Who doesn’t want to save money, lose weight, look better, and feel healthier and happier? What if you could accomplish all of that by adding one simple, time-saving step into your weekly routine? Would you believe it? Healthy meal prep is the key to simplifying your evening routine, giving you more time to spend with loved ones or doing activities you enjoy, and improving the health of you and your family.
You might be wondering how healthy meal prep can save you time and whether it is difficult. The truth is, prepping healthy meals is simple and can be quite fun if you enjoy cooking and experimenting with bold, new flavors. Even if you don’t, meal prepping is for you, because it cuts down the frustrating time you spend deciding what you want to eat, sitting in traffic on your way to shop for ingredients, cooking the meal, and cleaning afterward. Read on to discover how meal prepping can improve your life today.
The primary downfall of individuals who want to start healthy meal prep is apathy or laziness. There is nothing wrong with that. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or the primary breadwinner, you work hard every day. By the time you come home from work or have settled down your children, you are famished and cannot motivate yourself to wash, peel, dice or chop, and prepare the ingredients for a healthy meal.
Meal Planning and Prep
Even if you are known amongst your friends as the spontaneous one who flies by the seat of your pants, healthy meal prep has its advantages. You do not need to commit to eating low-carb eggplant parmesan with a spinach and strawberry salad 10 days from now.
Breakfast is normally the easiest meal of the day to meal prep because most people are creatures of habit. Do you already eat the same thing for breakfast every day, or at least on weekdays when you have to rush off to work or get the kids to school? Quick, cheap, filling and nutritious breakfast ideas include hot cereal (oatmeal) sprinkled with seeds or fresh fruits. If you are feeling adventurous, you may want to try a sandwich made of two whole wheat toast slices with an egg and half of an avocado.
For many people, lunch is not the primary meal of the day, so this meal tends to be
pretty simple. Examples include homemade frozen burritos, wraps or sandwiches with lean meat and plenty of fresh produce. Leftover chili, casserole, or stir fry from the night before are also quick and easy ideas.
Try affixing a small notepad or whiteboard to your refrigerator with the 7 days of the week. Decide which protein you wish to center the meal around. This may be lentils, eggs, falafel, quinoa, roast chicken, or tuna. Then, determine which vegetables and starches you want to accompany your proteins. Let’s say you plan to have meatballs Tuesday night. Would you rather have a meatball sandwich or spaghetti and meatballs with an Italian salad?
If you are having rotisserie chicken for dinner, do you want mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, or potato salad? If you store prepped meat in the freezer, it is easy to look at your refrigerator door and see you need to put the roast beef in the fridge to thaw before work so you can make roast beef sandwiches for work the next day.
How to Avoid Waste
Cost is a significant concern for those considering a new, healthy diet. Fortunately, minimizing waste goes a long way in cutting costs. Healthy meal prep plays a huge role in accomplishing this common goal. When trying to eliminate waste, remember that your freezer is your friend. Nearly everything can be frozen, including proteins, such as cooked lentils and beans, pre-made falafel, leftover shredded meat, and fish and other seafood. Fruit for smoothies, puddings, or snacks can be frozen, including berries, mangoes, bananas, and cherries.
The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Meal Prep
Every effective healthy meal prep starts with a meal plan. On whatever day of the week that works best for you and your family, set time aside to plan a dinner menu for the coming week. Try online resources such as AllRecipes for inspiration. You can search by ingredients you already have on hand or types of food your whole family can agree on, such as chili recipes, slow cooker recipes, or pasta dishes.
Experts recommend buying all the ingredients for your week’s meals at once to save time and money at the grocery store and to help keep you accountable and motivated. Try to organize your shopping list by grocery store aisles such as dairy, produce, deli, or canned fruits and vegetables to make shopping even easier.
Batch Cook Your Meals
Spend quality time bonding with your children or significant other while prepping for the coming week’s meals. Prepare staples such as hard-boiled eggs, pre-cut vegetables, rice, beans, or potato salad. This will save you a lot of time and clean-up effort on hectic weeknights when you have to rush after work to pick the kids up from school and drop them off at their soccer practice and piano recital. Even prepping for Monday’s dinner may be enough to give you the energy to prep Tuesday’s dinner after you clean up Monday night.
Make Your Own Freezer Meals
As we mentioned earlier, you would be hard-pressed to find something that could not be frozen. Dishes centered around ground beef such as meatballs and meatloaf freeze very well and sometimes taste better as leftovers. Slow-cooker meals, casseroles, stews, and soups also make great homemade freezer meals.
There are many ways you can make your own freezer meals. You can make a giant meal in a crockpot and save the whole thing in a large container or two. Alternatively, you can store each ingredient for a full meal in its own freezer bag and use a marker to note the quantity, date prepared, and ratios for making meals.
Keep Your Kitchen Well-Stocked
Try to keep staples in your kitchen at all times. This way, if you planned for tuna salad for dinner, but the kids decide they want tuna casserole, you have plenty of pasta and veggies on hand to accommodate their wishes. Keep plenty of fruits and veggies in your freezer, pantry, or fridge for easy snacking or a spontaneous salad to accompany your healthy meal prep.
Furthermore, you may want to keep staples such as milk, baking powder, eggs, flour, sugar, butter, and oil in your kitchen so you can bake protein bars or other snacks. With water and flour, you can make anything from pasta to tortilla shells and tortilla chips. This way, if you decide you want a burrito or wrap, you can make your own wrap and avoid having to go to the store for one item.
Cook Nearly from Scratch
You don’t have to cook completely from scratch to eat healthily. There is nothing wrong with purchasing hard-boiled eggs, pre-made guacamole, pre-washed or pre-chopped vegetables, or a rotisserie chicken. The control you have left in your kitchen allows you to prepare a much healthier, more affordable meal than you could get eating out.
Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with eating out, either, as long as you’re informed of the nutrition in the meal you choose. Luckily, most restaurant chains provide nutrition facts for each of their menu items, and your waitress can help you make a healthy choice if you need advice.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Organize your kitchen. Know where your canned vegetables, canned meats, canned fruits, and dry pasta is. Keep all your dry baking supplies on one shelf. The less time you spend searching for the evening’s ingredients, the more time you have to spend with your family and the easier your healthy meal prep will be. Furthermore, before you start cooking, make sure you have a clean kitchen and pull out all the ingredients you’ll need for the evening.
This process can go by even faster if you prepare the veggies or buy them prepared and prepare the meat in advance or buy prepared meat. If you are too tired to clean the kitchen after cooking, have another family member do it and offer to rotate who cooks and cleans. The kids can make whole wheat grilled cheese and fruit salad one night while you make lasagna the following night. Many hands make light work.
With the help of healthy meal prep, healthy eating is easy and fun. You don’t have to swear off meat and dairy forever. You don’t have to buy fruits and veggies you’ve never seen or with names you can’t pronounce. Make meal planning a family affair. Whether you graduated from culinary school or lived off of ramen noodles in college, you will find that with a little time and forward thinking, you can save yourself a great deal of time each week, eat healthier, and feel better.
Featured photo via Flickr