This quote is everywhere and it’s super annoying because it’s so true. Spontaneity is great but, how many spontaneous trips to the grocery store after work, when you’re starving and tired with everyone else in the world who’s starving and tired has ended up with a delicious healthy meal?
There’s one overachiever out there who’s like, “I do it all the time.” For the rest of us the answer is – zero.
A little weekend meal prep goes a long way not just for your health but for your sanity. There are two main meal prep “philosophies” if you will:
ONE: Double what you cook for dinner each night. Eat that meal again for breakfast and lunch the following the day. Cook a double batch of dinner again the next night.
TWO: Prep breakfasts, lunches and dinners over the weekend so that you can either grab-and-go or do minimal preparation for each meal during the week.
If you want to know more about philosophy number one, ask Google. I tried it in the past and it’s not for me.
If you want tips & tricks for philosophy number two, continue on.
I find that by taking a few hours on the weekend to plan, shop and cook, I am prepared with healthy meals regardless of what the week brings. Bonus, I don’t have to cook and do dishes every. single. day. These tips and tricks are all things I have learned over time from trial and error and frustration, which hopefully you can avoid.
Meal Prep Tips & Tricks
1. Have enough of the right containers.
The point of meal prepping is to streamline the process. You do not want to make a week’s worth of food to find out that 1) you don’t have enough containers to store all this delicious food –OR- 2) you have enough large storage containers but only a few small ones that fit in your lunch box so you scramble every morning to scoop food into containers and then have to wash those same containers every night.
Make your life easy and purchase a weeks worth of BPA-free, single serving containers. You may also want some large containers for dinner items if you eat dinner at home. I usually put breakfast and lunch in single-serving containers and leave dinner in large containers since I eat dinner at home.
I purchased a set of 16 single-compartment containers by Fit Packer from Amazon for about $20. There are all different kinds with different numbers of compartments. I don’t think you can go wrong as long as the containers you choose are BPA-free and dishwasher and microwave safe.
2. Have a few go-to recipe resources.
The goal of meal prep is to keep things simple. But simple food (think baked chicken, baked sweet potato, steamed broccoli) week in and week out will get old. You will revolt against your own meals. Not good. Instead, have a few go-to recipe resources. There are a million recipe websites, blogs, apps, and books. Find 3-5 resources with recipes that you enjoy, are relatively simple and fit with your goals. Here are my faves:
3. Choose multipurpose proteins.
When choosing recipes and planning what to make for the week, choose proteins that can be cooked one way and used for multiple meals.
- Baked chicken with salt and pepper can be used for chicken lettuce wraps, this Buddha bowl and on top of salads.
- Shredded chicken from the crockpot can be used to make chicken salad, BBQ chicken casserole, or chicken enchiladas verde.
4. Choose different cooking modalities.
Unless you’re a hoarder, you probably don’t have 3 crockpots. Keep this in mind when you are choosing foods and recipes for the week. Using several modalities at the same time will make meal prep much more efficient.
For example if your meal plan is:
- Egg cups with avocado and berries
- Salad with chicken, asparagus and other veggies
- Buddha bowl with chicken, sweet potatoes and cauliflower rice
- Ropa Vieja with cauliflower rice and
- Bowl with sautéed ground beef with onion, garlic, okra and canned diced tomatoes over cauliflower rice
- egg cups
- sweet potatoes
- chicken breasts
- chuck roast for ropa vieja
- Stove Top
- Sautee cauliflower rice
- Sautee ground beef with garlic and onions, then add tomatoes and okra
- Steam asparagus
- Wash and chop fruits and veggies for salads and snacks
- Whisk together dressing for Buddha bowl and salad
5. Include pre-prepared items.
By pre-prepared, I do not mean Lean Cuisines or Lunchables. I mean healthy items that are prepped for you reducing the number of step you will have to take to get to the final product.
Trader Joe’s has lots of pre-prepared veggies like fresh or frozen cauliflower rice, frozen grilled asparagus, frozen fire-roasted peppers, fresh roasted sweet potatoes as well as frozen grilled chicken breasts and grass-fed burgers. Other grocers have more of these items available all the time. When choosing pre-prepared items be sure to review the ingredient list. The fewer ingredients the better. Be sure to avoid high fructose corn syrup, added sugar and refined seed oils like canola oil aka rapeseed oil.
If you eat legumes, Eden Organics beans are soaked overnight, prepared with kombu and stored in BPA-free cans. Soaking legumes overnight is a traditional preparation technique that increases nutrient availability and digestibility. Kombu is a seaweed that is used in legume preparation to increase minerals and decrease toots from the magical fruit.
6. Get saucy.
Sauces and dressings can transform the same simple ingredients into several different and delicious meals. Here are a few I like:
- BBQ sauce
- Sunshine Sauce
- Hot sauce (Siracha, Louisiana, etc.)
- Coconut aminos (similar to soy sauce without the soy and gluten)
- Tessemae’s All Natural dressings and sauces
- Clean pasta sauce (no added sugar or refined seed oils)
- Stupid Easy Paleo sauces and seasonings
7. Double up on dinner.
No matter what you choose to make for dinner, make enough for two nights. You may have to double or triple a recipe in order to make two-nights worth depending on the size of your family. This way you can either prep 2-3 dinners on the weekend to be eaten during the week or you can prepare 1 dinner over the weekend, say on Sunday, eat it Monday and Tuesday and prepare another dinner on Wed for Wednesday and Thursday. Leftovers aren’t boring they’re your best friend!
8. Keep snacks simple.
Snacks should require minimal preparation beyond dividing them into single servings and storing them in containers or bags. Some simple snack ideas include: raw nuts and seed, cut up veggies, whole fruit, jerky, hardboiled eggs, raw cheese, or a smaller portion of breakfast or lunch.
9. Organize your grocery list.
Save time at the store by organizing your grocery list according to department. Running back and forth from one end of the store to the other may help you get your steps in but it wastes time that would be better spent cooking. I break my list up into produce, dairy/meat, dry, frozen and home. Set yours up in whatever way will help you navigate your store quickly.
10. Don’t forget frozen fish.
Fish is a great source of protein and healthy fats including omega-3s. Stores like Trader Joe’s sell wild and wild-caught frozen fish at very reasonable prices. Frozen fish can extend your meal prep to the end of the week. You do not want to keep fresh, uncooked protein in the fridge for 6 days before eating it but frozen fish will remain fresh and cooks quickly once defrosted. Put the frozen fish in the fridge the night before you plan to cook it to allow it to start defrosting. Once home from work, place the fish in cool water in the sink to defrost completely. Most fish can be seared in a hot pan with butter for 5-7 minutes per side. Voila, dinner!
11. Take a night off.
Treat yourself to a meal out or take-out once a week. Preparing meals for 6 nights a week is enough. You earned a break!
Do you have any meal prep tips & tricks?
Let me know if you have any questions, I’m always happy to chat.
Disclaimer: I am not a Registered Dietician or licensed medical doctor. I do not diagnose or treat disease, but instead make healthy lifestyle recommendations for balancing the body and promoting optimal wellness. No recommendation or comment made by me should be construed as being medical advice or diagnosis.
I am not affiliated with the companies of any of the products I recommend or link to. They are simply high-quality products that I choose to use.