You probably don’t need me to tell you that meal prep is a super effective strategy for sticking to nutrition goals, right? It’s one we’ve all read about a million times. If you spend time on Instagram, you’ve likely also come across photos of people’s kitchen counters covered in containers on a Sunday night. Some might call it a commitment, intense, or maybe even over the top. But you know what? It works.
Many of the friends and clients I’ve worked with in the past have shared with me their goals for eating in more healthy ways, and one of my first suggestions is to give meal prep a try. As a food blogger and culinary nutrition expert, I think I probably spend more time thinking about, shopping for, preparing and cooking food than the average person. When I first started regular weekly meal preparation, it took me a few tries to get a feel for quantities and batching. Once I got in the groove however, it was amazing how much more liberated I felt throughout the week – mentally and in terms of actual spare time. If you’ve struggled to find your groove in the past or feel inspired to give it another shot, it’s your lucky day because I’ve got 5 tips to help you meal prep like a boss. 😉
1. Save time by multi-tasking
Meal prep doesn’t have to take an entire afternoon. I think a lot of people get overwhelmed by the idea of cooking up a week’s worth of food, but even as little as 30 minutes can make a difference. In that time, you could boil some eggs on the stove in one pot, cook some quinoa in another and roast some sweet potatoes in the oven – all while you wash a few heads of greens and chop some veggies. Voila – you’ve already got a head start on the week.
2. Freeze for later in the week
Speaking of meal prepping, don’t just think of your freezer for long-term food storage. Back to my example of roasting sweet potatoes, often I’ll cook up way more than I know I’ll get through in a couple of days but freeze the excess so they taste more fresh later in the week. Have you ever been in that situation where you pull a container of chickpeas out of the fridge only to realize they’ve grown a gross, gummy coating all over them? Yep, I’m speaking from experience. If you freeze them instead (sweet potatoes, beans, cooked grains all apply here), you can take advantage of that make-ahead prep time and not have to worry about food going bad.
3. Have a standard set of ingredients on standby
Despite the best of intentions, we’re always going to have situations where lunch plans fall through, you need something to eat rightthissecond, or maybe someone eats your gorgeous meal out of the fridge. Rather than giving up and caving into less ideal choices, consider keeping your kitchen stocked with the necessities you need to whip up something simple in a pinch. These could be items you buy regularly each week if they’re perishables, or if they’re pantry items, maybe you buy them in bulk (hooray for saving money!)
A few examples of in-a-pinch ingredients and meals:
- Eggs + veggies (frozen are fine) + salsa = omelette
- Oats + frozen berries + cinnamon + chia seeds + non-dairy milk or water = oatmeal or overnight oats
- Veggies (fresh or frozen pre-chopped) + frozen edamame (or any other choice of protein) + coconut oil + tamari + rice vinegar = quick + easy stir fry
- Protein powder + fresh or frozen greens + frozen berries + nut butters, seeds or pantry superfoods of choice = smoothie
- Canned beans or lentils + canned tomatoes + fresh or frozen veggie mix + salsa + spices = vegetarian chili
- Canned tuna, salmon or hard boiled egg + mashed avocado + cucumber + lemon juice + dried dill + black pepper = mayo-free tuna/salmon/egg salad
- Canned beans, tuna, salmon or lentils + diced veggies of choice + olive oil + balsamic vinegar + quinoa + dried herbs, sea salt + black pepper = super quick quinoa salads
4. Invest in some good containers
Once you’ve made all sorts of beautiful food, you’re going to want to ensure you’ve got a place to put it. While keeping everything in large containers is one option that might work if you’re serving an entire family, I find that dividing out individual servings for myself helps to ensure portions stay in check. It also makes for easy grab-and-go access in the mornings when I’m tossing containers into my lunch bag. The containers I have are glass snap-lock lid ones from Costco, and although glass is heavier than plastic, I’d recommend it because you won’t have to worry about BPA getting into your food.
5. Don’t overestimate your need for variety
I’ll admit to having Pinterest boards loaded with all sorts of recipes, but when I look at what I actually eat, the same meals come up over and over again. We often think we need a whole bunch of healthy recipes to keep us motivated to eat clean, but in reality, most of us are pretty simple beings. In fact, studies have shown that the more choice we have, the harder it is to actually make a choice. When it comes to food, sometimes that also makes us more likely to overeat. (Classic example: buffet vs ordering off of a menu.) Therefore, instead of overwhelming yourself with a list of 10 recipes to make at the beginning of the week, try 2-3 that provide multiple servings. Scatter those out in your meal plan, then fill the rest of the gaps with simple ones like those listed above.
Right, now I’d love to hear from you! For those of you who do any amount of meal prep to start your week, what are some of your best tips? If you’re not a meal prep fan, why not? What other strategies help you stay consistent with your nutrition goals?