What is meal prep?
If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to find time and energy during the week to make healthy, filling meals, meal prep might be for you. It’s exactly what it sounds like: you plan and prepare your [healthy] meals ahead of time (usually for a week at a time). It can save you time and money, and encourage you to eat healthy all through the week. My husband and I do weekly meal prep, and it keeps us accountable for what we eat, while reducing our stress.
The five rules of meal prep:
- Roast in bulk. Chop all your veggies while your oven preheats, toss them in oil and salt, then stick ‘em right in! It’s a tasty way to make things all at once. We generally keep our veggies and starches pretty plain so they can go with a wide variety of dishes and flavors (We add these in later--see #3). This method applies to pan-cooked items, as well: prep all your veggies, then sauté or stir fry the way you like.
- Use a slow cooker. Use a crock pot or slow cooker to prepare your proteins for the week. You can make roasts, pulled chicken and pork, as well as vegetarian proteins like seitan or tempeh. For starches like rice, beans, and more, don’t be afraid to pull out your rice cooker.
- Have lots of sauce/condiments. THIS IS THE KEY TO MEAL PREP. You can make your own sauces and condiments, or you can pick them up at the store. We love everything from BBQ sauce (in moderation) to kimchi to giardiniera, depending on the meal. Dressing up a plain protein/vegetable/starch combo is easy with the right sauce, and not having it pre-dressed often helps the food keep longer. An important note here: pre-made sauces can be packed with added sugar, so make sure to read the labels and be selective.
- Have good tupperware. For us and our always-packed fridge, it was important to find stackable containers that fit enough food. We found these Meal Prep brand containers, and we love them! For kiddos, containers like these Rubbermaid ones fit perfectly into lunchboxes.
- Be flexible. Like the rest of us, you’ve likely got social engagements like happy hours, neighborhood parties, and school events to attend throughout the year. If something unexpected comes up that you couldn’t plan for, you can always save your pre-made meals for later by freezing them and using them next week.
How to get started:
- Plan your meals. When planning healthy meals, we follow the 40/30/30 rule: 40% of your calories come from carbohydrates, 30% from protein, and 30% from fat. We also try to eat a lot of vegetables (helloooooo, fiber!). When we plan our meals, we’ll do the math to ensure that we get the balance we’re looking for. Planning ahead makes it easy to stick to a nutrition plan, because you’re calculating on your own time, rather than when you’re running late for work or trying to usher children out the door.
- Get yourself ready. Prepare your shopping list with your macros (carbs, protein and fat) in mind, and hit the store(s)! I always check sales and clip coupons before I head out, and I’ll happily swap out a veggie or protein for something that’s on sale if it’s similar to what I already plan to use. Also, make sure you have everything you need to package and label your food (e.g. containers, masking tape, and permanent marker).
- Pick a day. Sunday is often the meal prep day of choice for families--if you’re like us, you’ve gotten a rest day, you have time, and you’re already gearing up for the week ahead. That said, pick a day that works best for you. Choose how many days you’re planning for (a week is typical), then go for it!
Here are a few of our go-to meal ideas:
- Single-serve veggie frittatas. Lots of protein and fiber. To make it more filling, you can always add meat.
- Plain yogurt with anything. Add some yummy stuff to your yogurt ahead of your work/school week to make breakfast easy and delicious.
- Pot roast with roasted cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes and broccolini. Pop your veggies/potatoes into the oven tossed in oil and salt, and they’re the perfect side.
- Oven-roasted chicken thighs/Mushroom seitan roast with wild rice, sautéed kale and miso mushroom gravy. YUM.
- Kale and white bean soup. This soup is hearty without meat, but if you want to beef it up, you can add anything: leftover rotisserie chicken, sausage, you name it.
- Taiwanese beef and broccoli. Serve over wild or cauliflower rice (for a little spice, try it with kimchi). If you’re trying to limit sugar, this recipe is just as good without!
- Greek salad. Lots of fiber and flavor!
- Sample platter: cheese, nuts, olives, sausage, prosciutto. Fats in all of these items will leave you feeling full without ruining your appetite.
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