Try a Healthy Eating Plan to Reduce Stress

Healthy eating can help with stress
Maintaining a healthy diet can help minimize stress. Hero Images/Getty Images

One reason busy, stressed people tend to gain weight is that they more often eat fast food, or go out to eat. This is understandable; after a busy day running around, you may not have time to come home and cook something from scratch. But healthy eating at home can help you stave off extra pounds when stressed, as meals you make are usually much better for you. (They’re healthier than fast food, and usually, the portions are smaller and lower in fat than what you find in a restaurant.) Cooking at home can save you money, too, which may indirectly decrease your stress level by putting you under less financial strain. It may seem like a daunting task to come home and cook something healthy or new after a long day, but it’s easier than you may think. Here are some quick and simple guidelines to help you eat more healthy meals at home:

  • Plan Ahead: An important first step in a healthy eating plan is to go grocery shopping once a week, and plan the week’s meals when you do it. That way, you’ll already have all the ingredients you need, and there’ll be no stress in deciding what to eat each night; it’s already planned!
  • Keep It Simple, Silly: You don’t need to cook a four-course meal. Often, what’s healthy is also what’s easy. (Think about it: a salad is easier to throw together than fried chicken; grilled chicken takes less work than lasagna.) Just try to have a nice balance of protein, fruits, vegetables, and not too many fats or carbs. Here are some quick and healthy meal planning ideas. And here are some great principles to keep in mind, including using salad as a base, and starting with a can of soup and embellishing.
  • Cook Ahead: You can maximize your time by cooking more than you need, and reheating meals later in the week or month. Some people spend one day a month cooking full meals and stocking their freezers; then they have healthy, homemade food to eat all month with minimal effort. Others (like me) make a pot of soup or chili each week and have it for lunches with salad throughout the week or as part of dinner a couple of nights. It’s a great way to fill yourself up for less, and work vegetables into your diet! Here's a quick way to make a week of dinners.
  • Use a Crock-Pot: Yes, they’ve made a comeback and are a great part of a healthy eating plan. Many people use crock pots, or slow cookers, these days because you can toss in a few ingredients in the morning and come home to the savory aroma of a meal ready to be eaten immediately.
  • Try an Instant Pot: Crockpots are great for those who have only a few minutes in the morning and would like to come home to an already-finished meal, but they can be somewhat limiting in terms of what you can make with them. (They mainly lend themselves to soups and stews, though you can cook chicken in them as well.) An increasingly popular alternative is the Instant Pot, which is somewhat of a combination between a crockpot and a pressure cooker and can be used to make many different dishes.

There is a huge wealth of recipes for the Instant Pot, as well as online communities and recipes for those who are learning to use them.

Additional Tips

Once you get into the habit of eating more healthy meals at home, you may find that you can whip something up in around fifteen minutes or less—about what it takes to go through the drive-thru and less time than it takes to go to a sit-down restaurant. If it still seems prohibitively stressful, here are some additional tips to make it easier:

  • Set Ahead: Set the table for the next day before you go to sleep at night. That way, it’ll only take a few minutes, and those few minutes will be spent when you’re not starving and trying to get dinner ready.
  • Enlist Help: If you have a family, delegate part of the work. If you know that you have help, the idea of cleaning up after a meal won’t seem so foreboding. For fun, put on some music and see how much you can all get done before the end of a song or two.
  • Use Paper: For those who really want to cut down on cleanup, you can always use disposable plates and flatware. While not as environmentally friendly, if the idea of just tossing the mess after you’re done eating can make the difference between eating out or eating at home, by all means, try it. You’ll save more than the cost of the plates in what you would have spent out, anyway.

Hopefully, these tips will help empower you to break out of the eating-out rut and start a new healthy eating plan. Your stress levels need not rise, and body and your wallet will both thank you.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.