If you are embarking on a new health journey, it may seem overwhelming at first. Maybe you’re trying to achieve a specific goal, or perhaps you want to get out of a slump and feel your best. There is always a valid reason to start living a healthier lifestyle, and that nearly always involves the food on your plate.
You’re probably not a stranger to the idea of meal prepping. It seems to be what every Dietitian or Nutritionist is talking about and you probably know that it’s something you “should” be doing, right? First off, this article is NOT intended to shame you or make you feel bad about what you are or are not doing when it comes to making healthy eating a priority. Only you know all of the intricacies of what your lifestyle involves and to what level having access to healthy foods can play in your life.
Eating healthy can be especially difficult when you work long hours, not to mention also balancing family and personal life. Yet the harsh truth is, it all comes down to priorities. Embracing health often means creating new habits, and these habits must become a priority in order for you to follow them.
The benefits of meal prepping really are endless. Thinking about and planning your meals in advance gives you direct control over what exactly you are eating. If you create it, you know what goes in it. Meal prepping can also help reduce snacking and last minute decisions to eat out because you are starving and have nothing to eat for dinner (it happens!)
Meal planning and prepping isn’t effortless, but it CAN be simpler than you may think. No matter how busy you are, implementing some degree of meal planning and prepping is possible, and will give your diet and lifestyle more structure and balance while also removing the hassle and stress of mealtimes.
Read on for the best tips to begin incorporating meal planning & prepping into your lifestyle as successfully as possible!
MEAL PREP Tips (that will make you into an expert in no time)
1. Make a plan. Write down at least 2-3 meals that you plan to make for the week, and then create your grocery list based on those ingredients you need. Example: “This week I’ll make a veggie stir fry, pesto pasta, and sheet pan chicken + veggies.”
2. Schedule it. Set yourself up for success by treating meal planning & prepping like an appointment for yourself. If you train yourself to expect to spend 1 hour on Sundays meal prepping, you won’t be as likely to put it off. Determine whether it will work best for you to meal prep just once a week or in smaller amounts throughout the week. A lack of scheduling is likely to leave you reaching for something less healthy, or overeating as a result of not having properly planned meals.
3. Batch cook. Cook large portions of versatile ingredients like grains, veggies, and meats to have readily available all week long. You don’t have to know ahead of time exactly HOW you will use these items, but having them prepped will mean you’re so much more likely to actually USE them! Cooking double or triple batches of favorite meals is also an excellent way to save time in the long run. Prepare, store, & enjoy when ready!
4. Keep a prepared kitchen. Examples of staple items to be sure are always on your grocery list include:
3-4 protein sources
2-3 types of fruit
2-3 whole grains
2-3 multi-purpose dips/spreads
2-3 healthy snack items
5. Maximize your cooking time. If you’re already planning on using your oven, is there is there another food you can throw in there with it? If you’re cooking on your stove top, could you simultaneously get another pot going? Chopping veggies for dinner? Consider chopping for tomorrow while you’re at it (time-permitting). It takes practice, but soon you’ll be a multitasking pro and will end up saving time in the long run :)
6. Check your schedule. Use your calendar as a guide so that your plan for meal prep actually works with your schedule. If there are nights you won't be home in time to cook, plan ahead to put a meal in the slow cooker that morning, or make a larger meal earlier in the week so you'll have leftovers to eat.
7. Embrace frozen & convenience foods. There ARE healthy frozen options out there which can help expedite meal prepping. Just be sure to choose wisely, don’t forget to check the nutrition & ingredients labels, and feel free to add in your own additions to make it more of a complete meal. The end product should be balanced with a protein source, vegetable, and a healthy fat. Examples of convenience items to have no shame about utilizing include pre-cooked chicken breast, pre-diced veggies, and frozen bags of vegetables & whole grains.
8. Repurpose leftovers. Get creative & experiment with turning last night’s dinner into tomorrow’s lunch! This will save time, money, and effort.
9. Invest in quality storage containers. Have an appropriate place for all those yummy ingredients, meals, and leftovers. Choose glass or silicone to reduce exposure to BPA and other toxins in plastic. Mason Jars and glass bowls/Tupperware work well.
10. Be prepared with backup. Reality means that meal prepping won’t always happen, yet this does not mean that you are doomed to the drive through. Create a list of a few favorite “go-to” meals that you will always have the ingredients on hand for. Example: if your family loves Mexican food, plan to always have beans, avocados, whole grain tortillas, cheese, and fajita veggies in your home. That way, if you haven’t had time to create a structured meal plan for the week, at least you know you’ll always have the ingredients for a few family favorites.
Remember, you don’t have to do it all! Make one small, practical step at a time and give yourself credit for any effort you put into it. Find what works for you and your family and be ready to reap the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.
Whatever your health goal might be, meal planning and prepping will play a huge role in helping you achieve it.
Joanna Foley, RD
Joanna has been practicing as a Registered Dietitian for over 5 years and is the owner of a private nutrition counseling practice at https://www.joannafoleynutrition.com/. Joanna believes that food really IS the best medicine and has a holistic, “whole body” approach to health. Having had personal experience with anxiety and disordered eating, Joanna is also passionate about helping clients transform their relationship with food and create positive eating environments, as well as to learn to use food & nutrition as a tool to recover from emotions such as anxiety. Joanna provides personalized nutrition and lifestyle counseling, and is dedicated to helping others achieve a healthier and happier life for the long term.
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