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Meal prep made easy

Part 1

This is part one of a two-part series presenting meal-prepping tips for the busy beginner who wants to start a healthy, lifelong habit.

Meal prep means planning, preparing, cooking and portioning your meals out for the week. This means cooking in bulk once or twice a week (Sunday and Wednesday). Meal prep can make a huge impact on you; it has for me.

“I am a seasoned, faithful meal prepper and have been for 10-plus years. I meal prep because it’s a healthy habit, saves time, helps me track my food intake, keeps weight off, allows me to be consistent and helps me prepare for the work week.”

Find your why. For me, it saves me so much time during the week. Having my refrigerator stocked with healthy meals is vital to living a healthy lifestyle.

With more time, I get back to being me — hot yoga, swimming, meditation and some creative coloring. Otherwise, I would be rushing to throw my lunch and dinner together, maybe from leftovers from the night before, and trying to figure out what to eat on the day of; that is not healthy. Planning is crucial to staying on a healthy track. Otherwise, it’s so easy to eat the unhealthy fast food and take out, which normally are excessive portions filled with saturated fats and calories.

When will I have time to cook all of this food, you ask? I know your to-do list is large with work, meetings, kids, soccer games, cheer camp, social gatherings, vacations, weekends, etc. I get it, and there’s so much to juggle. I will let you in on a secret: Meal prepping is a top contender for making your life easier, and you can even involve the kids.

Meal prepping normally takes about four hours, and if you choose, you can divide it between two days, Sunday and Wednesday, with your cooking done on Sundays. With just some little, creative combinations left, package up and you are ready for the week.

I meal prep once a week, on Mondays because I am off work.

Here are the easy steps I take to prepare for meal prep:

STEP 1 – MAKE TIME

Find that day that will give you three to four hours to plan your menu, grocery shop, cook and portion out your meals. This is all about you and how much time you can dedicate to prepping.

STEP 2- MAKE A MENU, AND GO GROCERY SHOPPING

Write down how may meals you want to make and the ingredients you need. Also note which meals you actually will prepare to make your shopping list. Categorize the list by breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. It does not need to be complicated.

Beginners, keep it simple. Stick to recipes with few ingredients and staples that you can cook and combine in other dishes. Pick meals you actually want to make. I am no master chef, and I pick meals that are manageable for me.

I am faithful about having a balance of macros — proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fresh fruits and/or vegetables for each meal. I recommend myfitnesspal.com to track macros and exercise. I use the app every day, and it tracks everything and keeps me accountable.

Some of my staples/suggestions are:

Proteins – Chicken breast, lean ground beef, ground turkey, flank steak, turkey breast, salmon, tuna, egg whites, eggs and shrimp

Carbohydrates – Sweet potato, quinoa, brown rice, Ezekiel bread or Dave’s power-seed bread, hummus

Healthy fats – Almonds, walnuts, almond butter, olive oil, coconut oil

Fruits/vegetables – Spinach, kale, arugula, mushrooms, asparagus, celery, tomato, peppers, zucchini, squash, eggplant, pineapple, blueberries, blackberries, watermelon, apples, strawberries (I try and eat fruit that’s in season)

STEP 3 – STOCK UP ON PANTRY STAPLES

From garlic, olive oil and onions to spices, fresh cracked pepper and pink Himalayan crystal salt (my fave), there are certain staples every meal prepper should have. I use Flavor God seasoning or find salt-free spices. Hint: Create a 10 must-haves list when you go to the store so you can add them to your cart and pantry.

STEP 4 – INVEST IN THE RIGHT TOOLS

Investing in the right kitchen equipment makes all the difference. Make sure you have the essentials, like cutting boards, sharp knives and meal-prep containers. I use Ello Meal Prep Food Storage containers — the best! They are so very colorful and feature a leak-proof lid; you actually can cook in them because they are oven safe without the lid up to 425 degrees. They’re also safe for the freezer, microwave and dishwasher, and you can find them through Amazon or Target. It’s by far my best meal-prep investment.

STEP 5 – BATCH COOK WITH SHEET PANS

Sheet pans are such an easy way to cook. I cook mainly on sheet pans, hardly ever on the stovetop, so sheet pans and batch cooking are my preferences for meal prepping. Plus, the cleanup is so minimal. Buy different size sheet pans, and get some deep ones for roasting vegetables.

STEP 6- OR USE A SLOW COOKER

Everyone who meal preps should have and use a slow cooker; talk about saving time in the kitchen! The slow cooker is handy for making everything from oatmeal and eggs to complete meals.

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