10 Brilliant Tips for Meal Prepping & Staying on Track
How many times have you finished work and thought, “I’m just too tired to cook tonight and there’s nothing in the fridge. I’ll just hit the drive-thru?” By planning and prepping, you can help prevent that from happening. Once you get the hang of planning and prepping your meals, you’ll be amazed at how much time and money you will save.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming. You just have to commit to it, first in your mind, and plan the rest out from there! Start off by making a list of all of your favorite healthy dishes. Pinterest is a great place to start or you can find my favorite clean eating recipes here on my website.
Plan your dinners first. Once you have your dinners planned out, you can then decide which ones make great leftovers for lunches the next day. This ensures that no food goes to waste and it saves you time in the kitchen.
For me meal planning is not just about broiling plain tasteless chicken, adding plain brown rice, and steamed veggies in a plastic container and off you go. That may work for some, but not for me! In order to stick with my healthy food plan, I need flavor. I need food to look appealing. I need variety. If you are like me, you too want beautiful, flavorful, whole food that nourishes the body, mind, and soul!
Why Meal Plan & Prep?
This is so true! When I prep my meals each week, I make a point to only purchase those items that are on my grocery list. This helps keep those little moments of weakness under control. Reason being….if it’s not in my house, I can’t eat it!
Saves you money.
If you are the type to just “wing it,” meal prep might take a little more mental preparation. However, once you get the hang of it, you will wonder why you did not do it sooner. If you are either running out to the store after work to make whatever you are in the mood for that night, or ordering in, you may be spending more money than you ever imagined. This is also true for our lunches! I plan a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and even healthy snacks each week. We don’t waste as much food when I am prepared and in turn we save money. I like to look at it this way; the money I saved on prepping and planning my weekly menu and meals is money I can spend on higher quality organic foods! It’s a win-win!
Huge time saver.
Not only does meal prepping help us stay on track with consistent healthy eating and can save you money, but it also gives you more time in the evenings to walk, workout, relax or really do whatever you want, besides rushing home to cook! One or two days spent in the kitchen is all you need to devote to cooking once you learn to prep. Evenings in the kitchen are spent reheating, and deciding which vegetable (that is already prepared) will go best with which whole grain (that is already prepared) and with which protein (that is already prepared). This can take 10 minutes as opposed to an hour or more each night.
Another hint that can save a lot of time is writing your grocery list in the order in which you shop. Example of that is to list all dairy products together, all meats together, all canned goods, etc.
Helps meet your fitness goals.
When you plan out your meals ahead of time not only are you learning portion control, but you are fueling your body with wholesome nutritional food. Again, this is a win, win. Not only are you saving time, but you actually have energy to workout. Your body requires healthy food for endurance, strength, and even weight loss so it’s a no-brainer that consistent meal planning should coincide with your fitness routine. Each week, I plan out my workouts, in the same notebook I write down all my meals. This really helps me stay on track! You can get as technical as you want with spreadsheets and such, but I prefer a legal pad or notebook to jot down my meals and workout goals for the week.
Gives a great variety!
Sometimes planning out meals each week can get a little humdrum since I tend to have a few go-to meals that I’m absolutely find easy to make. However, I like to try at least one new dish per week. I don’t make it over complicated. I stick with something that I believe will be simple, easy, and tasty. If I like the dish then I add it into the rotation and if I don’t, well I just won’t make it again.
Make a Plan
Make a list of your favorite healthy foods. Choose simple recipes that can be made quickly or in bulk. Decide what you’ll eat for every snack and meal. Read your recipes all the way through at this point, especially if you’re following a new recipe. Write down any modifications you want to make to your recipes directly on the recipes or on a sticky note. Adjust your grocery list appropriately.
Once you have a few meal prep menus in your arsenal, you can rotate them to keep things interesting. Once you have made your grocery list, stick with it. Don’t let junk food sneak into your shopping cart. Not having it in the house means not having to use your willpower to avoid it. Sticking to your list will minimize the impulse buys and help you to save money. Stick as closely to the perimeter of the store as you possibly can. Most of the processed foods, snacks, breads, cakes and the like are located down the isles of the store. Here you will find a simple Meal Planning Sheet to help you get started.
Take a look at your schedule for the week. Figure out which nights you’re going to eat at home. If you know you have an upcoming dinner party, plan accordingly.
Also, at this stage, it’s a great idea to make sure that all dishes that you will use to cook and store your food are washed and readily available. The planning step will get easier and faster with practice. A great help is to save your plan for a future busy week.
Keep It Simple & Favorable
When you’re only cooking once or twice a week, it’s important to keep things simple. Save time by choosing snacks that don’t require a lot of time to put together. Fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and pre-cut veggies with prepared or homemade hummus made ahead are great choices. For protein snacks, bake a whole chicken, or several chicken tenders, or a turkey breast to munch on between meals or to go atop a nice big salad.
Choose recipes that have as few ingredients as possible and still have lots of flavor. Using spices and herbs (dried or fresh) are a wonderful way to “spice up” any chicken, fish, and/or vegetable dish.
Some of my favorite herbs are rosemary, parsley, basil, oregano, mint, and dill. Some of my favorite spices are cumin, Homemade Chili Powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika to just name a few.
Cook Food all at Once & Multi-task
It’s time to break out those unused slow cookers, rice cookers, pressure cookers, oven, toaster oven, grills, and utilize them all! Yes, it might mean for a little extra clean up, but it will drastically cut your prep time down.
For example, you may have several dishes baking in the oven, while the slow cooker is going and you can have others cooking on the stove top. Don’t try to do one dish at a time. That can be too time-consuming. Multi-task and you will be happy you did.
While you cook, try to clean as you go as much as possible. It will take a bit of practice to get into this habit, but it will be so worth it. I use parchment paper to line my baking sheets for quick clean up. For me, this is a huge time-saver.
Double the Recipe
Leftovers are your best friend. If you do not like leftovers, you need to just come to grips with the fact that leftovers can be delicious and they make your life so much easier. If you plan to have a less stressful experience in the kitchen during busy weekdays, it’s time to embrace the leftover.
I love the fact that at least 3-4 nights per week I do not have to cook extensively or at all. I double the recipe for roasted veggies, whole baked chickens, chili, beans, sautéed kale and other greens, slow cooker meals, coleslaw, soups, and many others. Many of the one-pot meals are even more tasty after sitting for a day or so in the fridge. This gives the favors time to mingle and marinate.
Usually the rule of thumb is to double big items like fats, proteins, and produce, but adjust smaller items like spices and seasonings to taste. And when it comes to cooking, it usually won’t be double the time.
By doubling the recipe some evenings all I do is reheat. Others I may need only to add one dish to complete the meal. Rarely do I have to cook a complete meal during the week nights. Some weeks I choose to cook one weekend day and one weekday. You will need to experiment a bit to find what works best for your schedule.
Look for Shortcuts
Buy pre-cut veggies and fruits, already chopped garlic, cooked lentils, or rotisserie chicken (if organic and not filled with additives). Tuna, and sardines are an an easy no-cook protein to add to salads or snacks. Another great protein is Perfectly Boiled Eggs. Roast an entire pan of veggies for the next few days. Some great fats to add to salads are nuts and seeds. One great time saver are one-pot meals. Here you will find a few to get you started. Some of my favorite one-pan dishes are the Roasted Chicken Legs with Lemon Garlic Broccolini and One Pan Chicken Meal.
Wherever you can find a short cut, use it! But remember, sometimes those shortcuts can be a bit pricey. Weigh your options with your budget.
Invest in Food Storage Containers
A small investment in food containers of various sizes to suit your needs will make a world of difference. It’s a good idea to choose one container type and buy several that stack and store neatly. If you choose plastic containers, make sure they are BPA-free and that they won’t melt in the dishwasher. Sturdy Pyrex dishes with lids are also great, as are Mason jars. If you decide to go all-in on the meal prep lifestyle, you might want to think about getting an insulated bag to carry your meals everywhere you go.
Utilize your Slow/Fast Cookers
Break out the slow cooker and the pressure cooker! There are great recipes that you can double-up when using a slow cooker. Here are a few that I enjoy: Lentil Soup, Slower Cooker lack Beans, Red Kidney Beans. These recipes can be frozen and used in many healthy and hearty dishes.
While you are at work or play, your dinner can be simmering away at home. You can prep the ingredients on your prep day and just toss them into the cooker before you head out the door. It is wonderful walking into your house after a hard day and smelling dinner ready to be served!
Organize Your Fridge and Cabinets
With all this prepped food, you’re going to need some fridge space. Put the foods that will be used earliest in the week in the front and the foods for the end of the week towards the back. Be sure to clean out your fridge weekly to keep food fresh.
Check your “pantry staples” to make sure you’re stocked with all the basic ingredients that your recipes call for that week. When your pantry is clear of clutter it just makes it so much easier to scan and see what items need to be replaced. This way you do not buy unnecessary items that you already have and that are hidden away.
Load Up on Prep Staples
After a few weeks prepping, you will learn which items you will need to keep on hand. A few that I seem to always need are: canned tomatoes, low-sodium broths, dried beans and whole grains, quinoa, brown rice, canned tuna, olive oil, nuts and seeds, frozen veggies and fruits, garlic, and onions. Keep a variety of spices and dried herbs on hand, as well.
I buy meats and seafood when they are on sale and freeze them in serving size portions. The same goes for any of the staple items. My grocery store offers BOGO quite often on most of the above products. Just keep in mind, that fresh produce is hardest to use quickly. For this reason, I buy it and cook it all within the first day or two, store it in the fridge and/or freezer for future use during the week.
Make it Routine, but not Boring!
Change it up! You will find that you do discover a few of your favorite go-to’s. Instead of just simply baking or broiling a plain piece of fish or , why not try adding pistachios and panko bread crumbs for a very tasty and quick tasting fish or chicken dish? Two of my favorite and very flavorful main courses are Paprika Coated Chicken Thighs and Iron Skillet Creole Red Snapper.
When you find yourself getting bored with your dishes, switch the spices and herbs that normally top your chicken breast. Instead of a salad that you have eaten numerous times try a different type of salad like these options: Arugula Salad, Warm Baby Green Salad, Hearty Earthy Kale Salad, Chicken with Black Bean Fajita, Creamy Herb Chicken Salad, BLT Salad a Grilled Caesar Salad with Tomatoes.
Life is too short to be bored with your food. Spice up your food and spice up your life!
You can be healthy, happy, and satisfied! Meal Planning and Prep is a great start to your healthy lifestyle! Happy Eating!