danielson Mitchell

Healthy nutritionQ. As a professional single woman with an active dating life, I’m always grabbing meals on the go and have nothing in the fridge. Lately, I’ve been noticing that I’m gaining weight and feeling less energetic. How can I develop a healthy eating habit?

A. Somewhere inside the collective soul of all women there is a sort of June Clever-ish expectation that magic meals are made in the kitchen. Fifty years ago, when women worked less and married earlier, this was true. But today, especially for those of us who are career-minded and single, our kitchen is refuge for small boxes of frozen meals that neatly fit into the freezer, a little bit of fruit and, if we’re lucky, a few good bottles of wine. For many single women, breakfast is on-the-go or in our office, lunch is the bakery on the corner, and dinner is frequently a time to catch up with girlfriends. Eating nutritiously, at all times of the day, is often an afterthought in our busy schedules. Still, getting back on track with a healthier diet can be done…with less planning and preparing than you might think.

Here are a few tips that will keep your energy up and waistlines in check.

pic1Avoid the Sugar Roller Coaster

If you’re starving two hours after breakfast, you either didn’t eat breakfast (shame on you!) or ate too much sugar, probably in the form of simple carbohydrates. Jackie Mosure, a Chicago-based registered dietician with Lincoln Park Athletic Club suggests to “Read ingredients. I always advise my clients that the sugar grams in prepared foods shouldn’t be more than half of the total carbohydrate grams. These products simply have too much added sugar.” Watch out for the big breakfast culprits: cereals, granola bars and single serving packages. An all-too-common breakfast that catapults a body straight into sugar shock for the day is a latte and a muffin.

Better breakfast options include:

  • One (or two) hard-boiled egg and whole grain English muffin
  • A low fat plain yogurt with walnuts and cinnamon
  • Old-fashioned oats w/ low fat milk, ground flax seed and ½ banana

The same rules apply to snacks and lunch. Watch out for salads, too! While green is definitely good, many prepared salads are loaded with unhealthy dressings, adding on hundreds of useless calories. It’s also a good idea to cut back on the bread as well. Too much starchy stuff will put you into a food coma before you know it!

Simple lunch suggestions include:

  • Grilled chicken or salmon salad, extra veggies, a little cheese and dressing on the side
  • Any bean or lentil-based soup with extra veggies
  • Brown bag it! Leftovers from last night are almost always a calorie cutter

Read Labels

When it’s time to stock the shelves at home, nothing could do your body better than a shopping cart full of healthy labels. “High fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose are a few ingredients I have my clients avoid,” says Mosure. Healthier options generally don’t contain these ingredients. “Reading labels is probably one of the best things a person can do to eat clean and healthy.” Keep in mind that ingredients are listed from most to least of the foods they contain. If sugar is the first ingredient, the food you’re buying contains mostly…you guessed it…sugar.

Prettier Packaging is Not Necessarily Better

Women beware. Food advertisers play on our emotions. It’s not a bad thing, it’s not a good thing, it’s just what they do to get us to buy their products. In fact, according to the Food Market Institute, women make up 70 percent of grocery store consumers. Within that segment, an overwhelming 96 percent of us say that nutrition is important. Of course, we know it is, but food firms ambitiously use this information to tell us what’s good for our bodies, rather than letting us decide. Packages with words like “healthy,” “low fat” or “natural” fill every aisle. Remember that:

Fat free foods are not always healthy

Low fat foods are often just as caloric as their full fat counterparts

Foods labeled “healthy” or “natural” aren’t always good for you

Remember that a healthy diet is more than just eating “low fat” or “light.” It’s about balance, flavor and eating foods your body can use. While you may not be throwing the June Cleaver apron around your neck anytime soon, you can do a lot to nourish your body – even if you’re just cooking for one. Do the best to make the most out of the conveniences available, and take the time to prepare a good meal every now and then.

Traci Danielson Mitchell is a freelance health and fitness writer, and founder of DM Nutrition & Fitness. For more information email

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