Meal Prep 101
With the summer almost behind us, and the excitement of a new season ahead, September is always a great month to assess, make goals, and create change. I think one of the reasons that I love fall so much is its feeling of a fresh start.
I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine after a summer of lots of travel, late nights, and maybe a little too much indulging. No regrets though! My first priority – meal prep! This is a great way to set yourself up for a successful week filled with healthy meal options. If you don’t have a plan and leave your food choices to chance, most likely those choices won’t be the best ones. Meal planning can be overwhelming at first, but I have compiled my tips below to simplify things and to inspire this to become part of your weekly routine. Don’t expect success, but rather prepare for it by making your food options easy.
Let’s start with the most important part of meal prep…the planning.
Each week I start with the best locally grown produce offered at the best price (Trader Joe’s is my go-to), and I plan my meals from there.
Here are a few strategies to decrease the stress of making healthy meals.
Prioritize. Choose recipes that will bring you the most value. If dinner brings you the most stress, plan dinner. Where in the week do you feel you have the most stress or most difficultly? When are you finding yourself standing in front of your pantry looking for snacks? Meal prep for those meals.
Start small. Only plan and shop for up to 3 days’ worth of groceries. Not only do you want to have fresh produce on hand, but you also don’t waste ingredients or get overwhelmed.
Select recipes to make during the week. Create a shopping list so that you have everything you need for the recipes that you want to prepare. Plan out and include actual quantities. Make sure you have the list with you when you’re shopping! This might sound obvious, but I literally forgot mine 2 days before writing this newsletter. I recommend keeping a running grocery list in the notes of your phone because it’s something that you usually have with you. Also, stick to list to avoid unhealthy, impulse buys. And don’t shop hungry!
Set aside time to cook. Finding the time is usually the biggest setback when it comes to meal prep. Schedule it in your calendar. I recommend creating a ritual every Sunday when you create a to-do list, and then find the time in your calendar to get those things done. You will be surprised by how much more productive you can be with your time when you know what you need to be doing with it.
Make a habit of bedtime meal prep. Use the time before you go to bed to review your menus and prepare. Some of you will prefer to make meals for the whole week all at once. I prefer to cook every few days so that it isn’t such a daunting task. Figure out what works best for you and stick to your plan!
Cook in quantity. Cook multiple servings at once, then store leftovers in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer for convenient use in the future.
Storage. Don’t rush to seal your meal! The steam created from a sealed container will not only continue to cook your food, but the excess moisture can leave your meat tasting rubbery and your veggies tasting soft and mushy. Also, invest in quality storage containers to increase the chances of a fresh meal. This will be cost effective in the long term. Make sure the containers are glass or BPA-free.
Overlap ingredients. Try to pick recipes with similar ingredients so that you’re not wasting food, you can save money, and you’re more efficient with meal prep. For example, if you are making a dinner recipe that calls for quinoa, get creative with the leftovers and use them for breakfast with sautéed veggies and fried eggs. Get creative with the recipes and make them your own! Swap out ingredients, use different spices, or try a different way of preparing the food.
Create a master recipe list. Organize your go-to meals that you have tried before and enjoyed. This will be helpful to reference when you’re looking for inspiration about what to make. I recommend creating a Pinterest board to keep recipes in one place. Most websites have a link to save recipes to Pinterest.
Make it fun! Listen to music. Get your kids or your significant other involved. Cook with friends. Make this an enjoyable experience so that you can taste the love that you put into it!
Chopping your food. This will not only save time when you are cooking during the week, but it will also guarantee that you actually use the ingredients that you bought. I recommend washing and cutting everything the day that you shop and organize everything in clear containers in your refrigerator. You can also buy your veggies pre-cut to save time.
Roast veggies! Baking your vegetables is such an easy way to cook in bulk (and this cooking method brings out the sweetness in the food). I roast a large batch of veggies on 2 big trays so that they are ready to use throughout the week by simply adding a protein and healthy fat. Be sure to prepare veggies together that have similar roasting times. For example, mushrooms and tomatoes have similar cooking times and temperatures versus cauliflower and sweet potatoes. Veggies that are great for roasting: carrots, peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, and sweet potatoes.
Protein prep. Cook all of your protein ahead of time, and store it in the fridge or freezer to ensure you have meals on hand.
Get familiar with different spices! Bland food is so uninspiring. Experiment with different flavors to create marinades and dressings that you love. For example, mixing tahini, lemon juice, and parsley. Use a lazy Susan packed with sauces, spices, and herbs so that you can easily see different options and access them readily.
Portion control. The whole point of meal prep is to create healthy options for yourself that are readily available, but it would be a useless activity without measuring your food. Portion sizes will vary based on your goals and where you are at currently, but for the most part, below are a few rules of thumb:
Use the palm of your hand to measure protein. A portion will be anywhere from 3-6 ounces, depending on your size. A few of my go-to options are: grass-fed beef, chicken breast, ground turkey, salmon, cod, and eggs. Vegetables should make up 1/3 to 1/2 of your meal prep container. A serving equates to about 1/2-1 cup. This includes things like leafy greens, broccoli, spinach, kale, swiss chard, brussels sprouts, asparagus, arugula, green beans and snap peas. Use one cupped hand to measure your carbs. The starch should make up about 1/4 of your meal prep. One serving size about 1/2 – 1 cup (cooked). A few examples are: quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole grain pasta, and legumes (lentils & black beans). Use your thumb to measure heathy fats. This should equate to about 1 oz or tablespoon. Healthy fats not only enhance the flavor of your meal, but also keep you fuller longer. Foods such as nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc), seeds (chia seeds, pumpkin seeds), oils and nut butters fall into this category.
I hope these strategies will help to create ease in making healthier choices!
Speaking of making healthier choices…I have exciting news to share!!!
Starting Monday, September 23rd I will be launching my first 5-day Fall detox. Stay tuned for more details to come 😊