I'm not going to argue that cooking unprocessed foods is as quick as tossing a frozen dinner into the microwave.
Too, I am not unaware that most families today have two income-earners--we're not in the 50s any more, where stay-at-home moms, at least for middle-class families, were the norm. And some of us have to have two jobs just to make ends meet. Our kids' lives also seem to be scheduled to the max, what with extracurricular activities at school and even out-of-school lessons and hobbies.
But I still believe that most of us can find the time to cook actual food. True, you may have to make it a priority, but a population that watches an average of three or four hours of TV per day can decide to have family meals instead. Add to that the hours that many of us spend on the computer playing games and just generally wasting time and you can see that perhaps we have more time than we typically think. It's a matter of what you want to do with that time.
I'm going to assume that anyone reading this is ready to try switching, at least in part, to unprocessed foods. That implies a commitment to cooking those foods. My purpose here is to show you how to fit cooking whole foods into your busy life.
One of the most important contributors to success in cooking whole foods is planning. I typically figure out menus for a week's worth of meals and build my grocery list around that. I plan for leftovers and how to use them; for example, the leftovers of a large roast will become beef pot pie or roast beef hash or beef-and-bean burritos. Thinking it out in advance means less waste and more efficiency, plus lower costs at the supermarket.
It also means that you can estimate the time a meal will take. If you have time to cook on the weekend, you can save more elaborate meals or those that require longer cooking times for a Saturday or Sunday. You can also plan to cook an extra meal or two, either to freeze or to use within the next couple of days (soups and stews particularly lend themselves to being warmed up--many taste better the second day!).
Many dishes can be partially prepared ahead of time, refrigerated, and finished relatively quickly before serving. Salad greens can be washed, spun dry, rolled into paper towels, and stored in a plastic bag or other container to be used readily with the addition of juicier ingredients, such as tomatoes or cucumbers. If fresh vegetables seem like too much work (although I really, really urge you to cook them). buy frozen vegetables without sauce. If dried beans take too much planning and cooking, buy canned beans that have no added sugar or, if possible, salt.
It works the same way with lunches. Figure out what you'll need for the week for each person. For impromptu lunches it's always good to have peanut butter, hummus, salad, fruit, and the like on hand. I also have lots of frozen homemade soups and other goodies in my freezer, which I freeze in portions I can use for lunch.
It's helpful to have a collection of go-to recipes for those times when speed is of the essence. For me, these include frittatas and omelets, quesadillas, pita sandwiches, pasta with spaghetti sauce (either homemade sauce that's been frozen or, as a last resort, a commercial brand with no questionable ingredients), chicken stir-fries with minimal ingredients, and the like. And remember, one-dish meals are your friend. (There are a number of cookbooks dedicated to one-dish meals--just avoid the ones promoted by any part of the food industry, or which seem to include a lot of processed foods.)
Planning can really help you to serve meals that are nutritious and not a huge burden to cook.
There are also certain tools that make meal preparation easier and/or faster.
Yes, you do need to have quality knives that are kept sharp. Yes, food processors are damned skippy and I use mine all the time. Yes, having the right utensil for the job saves time and effort. But I'm here to talk about two items that really, really make the cook's life easier: the slow cooker and the pressure cooker.
Slow cookers are not that expensive and boy, do they make your life easier. You can buy a 5 or 6-quart cooker for about $20 if you shop around or take advantage of a sale. For twice that, you can buy a programmable cooker. I have four cookers (five, if you count the teeny tiny one for hot dips): a three-quart, two five-quart, and one seven-quart. (I like to throw parties, and they are great for parties!) I don't know why these ever went out of style, but I think they're making a comeback.
With a slow cooker, you can toss a roast in the cooker with some liquid before you leave for the day, set it to low, and come home to a wonderful aroma and dinner waiting for you. You can cook pre-soaked dried beans while you sleep. You can assemble your dish the night before, refrigerate the ceramic liner, and in the morning, put the liner into the cooker, set it to low, and go about your business. I also use mine to make mashed potatoes a day or two ahead of time at Thanksgiving, to serve hot soups at parties, etc. My daughter has used hers to make breakfast dishes overnight. For those of us who love whole foods, the slow cooker is a sanity saver.
Using your slow cooker requires planning: see above, "Planning." There are a zillion slow cooker recipes on the web--alas, many calling for processed ingredients, but you can work around that--and I cannot recommend the slow cooker enough if you are committed to cooking with whole foods.
Hearing the phrase "pressure cooker" often brings to mind stories of Aunt So-and-so's experience where the cooker blew up and left split pea soup all over the ceiling. I am here to tell you that today's pressure cookers have safety features built in--not just one, either. Pressure cookers are, on average, pricier than slow cookers, although I have seen a 6-quart cooker for as low as $30.
A pressure cooker can make split pea soup in 10 to 20 minutes (depending on your preference for the texture of the peas). Homemade chicken stock takes about 35 minutes, instead of hours. Stew and chili take a third of conventional cooking time. Making broth and cooking dried beans are the most common uses for the pressure cooker in our home, but the cooker is great for all kinds of things, including stew, soup, and various vegetables. My smaller pressure cooker is great for cooking risotto and small amounts of dried beans--just recently I cooked garbanzo beans in it for a great-tasting homemade hummus.
This gadget really helps the busy cook to cook from scratch. Do think about buying one. And for a web site that will give you all the information you need on buying and using a pressure cooker, you can't beat Miss Vickie.
So, with knowledge, priorities, planning, and the right tools (whether that's a good chef's knife or more than that), most people should be able to cook whole foods even if they think they can't. It requires taking a good, honest look at your life and your priorities and making a choice. Choosing whole foods over processed foods almost guarantees you well-being and a healthier life. It's worth doing a little on-line research and finding whole foods you and your schedule can live with.