Planning healthy meals and preparing them are foundational tools of the healthy and happy lifestyle. Alas, many of us haven’t always been able to stay on top of our intention to provide nutritious meals for ourselves and our families.
Here are some typical concerns I encounter when talking to people about meal prep:
- You want to eat healthier, but you’re super-busy.
- You eat out several times a week because that’s what works for you and your family, time-wise and convenience-wise, but you probably realize that it’s not helping you achieve your health and fitness goals.
- BUT… you don’t want the extra calories, fast food, and junk food as much anymore, and you DO want to save time and money.
I definitely get it, and as a health coach, I’m here to help you! I have a simple strategy that will help you to plan and prepare healthy meals for the week.
Now, you don’t need to completely abandon the regular meals you might enjoy away from home; rather, you can use my strategy to help you eat out one or two times less often each week.
As with any lifestyle change, please start gradually so that you can build consistency. The key here is to make it easy, doable, and rewarding enough to do again and again.
Let me walk you through my simple meal prep system, and you’ll see how this can work for you.
Plan meals for the week
I prefer to do this on the weekend because there’s more time to devote to it. I normally flip through my recipes and choose which ones I’ll make for the upcoming week. If I’m feeling overly ambitious, I’ll even pick which days to have which meals, but that’s not necessary if you’re new to meal prep. I’ll determine which ingredients I need to buy for my chosen recipes and add them to the grocery list I keep on my fridge. It’s an added benefit to include a crock pot meal–like my favorite crock pot cashew chicken–each week because it’s so easy to pull together. Think of it: dinner will be ready and waiting for you when you get home, and the house will be filled with rich, tempting, and healthy aromas!
If you’re not sure that you have enough of an ingredient on hand, consider buying a backup or extra amount just in case. I’ve had times when the parsley/tomato paste/cooking wine I planned to use was a bit less than what I actually needed. Having to run out in the middle of meal prep can be very frustrating. Been there, done that many a time!
Another thing to consider is doubling or tripling the recipe(s) so that you prep and cook once, but eat the meal twice or three times. The extras can be taken to work for lunch or frozen until you’re ready to use them. That way, you just need to warm up the meal when you’re ready.
If you’re doubling a recipe, don’t forget to double the amount of the ingredients you buy from the grocery store.
Once your grocery list is ready, hop on over to the store and pick up your essentials. If you don’t have enough food storage containers for your meals, now’s the time to pick up some of those as well. I’m partial to Ball Mason Jars, Pyrex, and Glasslock.
If you’re not a fan of washing and chopping produce, then consider buying it pre-washed and pre-chopped, or even frozen. You can make your meal prep even easier if you don’t mind spending a couple of extra dollars.
Prepare meals for the week
Once you’ve chosen your recipes and bought your groceries, let’s get to prepping some of the ingredients.
I like to set aside two to three hours on a weekend afternoon for this. Get your recipes ready, clear off your counter, and play some good music to make the time speed by.
At this point, depending on time, I’ll either prep the ingredients or pre-cook the entire recipe. Sometimes just washing and chopping produce and putting it in containers is a huge time-saver for weeknights. Or, you can make a whole meal, divide it up into portions, and refrigerate or freeze it. It’s really up to you, because the more you do now, the less you’ll have to do when you’re hungry.
There is one meal that is absolutely the easiest to plan and prepare in advance. It’s also the one that’s often the most difficult to eat at home if you’re busy.
You guessed it: breakfast.
Planning some overnight oatmeal is a great start to any day. Simply place ½ cup of rolled oats, ½ cup of your choice of milk, and 1 tablespoon of chia or flax seeds into a mason jar or other glass container. You can even make 5 servings so that you have breakfast for the whole week. Put the lid on the container and shake it to mix up the ingredients, and leave the container in your fridge overnight. In the morning you can either heat it up quickly or even eat it cold. The oats will have absorbed the milk. Top it with berries, chopped fruit, nuts or seeds and enjoy!
With a little planning, you’ll be able to eat healthier while you save money and cut down on calories.
This new process may take some getting used to, so if I can be of help, please reach out and let me know!
What’s your meal prep process like? How do you plan to improve it?