I know that meal prep can make or break a commitment to healthy eating. That's why I always ask to see my coaches' meal plans and pictures for accountability. While there are a few rare weekends where we haven't meal prepped, I have found that planning what we are going to cook and when I was going to cook it made my week much less stressful. Having a plan for the week allows you to do all your grocery shopping at once, and it eliminates the question, “What the heck am I going to eat after work tonight?”
When hunger strikes, if there’s not something healthy within reach, or ingredients that I can turn into a meal in minutes, I’m far more likely to devour peanut butter with a spoon or order a pepperoni pizza for the family. On the flip side, when I’ve stocked and prepped a good supply of healthy foods and — this is crucial — made a menu plan for the week, I can walk right past those temptations and warm up a bowl of venison quinoa or pork tenderloin and brussels sprouts.
Planning what to what to eat and making simple preparations ahead of time allows me and my family to eat healthy all week and enjoy a home-cooked meal even on the busiest of nights. Here are my tips to help you learn how to meal prep like a pro.
Most of my coaches are cooking all of their meals for the week at once. But you can eat healthy every day without the cooking marathon. I plan a week of meals at a time, checking out the family calendar to figure out which days will allow enough time to actually cook, and which days are going to be rushed. I make a menu for sit-down meals, and come up with several quick and/or portable dishes. To this, I add healthy snacks, including nuts and veggies. I then use this menu to create a shopping list.
Others prefer to stock the fridge and freezer with healthy options and let the menu work itself out during the week. This is fine as long as you think about tomorrow’s meals the night before, pulling stuff out of the freezer, soaking beans, or firing up the slow-cooker.
SHOPPING AND PREPPING
Once you have your meal plan and return from the store, it’s time to begin washing, chopping, cooking some ingredients, and storing foods to keep them fresh until you’re ready to eat them.
Chicken, beef, pork, and fish all freeze well, and can be divided into individual portions and frozen for future use. If you can, splurge for organic meat and poultry, DO IT.
I keep individually wrapped uncooked, boneless chicken breasts — the mother of all healthy convenience foods — in the freezer so they’re ready to go when I want them. They can be diced and tossed in a stir-fry; wrapped in foil with fresh herbs, lemon, and olive oil and baked, thrown in the crockpot with Buffalo sauce, or poached and shredded for chicken salad, to name just a few options.
Ground beef or turkey can be made into your favorite pasta or salad recipe or formed into balls, and frozen raw.
Fish is a natural for the freezer. Choose firm fish, like wild-caught salmon, tuna, sea bass, or cod. The good news is that most of these fish just need a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and lemon juice to be mouth-watering.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein and can be quickly cooked in many recipes, so it’s always good to have some in the fridge, where they stay fresh for 3-5 weeks. Beat a few eggs, pour over a skillet of veggies, shave a little Parmesan over the top, and there’s dinner. Hard-boiled eggs add protein to salads and are a quick, easy snack. I always have at least 6-8 of these ready in the fridge pre-boiled.
Whole grain pasta, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and farro are all pantry staples that can help you pull disparate ingredients into a cohesive dish, with no prior planning. Cook a large batch of rice or quinoa up and keep it in the fridge for future meals. When it’s time for dinner, chop and toss meats, vegetables, nuts, and seeds into a skillet for a quick salad or stir-fry.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
It’s important to keep your kitchen stocked with fruits and vegetables. Roast a batch of sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, and have baby carrots and bell peppers ready to nibble on.
Keep a variety of fruits on hand for healthy snacks and to use in shakes and smoothies. We drink a lot of shakes in our family.
DRESSINGS AND MARINADES
Don’t bring bottled dressings into your kitchen. They’re full of sugar, unhealthy oil, and preservatives. You can make your own in minutes. A balsamic or Asian dressing can top a salmon steak on Monday, a chef’s salad on Wednesday, and be great on veggies on Friday.
SOUPS AND SAUCES
If you’re going to make soup or sauce, why just make a little? Make a double batch, then freeze single portions.
Planning and pre-prepping may feel like a lot of work at first, but with practice it gets more automatic and even fun to figure out combinations that can mix and match for a week of good eating. Besides, there is nothing quite so satisfying as a well-considered home-cooked meal in the rush of a mid-week evening. Get inspiration, recipes, and full meal prep menus with grocery lists fro my website TheLeanCEO.