Being prepared for a week of healthy eating can be a daunting task. We’ve all seen photos of the ‘perfect’ fridge stacked with meals for the whole week. While this strategy works for a small percentage of people, it is overwhelming and unrealistic for everyone else. Yet, you know that when there is no healthy food prepared in the fridge you are less likely to make healthy choices. So how do you find a balance between being over prepared and not prepared at all?
The answer is simple: Implement a meal preparation process, also known as meal prepping.
Meal prepping is different to meal planning because you are not actually cooking any full meals for the week. Meal prepping entails getting several food items ready on the weekend so that you can reduce your cooking time during the week and have some easy grab-and-go lunch options.
Once you get a system in place that works for you it becomes a really simple process that doesn’t have to take over your entire Sunday afternoon. With a little bit of meal prepping, you will be eating healthy meals while saving time in the kitchen and money that would usually be spent on take-out or letting groceries go to waste.
1. Plan a Meal Prep Schedule
Successful meal prepping relies on you getting into a routine process that works with your schedule and needs. Here is an example you can start with:
- Set aside 2 hours on a Saturday or Sunday.
- Decide what you are going to make for the week. Start by picking one snack, one side dish, and one protein for the week. After you get comfortable with the meal prepping process, increase to two snacks, two side dishes, and two protein options.
- Write down a grocery list for the items that you need.
- Go grocery shopping.
- Chop up your vegetables and cook your side dish and choice of protein.
- Package up your food in glass Tupperware and put them in the fridge. (Glass Tupperware is recommended instead of plastic Tupperware to help prevent BPA from the plastic leaching into your food. It also lasts longer than the plastic Tupperware.)
2. Prioritize the Time-Intensive Foods
Before you start cooking, it is helpful to think about which foods are going to take the longest to cook. Get those items started first and then you can cook multiple items at the same time instead of cooking everything separately.
For example, while you have quinoa cooking on the stove, you could have sweet potatoes in the oven and be chopping vegetables while both of those items are cooking. Or, you could have multiple items cooking in the oven at the same time like roasted vegetables, egg muffins, and chicken breasts.
3. Keep a Recipe Book On Hand
It is also helpful to keep a folder in your kitchen with recipes so that you have everything in one place. If you are switching between magazines, cookbooks, and recipes on your computer, it is going to take you a lot longer to figure out what you want to make. This recipe folder will help you to keep variety each week so that you don’t get bored of eating the same foods all the time.
4. Try Simple Meals First
When cooking meals for during the week, don’t worry about making it fancy. Even if you are not cooking a gourmet meal, it doesn’t mean that your food needs to be bland or boring—make sure to add fresh herbs, spices, citrus, garlic, and/or onion to boost the flavor of your meals. Having a pesto, hummus, or marinara sauce prepared ahead of time will also be great flavor additions.
Here are some common meal preparation ideas to help get you started:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Egg and vegetable muffins
- Smoothie prep (measure out fruit and protein powder into bags)
- Brown rice or wild rice
- Black beans
- Roasted sweet potatoes
- Roasted butternut squash
- Roasted spaghetti squash
- Homemade pesto or hummus
- Organic grilled or roasted chicken
- Crockpot pulled chicken, beef, or pork
- Tuna salad
- Egg salad
- Chopped up vegetables (celery, cucumber, carrots, bell peppers)
- Chia pudding
- Homemade trail mix (almonds, walnuts, pecans, goji berried, shredded coconut)
- Fruit salad
- Salads for grab-and-go lunch (don’t put salad dressing on until you are ready to eat)
All of the items listed above will last in your fridge for at least four days.
5. Add Date Labels to Your Food
Depending on how much food you are making, it can be helpful to put a label on your Tupperware with the date that you cooked the food so that you know when it’s time to throw it out.
Now when you come home after a long day of work, you won’t be tempted to order take-out or throw together a quick pasta dish. It will take you just as much time if not less to put together an easy meal because you have part of your meal prepared ahead of time. Planning ahead will give you more time freedom during the week so that you can enjoy the activities that you enjoy doing instead of spending extra time in the kitchen.