What to eat when you’re exhausted
Sometimes life can leave you mentally, physically, or emotionally exhausted. It may be hard to find the energy to cook or even think about food during these times. Still, we need to try to eat even when we’re tired because food gives our bodies energy to do daily functions, like walking outside or spending time with our children.
Keep these tips in mind when you’re thinking about what to eat:
- Healthful meals can provide needed nutrients for your body.
- Sometimes it’s easier to eat food that is familiar and comforting during times of stress. You can start with options that you already know you like to eat.
- While eating balanced meals throughout the day is ideal, it’s better to eat something rather than nothing.
If you’re looking for some inspiration about what to eat, here are a few options for when you’re exhausted:
Low effort: no preparation
Reach for any of these foods that are ready to eat:
- Raw vegetables like carrots, celery, and cherry tomatoes
- String cheese
- Dark chocolate
- Spoonful of peanut butter
Some effort: minimal preparation
- Salad kits: Grocery stores often have salad kits available in the produce section that include chopped lettuce, a salad dressing, and salad toppings. It only takes 60 seconds to mix everything together for a nutritious meal.
- Oatmeal: Did you know oatmeal is a whole grain? It’s full of fiber, which will help keep you full for longer. Oatmeal is also super simple to prepare. Just add hot water and your favorite toppings.
- Instant rice and canned beans: For a quick balanced meal, prepare some instant rice. Instant rice has been pre-cooked and dehydrated, so all you have to do is add water and heat it up again. You can find instant rice in the rice section of grocery stores. Top your rice with a can of your favorite beans. Remember to rinse and drain your beans to remove any excess sodium that the beans were packed with.
- Bowl of cereal: Your favorite cereal is an easy and comforting choice.
- Eggs: Eggs are a nutritious one-ingredient meal that can be eaten at any time of the day.
- Toast: Pair some toast with your eggs, or eat it on its own. You can top toast with a spread of peanut butter and sliced banana for a more balanced meal.
More effort: quick and easy preparation
- Pantry meals: Check your pantry for items that you can quickly combine for a meal. Check out this blog on 5 pantry meals ideas.
- Frozen meals: There are more and more frozen meals available that focus on being nutritious and healthful. These are great for heating up quickly. Frozen meals can include everything from pastas and enchiladas to “power bowls” with grains, protein, and vegetables. Try to choose something that includes multiple food groups, such as:
- Grains, preferably whole grains
- Lean proteins like chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, or beans
- Fruits or vegetables
- Dairy, like reduced-fat cheese
Be sure to check the nutrition facts label for options that fit into your daily recommended limits for sodium and saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day while moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.  You also want to consume less than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fat (this is equal to about 22 g a day if you consume a 2000 calorie diet). 
- Ramen noodles: Ramen is easy to prepare and well-liked. However, it can be high in sodium and saturated fat. Here are some healthier ways to prepare ramen.
Remember to take care of your health beyond food when you’re stressed. Physical activity  and spending time with loved ones can also help you stay mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy.
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Written by Taylor Newman, Ph.D. Candidate | Edited by Laurel Sanville, MS, RDN, LD
 American Heart Association
 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020
 Harvard Health, 2019
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