*This is part two of a two-part series
Meal prep is easier than it appears. Remember that not all quarantine meal prepping must be “survival food.” Cooking should be fun, no matter the circumstances, and this is a great time to experiment.
The case for family meals is stronger than ever, but circumstances in our day-to-day lives may make eating together difficult. As families stay home more during the pandemic, this is an opportune time to reset our routines. There are lots of reasons to make family mealtime a priority.
Family meals are a powerful health habit. Research has found a positive relationship between the number of family meals per week, especially dinner, and eating fruits and vegetables. Also, more family meals per week is associated with better family functioning, including connectedness, cohesion and communication.
According to the Family Meals Movement, regular family meals also are linked to higher grades, getting along with others and reducing risky behaviors in adolescents. In children and teens, regular family meals are associated with lower rates of obesity and eating disorders.
Having prepared meals helps you avoid unhealthy options, reduce overeating, save money on eating out, lower meal-planning stress and reach your nutrition goals. Studies have shown that because meal prep requires you to determine what you will eat in advance, the practice can lead to more nutritious meal choices over time.
HERE ARE SOME STEPS AND STRATEGIES TO HELP YOU AS YOU GET STARTED.
STEP 1: STICK TO A SCHEDULE
Pick a day each week (preferably) to do your meal planning and prep, shop and cook — yes, all in one day. You already have planned your menu and written your grocery list, so now it’s time to buy groceries and start prepping.
Once you get accustomed to meal prepping and finding recipes you like, you will reduce your time in the kitchen. I do not spend all night in the kitchen cooking anymore. A few hours from start to finish, and I’m set for the week.
STEP 2: PICK THE RIGHT NUMBER OF MEALS
Planning out how many meals to cook and what to include in each can be tricky. Check your calendar and account for times you likely will eat out, then decide the number of breakfasts, lunches and dinners you’ll need for the week.
If you have a few meals left over, freeze them so you have some backups.
STEP 3: ORGANIZE YOUR PREP AND COOK TIMES
Just like planning your day, a good meal prep workflow will save you time. This is when I play some great tunes and turn up the music.
- Prepare sheet pans – I lay out all the pans I’ll be using and either spray them with coconut oil spray or foil them. I cook mainly in sheet pans or large, deep pans.
- Marinate proteins – I’m from New Orleans, and I always want seasoning to come through in my food. I use Flavor God, Tony Chachere’s salt-free seasoning and any other salt-free option I can find for marinating proteins. If I marinate with fat-free salad dressing or liquid marinades, I put them in the refrigerator to marinate.
- Wash and chop vegetables – This is the longest part of my meal prepping and the perfect time to turn on my favorite music. I wash all my vegetables, chop them and portion out what I may need for a specific recipe.
I have a roasted vegetable recipe my mother shared with me. I love cooking asparagus and roasted cauliflower; I go for anything I can cook on a sheet pan. I also package spinach and kale for my salads and put them in plastic bags for the week. I cut up cucumber, celery and tomatoes for summer salads, portioning my servings out in small containers.
While I finish the veggies, I preheat the oven. I rarely cook on the stovetop. Baking in sheet pans has become my sweet spot.
- Get Cooking – My oven is preheated, and now I’m ready to cook. I make my proteins first because they take the longest. My staples include chicken; fish (my favorites are red fish and tuna steaks); flank or sirloin steak; turkey, beef or bison burgers or meatloaf.
Next up are vegetables, I lay my asparagus in a sheet pan, vegetables to be roasted in a large, deep pan and cauliflower on a thinner cookie-baking sheet. I can cook all my proteins at once, vegetables next, and sometimes, I can get egg soufflé cups in the oven with the vegetables.
Egg soufflé cups are one of my favorites — and they’re so easy and delicious. I take a muffin pan, spray it and mix egg whites, a few organic brown eggs, whatever veggie I have a surplus of, spinach and tomatoes. I mix it well and pour a nice, full amount into the muffin pan. After 30 minutes of baking, I have two egg cups for each morning.
While I cook the vegetables, I make brown organic rice and sweet potatoes in the microwave. When they’re done, I let them cool with the other foods before I start portioning things out.
STEP 4: PORTION YOUR FOOD AND PLACE IN STORAGE CONTAINERS
These steps are just as important as cooking.
First. your containers can make the difference between a fabulous and a so-so meal. I’ve tried many different kinds, and I found one I love: fun, colorful Ello containers. They’re made of glass and silicone for durability and have airtight locking lids, which I love as much as the colors. They keep your food fresh, and they’re microwave and oven safe with the lid off.
Now you’re ready to portion your food. I have a great digital food scale, and I measure my food out in a measuring cup and weigh it to ensure I’m getting the exact nutrition and portion size I need. I recommend this method because eyeballing it will not keep you accurate.
I portion out my proteins first, then vegetables and then carbs. For dinner, I double up on vegetables and don’t eat starches. My breakfast egg cups are easy, two per day, so I keep them in one container for the week.
Above all, make meal prep fun. Listen to some fun music and dance around while you wash, chop and cook. The process soon will become part of your weekly routine, and as you get comfortable, you can try some new recipes.
Not only will you be prepared for the work week, but you’ll be creating family memories and putting your family on track for a healthy 2021.
Karol Brandt is an executive host with Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort, as well as co-author of the Amazon best-seller “The Struggle is Real: Finally Break the Dieting Cycle, Transform Your Mind and Body, and Evolve into The Person You Have Always Wanted to Be” and the “30-Day Evolve Challenge Journal.” Contact Brandt by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook/The Struggle Is Real or Instagram at karolbrandtnola.