I think we can all agree that the best thing about meal prepping is the fact that it’s convenient. As a dietitian, the people who surround you may expect your diet to always be perfection. I am certainly not perfect and neither is my diet. I have my bad days and good days just like anyone else. What do you expect? I am only HUMAN. If I am running late or have no extra time to cook a nutritious meal I will clearly be more inclined to spend money on food or grab something quick that is less healthy and much less satisfying. These are the exact reasons that make meal prepping a great way to stay on track with a healthy lifestyle. Your time is important with a life full of work, children, family, friends, and your sanity; Meal prepping could be your first step towards getting healthier.
How and Why Meal Prep is Important?
1. Convenience. As I mentioned before, we are a world of convenience and if something is cooked, plated, and ready to eat, people will eat it. This saves time and allows you to make healthier choices since you are in total control.
2. Improves Health. Meal prepping increases the nutritive value of your foods because fresh foods are used to prep meals. This limits preservatives and artificial flavors because less processed foods are used. “Throw processed food away, fresh is here to stay!” That’s my rule of thumb I just made up, sounds catchy though doesn’t it?
3. Weight loss. Meal prepping can help you lose weight because it prevents you from overeating. Pre-portioned meals leave you with no extra food, you have what you prepped. Once you eat it, your done. Make sure you are packing the correct portions of food for protein, grains, dairy, and fruits/veggies. I follow and teach the “myplate” method. protein=1/4 of plate, grains=1/4 of plate, fruits/veggies=1/2 of plate, dairy= 1 cup
***Tip: In general, 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese can be considered as 1 cup from the dairy food group.
4. Saves time. The week typically goes by quickly leaving no extra time to cook extravagant meals every day of the week. Taking some extra time Sunday or whatever day works best for you to make meals for the week is worth it. Cooking with a friend or getting the whole family on board to help meal prep is another great way to save even more time.
5. Budget Friendly. When you cook at home, money is being saved. It always turns out to be cheaper when you buy and prepare your food on your own compared to eating out (unless your eating from McDonald’s dollar menu). Meal prepping will work wonders on your wallet because there will be no more need to randomly spend on fast foods and restaurants.
The Meal Prepping starter guide
Meal prepping does take some time to plan, but in the long run it is much less time spent in the kitchen. Some of this stuff may sound redundant, but that is because all the benefits intertwine.
If this is your first time jumping on the band wagon, you may feel over whelmed. Begin with setting aside a specific day to designate for your prep time, typically this is my Sunday. The next step is to plan ahead. You will want to decide how many meals you want to make, what types of foods you make to prepare, and last make a grocery list to determine how much and what you need to buy. Of course, containers are a must in the life of a meal planner.
I make 5 meals per week, sometimes I do 10 for lunch and dinner. It is important to leave flexibility in your diet so you do not burn out on certain foods. Be sure to prep something you will enjoy eating for a week straight. You should also change up the meals from week to week so you don’t get frustrated eating the same things. I always leave room for variety depending on my schedule. You can be a person who meal preps without prepping every week. If you want to try out some new recipes, don’t prep for the week. You don’t have to do it religiously to reap the benefits.
This week I made Quinoa Mango-Bean Salads for my lunches. They are a healthy and balanced convenient meal, easy to travel with, and mess free. I used this same recipe recently to make avocado bowls. All I did to meal prep the salad jars is copy the avocado recipe and added black beans, then portioned everything out. An array of colors is always a good sign of a variety of nutrients. Check out the avocado bowl recipe in previous post to see what ingredients I used. It’s basically:
- red onion, cherry tomatoes, corn, mango, quinoa, avocado, fresh spices and herbs, lime, and black beans.
Mason jar salads are truly a genius idea. The most important part of the layering is making sure the dressing and greens never touch. Keeping them separate will help them keep in the fridge all week long and the sealed lid will make them stay fresh. Simply shake, pour on paper plate, and eat!
I’ve read articles about the best meal prepping ideas and foods and I really like the idea of giving some personal favorites for inspiration. Here is my list of my favorite foods to use when pre-prepping your foods.
Top 8 Easiest Foods to Meal Prep
1. Veggies: Raw veggies are great for snacking and adding to lunches for people of all ages. Easy to prep with minimal clean up, just chop, slice, and go.
- Carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, peppers, snap peas, celery, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes. Combine with your favorite hummus, nut butter, or make your own ranch dip with greek yogurt and a ranch seasoning packet.
- Pre-bag all your raw veggies into portions for the week. This could be in sandwich baggies or tupperware containers. The plus to using a container is having a solid bottom to blanch veggies in cold water keeping them as fresh as possible for you.
2. Fruit: Most fruit does not have to be cut ahead of time to be easily enjoyed so that makes it even better for us folks to include fresh fruit into our every day diet. In fact, some fruit should not be cut ahead of time to prevent browning. Keep track of what type of fruit, preparation method, and how much you want.
- Apple, orange, pear, peach, apricot, plum, cherries, grapes, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, bananas, ect. Sweet enough to eat alone, but adding your favorite nut butter would be a great combination.
- All fruit mentioned above could be eaten whole. Write down what you want to eat everyday for a week and buy enough for just that. Many people buy too much fresh produce when they shop and end up throwing half of it away because they can’t eat it fast enough. This prevents food waste and saves you money.
3. Your Greens. Making salads is obviously a staple in a healthy diet. Pre-washing, cutting, drying, and storing salad greens increases your chance of eating a salad every day.
- Kale, spinach, arugula, lettuce, swiss chard, ect. Store in a zip lock bag with a paper towel to help increase shelf life. Make sure to press out as much air as possible every time you reseal the bag.
- I store my greens with a little added lemon juice to keep the color bright and crisp. I usually seal them in an airtight container when I add lemon as a percaution. You never know when a bag can rip.
4. Healthy Breakfast. Everyone has heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day, well lucky for me it is my favorite as well. There are a ton of options you can make ahead of time so you can sleep the extra 30 minutes in the am. This is also a great way to never skip breakfast again.
- Overnight oats, quinoa breakfast bowls (quinoa is used in place of oats), chia bowls, egg white muffins, parfaits, baked goods like homemade granola, granola bars, or muffins. The choices are endless.
- I always make a large batch of chia seed to make chia bowls. I pre-protion it out into small containers and make a homemade super food mix kept in a separate container. In the morning, all I need to do is top with a handful of my superfood mix and i’m done.
5. Cooked Produce. cut up some of your favorite veggies toss a little bit of olive oil and herbs over them and wrap in foil to bake. If you are already using the oven for a different purpose, you might as well pre-cook veggies for the week to kill two birds with one stone. The best part about this is you can walk away and do other things while they cook!
- Zucchini, summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, ect. Add to your salads throughout the week, eat as a side dish for dinners, or use in main courses.
- When in season, my favorite thing to cook is spaghetti squash, the yield is high and it is filling even on its own. Adding a 3 oz portion to your lunch along with a salad is plenty.
6. Whole Grains. Some grains cook fairly quickly like quinoa, but can be time consuming to do everyday. Make a large batch of your favorite grains on Sunday to add to your meals throughout the week.
- Quinoa, brown rice, farro, buckwheat, amaranth, ect. pre-portion ahead of time or keep cooked grains in a seperate container and scoop out a cup to add to your meals when need be.
- Try making your own flat breads, loaves of bread, and tortillas with grains to use all week long. They are easier then you think. I will be posting a recipe for a healthy homemade pizza dough soon so keep an eye out for it.
7. Quick Snacks. Keeping healthy snacks on hand is key. In life, things do not always go according to plan, I believe the saying is, shit happens! Well sometimes the only day you can prep is not avaliable leaving you unprepared for the week. Keeping some healthy snacks around the house can help you avoid making poor food choices.
- Nuts, seeds, homemade spreads/dips/pestos, unbuttered popcorn, superfoods like goji berries, cacao nibs, granola.
- One of my favorites, despite others opinion is quest bars. Those are my go to snack that can replace my breakfast, lunch, or dinner it unexpected situations.
8. Protein. Eating plant protein is extremely healthy for your body because they tend to come attached to many other vital nutrients your body will thank you for. If meat is your thing, why not pre-prep it for the week. A lot of people already do this and I think it’s fantastic. Here are a few more ideas of lean meats you can add to your diet if you want to switch up the routine.
- Black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, great northern beans, lentils, black-eyes peas, cannellini beans, chick peas, edamame, mung beans, navy beans, pinto beans, split peas, white beans, and superfoods like spirulina, raw protein powders, ect. If you buy canned, rinse in a strainer to rinse off excess sodium. Lean animal proteins include chicken, salmon, chicken sausages, 100% all natural beef, and hard boiled eggs.
- Buy bags of uncooked beans or legumes to cook all at once. Portion out what you will use for the week and freeze the rest for later use. Use the prepped animal proteins for salads, sandwiches, wraps, pitas.
The point of meal planning is to eat healthy, affordably, and conveniently. The only way you can become healthy is by eating healthy. If you are interested in a personalized meal plan contact me under the “Contact” tab. Stay focused on your health with MyNutritionVision!
❤ Rebecca Raymundo, RD, LDN