Get Well

How to Meal Prep on A Time Crunch

by Jennie Mason

We’re a few months into the New Year and hopefully still working on those resolutions. If you’ve made it this far and are still going strong, congratulations! If you’ve fallen off the bandwagon, don’t fret, you can always hop back on without judgment. Studies show that many people abandon their resolutions by the second week of January, so you’re not alone. If you’re like most Americans, eating healthier is the #1 New Year’s resolution to maintain. A common misconception of eating healthier is that it requires more time and effort, but if you’re doing it right, this shouldn’t be the case.

One of the easiest ways to stay on track is to meal prep. This buzzworthy concept started to trend back in 2018 and has since seen a major amount of food bloggers and professionals backing up the concept. Simply put, meal prep means making full meals ahead of time. You set aside a portion of your day, typically a weekend when you don’t have as much scheduled, to focus on making multiple meals at once. The meals can be pre-portioned and placed in single-serving containers for an accessible grab-and-go meal. The meals are typically cooked in larger portions so you have enough to last you through the week.

Meal prepping may seem contradictory. Aren’t you spending more time making all of this food at once? In reality, no. Instead of spending time each day to prepare single meals, you are grouping it all into one time frame, thus freeing up your work week to focus on other goals. This also helps for when you’re tired AF and don’t want to cook during the week, thinking unhealthy takeout is the only option.

This method also saves you money. You’ll be eating out a lot less, not to mention you’ll have full control over the ingredients used, unlike processed options.If this sounds like something you want to get on board with, then follow these steps to meal prep bliss.

Plan Ahead

The most important step in meal prepping is to plan ahead. First, buy storage containers. I recommend getting glass containers because they’re environmentally friendly, easy to clean and microwave safe. Check out these great options on Amazon and Target.

Next, scope out weekly deals at your local grocery stores. Scanning weekly ads means that you can compare prices and make a list of what to get where. Plan your meals around fresh, in-season ingredients so you get more bang for your buck. Focus your shopping on the outer perimeter of the store, avoiding the center aisles where processed foods are located.

If you aren’t sure where to start when it comes to making a meal, check out the myriad of blogs that focus on meal prep ideas, like here, here and here. The step-by-step instructions are simplified so that everyone can do it, even the most novice of cooks. There is no shortage of help on the internet, so it might be useful to refine your search to meals you really enjoy eating. I personally love a good Mexican bowl, so I’d start from there.

While shopping for ingredients, make sure your pantry is filled with staples such as spices, cooking oils, whole grains and fresh herbs. Spices like cumin and cayenne pepper can elevate your meal to the next level, while fresh herbs give a final burst of flavor that ties the dish together. You’ll notice that most recipes online contain one whole grain as a base (more on that later). Have a variety of complex carbohydrates stocked up so you don’t get tired of the same brown rice for every meal. I always have quinoa, brown rice, and Banza pasta on hand. You’ll want a variety of healthy oils depending on the type of cooking you’re doing. I always have olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable oil, and ghee in my pantry.

Finally, schedule a time over the weekend where you have nothing else planned. I know, this can be difficult. Weekends are for doing activities, I get it! But this will save you so much time and energy. Make the process fun by listening to your favorite podcast or inviting a friend over to help. Soon enough you’ll look forward to this time when you can focus on making wholesome meals that’ll help you stick to your health goals.

Plan Balanced Meals

I want to reiterate how important it is to make balanced meal-prep cuisines. Sure you can make a huge batch of mac n’ cheese and call that meal prep, but your body is not going to be nourished afterwards (you’ll probably be hungry after an hour and reach for an unhealthy snack). You should focus on three things when planning your meals: complex carbs, lean proteins, and fiber-rich vegetables. As long as you have these three things in every meal, you’ll be fuller, longer, and well on your way to your fitness goals.

Those three ingredients probably sound super bland, and I don’t blame you. They can be completely flavorless if prepared the wrong way. Take these Lime Chicken Bowls as an example. The zesty chili-lime marinade elevates the flavor of the chicken and makes it a delicious meal served over quinoa with lemon-y green beans.

A lot of meals are freezer friendly, so if you’re making a large batch that you don’t think you can get through in a week, save some by putting it in the freezer. Use airtight containers to prevent freezer burn and label what’s inside along with the date. Just look for what sounds most appetizing and place it in the refrigerator a day before you plan to eat it so the meal reheats well.

Keep It Simple

If cooking isn’t your forte, it’s probably not the best idea to make something that even a skilled cook would question. The whole point of meal prep is to keep it simple. Simple is still healthy and flavorful, minus the stress. Make meals you actually love to eat then figure out how to simplify it.

I mentioned I love Mexican bowls, so to keep it simple, I’m going to use brown rice as my complex carb, chicken as my protein and steamed broccoli as my vegetable. To amp up the flavor without sacrificing simplicity, I’m going to marinade the chicken in a chipotle sauce then simmer it on the stove top until it easily falls apart. My favorite marinade comes from this Chicken Tinga recipe. It’s packed with flavor and easy to make, all you need is a blender.

One (valid) concern people have when meal prepping is that they’ll get tired of having the same meal every day. I get very tired of leftovers after the 2nd day. Heck, I’m not even a huge fan of leftovers. To make your meals versatile and fun, make small tweaks to the ingredients so you don’t get bored. If I’m roasting a sheet pan of veggies, I’ll do a variety of around 3-4, that way I can pick and choose which ones I’m in the mood for. I also like to make a few sauces, such as a cilantro lime sauce or soy-chili sauce to drizzle atop of everything. I typically choose two different proteins to make when I meal prep, like chicken and salmon. I might marinate the salmon in a sesame ginger marinade while the chicken is cooked in a chipotle marinade like the one above. Variety is the key to looking forward to your next meal, but it doesn’t have to be hard.

Start Slow

Finally, work your way up to preparing multiple meals you’d eat in one day (breakfast, lunch, dinner). First focus on meal prep lunches so that you don’t get tempted to grab something unhealthy while at work. Once you’re comfortable, work your way up to meal prepping dinners like soups and curries. I like to save breakfast as the last type of meal to plan ahead because everyone is different when it comes to breakfast habits. Some people like a protein bar or a banana, or a piece of whole wheat toast with a smear of peanut butter. There are a ton of fun recipes to prep for breakfast, so I’ll let you be the judge of the morning meal.

Your wallet and waistline will thank you for meal prepping. Here’s to one New Year’s resolution that you’ll look forward to keeping.

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Feature Image via Vanessa Granda

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