This episode talks about the importance of meal prepping, the meal planning process, and steps to get you started.
Meal Prepping Made Easy: Strategies for Beginners
by Tricia Stefankiewicz, MA, RDN
Let’s talk about meal prepping and how to get you ready for a smoother, easier, more efficient week. Meal prepping is a way of making full meals ahead of time or preparing ingredients beforehand so that you can use them in meals you are planning for the week. Preparing ahead is a more convenient, cheaper and often healthier way of eating instead of waiting until the last minute to decide what you want to consume.
Why is meal prepping important?
Currently, a lot of us are limited from going out to restaurants and some of the convenient meal options that may have previously been available are no longer. It’s hard when you are trying to work and take care of your kids, or if you are busy working from home to stop and decide what we are going to eat for mealtimes. We are all busy doing so many things at once, that meal prepping and planning can be one tool to make our life simpler. In my nutrition practice, I see many women with hopes of achieving their nutrition goals only to become derailed by eating out, not having any food or ingredients available, or feeling overwhelmed about the idea of cooking. Then it becomes this cycle of eating take out or foods that don’t make us feel great. I get it and I have certainly been there. Meal prepping is not always fun or something that I want to do. However, if it means that I get to spend more time with my kiddo or I have more time for myself during the week, than I am going to do it. I am willing to make that small sacrifice on the weekend to meet a bigger goal during the week. Preparing meals ahead of time is a way of taking ownership over our health goals and progress we make towards achieving nutritional balance.
Let’s talk about the process of Meal Planning
Think about how you eat each week right now. Do you have any areas that you feel like you could improve on? Are there some meals where you are completely overwhelmed or just plain tired of making?
Let’s review some ideas that are either convenient or can be made ahead of time.
Some breakfast ideas include: Greek yogurt with fruit, oatmeal, overnight oats, eggs (omelet, scrambled, hard boiled, veggie egg cups in muffin pan, breakfast burritos), protein bars, avocado toast, English muffins with nut or nut free butter (sunflower butter), protein powders.
For lunch and dinner ideas. I typically think about a meal that contains protein, starch, and veggies. Protein ideas include: Pre-made chicken or rotisserie chicken, frozen beef or turkey burgers or meatless burgers, chicken sausage, eggs, canned beans (pour out into a colander and rinse), nut or nut free butter (WOW or sun butter) tofu, tuna, salmon, or shrimp. Other ideas include crock pot chicken or pork or ground meat or turkey – for sandwiches, tacos, salad, or lettuce wraps. Can also marinade your favorite protein ahead of time and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to eat it.
Starch ideas that you can make ahead of time include pasta, ravioli, single serve rice container, trader joes have these fully cooked frozen quinoa and rice packets that are microwavable for 3 minutes or heated on the stove top for 6 minutes. These can be added as a side dish or stir fry.
Veggies ideas include pre packaged fresh or frozen veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, Brussel sprouts, squash. They can be roasted with your favorite spices like salt, pepper, garlic and oils such as olive and avocado. Roasted veggies can be added to eggs, salads, side and other dishes. Pre-make salad mixes can also be used as a convenient way to increase veggie intake.
Convenient and simple ideas are: pre-packaged unsalted nuts, trail mix, cut up fruit and veggies, hummus with veggies, cheese sticks, yogurt dip for fruit, and stand-alone fruit, energy balls, roasted chickpeas, popcorn
Other meal ideas include for lunch and dinner include:
Sheet pan meals: veggies and a protein (chicken, pork, salmon) cooked together on a sheet pan
Buddha bowl: typically, a bowl with a lot of variety of grains, beans or tofu, and veggies
Other options that combine protein, starch, and veggies include: soups, stir fries, casseroles, and quiches.
Another option for easy meal prepping is to explore a meal prepping service such as: Home Chef, Sun Basket, Freshly, Hello Fresh, or Blue Apron. Typically, all the ingredients with the attached recipe are shipped to your doorstep. Beforehand, you can choose how many meals you will need for the week. Each serving is typically enough for one or two people. If you are a household of one, you can have leftovers for the next day. From what I have experienced, each meal is enough to serve two people. This option could work for women living alone who don’t want to have a lot of extra food around for adults with small children who won’t eat the food you prepare anyway.
Now that’s we’ve covered why meal prepping is important and what meal planning is, let’s talk about some steps to get you started:
- Pick a day and time that you will go grocery shopping. Will it be the beginning or end of the week? Will it be first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening? What seems to work best for me is at the end of a work day on a Thursday or Friday as I tend to have childcare at that time and it sets me up to have all of my ingredients on hand for the weekend cooking and I have had time throughout the week to figure out some ideas of what I want to make
- Check to see what ingredients you have in the house and start to compile a list of ingredients you will need. Look at some recipes you have used in the past or want to try this week. If you are just starting, I suggest making it easier for yourself and just pick one recipe to avoid being overwhelmed with all the prepping.
- Go shopping on the day you picked, take your list – either on your phone or paper with you.
- Pick a day that you will do the prepping – decide when you have a few hours to dedicate to making this happen. I suggest you do it earlier in the morning or later in the evening when you have less distractions. It may take like 2-3 hours. You know yourself best, so pick a time that you will realistically do it. Early Sunday mornings are my favorite so that I then have the rest of my day free to enjoy.
- The meal prepping:
- Think of the food staples and recipes you need to cook. What ingredients to you need to cook now? How will you cook them? Oven, Crock-pot? Air-Fryer
- Roasting on baking sheet: olive oil for lower smoke points, avocado oil for temperature greater than 400. Cooking times vary according to veggie.
- What ingredients do you need to wash, cut-up, store or cook?
- What ingredients do you need to marinade or prepare to use as a staple for other foods this week?
- What will you store the food in once it’s prepared? Glass containers, freezer bags, mason jars? Will they go into the fridge or will you freeze them for later in the week?
- Now you are done! Great job. You have saved yourself a lot of time and hassle for the week ahead.
Start where you are at and take meal prepping one week at a time. At the end of the week, review what worked with the process and what didn’t and make necessary changes. Every few weeks or so, try a new recipe so you can have an increased repertoire of food ideas. Try a new seasoning or new storage containers. This is not a perfect process, it’s about what works for you. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being 1% better each day. Whole Health is not an impossibility – but only you can make it happen. I don’t have it figured out, but I know I can do a better job than I am doing now. You may feel that way too. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being 1% better each day. Be kind to yourself friends.