Interested in giving meal prep a try? Here are some tips you might find helpful!
Meal preparation has gained a lot of attention over the past few years as a method to help us get nutritious meals on the table without spending hours in the kitchen every day. But does it deserve its hype?
Meal prepping is the concept of preparing whole meals (or even just parts of meals!) ahead of time. It potentially results in meal/food choices that better align with your preferences and nutritional goals, since you won’t have to rely on last-minute decisions about what to eat.
For some, “meal prep” is synonymous with restrictive, punitive diets. While I can understand where this comes from, I want to be very clear that the way I'm using this term in this post is simply the act of preparing and planning with food ahead of time for the purpose of creating more ease and peace with the never-ending task of feeding yourself (and your family, if applicable).
If you have been considering meal prepping, you have a great chance to give it a try now. As we are currently amid the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing is still recommended, which has affected our dynamic around food quite a bit. Most of us want to reduce the number of trips to the grocery store as much as possible, yet we are cooking at home most of the time. So, we need to make our trips to the store count now more than ever!
You might already be feeling overwhelmed with all that is currently on your plate as you have so many balls in the air between work, childcare, and home-schooling… I feel you! Adding meal prepping to this list may sound discouraging, but meal prepping without the diet mentality can ultimately save you a lot of time.
First, let me highlight some aspects of this technique. Then, you decide if it is a strategy that works for you. Remember that there are many ways to nourish yourself/your family and this is simply one of these various options.
Also, if you decide to start implementing it, resist the temptation of turning it into a diet. This is a tool to bring you peace and reduce the stress associated with mealtimes since you will know what you will be eating in the upcoming days. Even when you have a plan, you should feel free to adjust it to your likes, preferences, and needs of the moment. Practice flexibility!
MEAL PREP BENEFITS
It can save you money. Meal prepping can reduce the need for takeout or delivery orders. Also, have you gone to the grocery store just to buy some milk and eggs, and yet you ended up with a couple of bags full of other items as well? I have been there… several times! Fewer trips to the grocery store can help us save money as we tend to add items to our original shopping list once we are in the store.
It can save you time. Fewer trips to the store also save us time. Additionally, when meal prepping, most of the work is done ahead of schedule, so only a few steps are left when it is time to assemble the meals.
It yields a grocery list. Now is not the time to peruse the grocery store, so having a grocery list makes you more efficient when purchasing your groceries. Besides, it can reduce food waste.
It can increase food variety and contribute to more balanced eating habits. For instance, if you would like to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, having them already prepped and ready to eat can be very helpful.
It can reduce stress around mealtime, as mentioned above.
It can improve your cooking skills as it gives you a chance to develop new methods and techniques in the kitchen.
MEAL PREP METHODS
There is no right or wrong way to meal prep. The point here is to strategize so you can make part or the entire meal in advance. Below are some methods that are commonly used. You can also mix and match different methods!
Ready-to-be-used ingredients: Chop vegetables and fresh fruits or wash and dry salad greens for later in the week.
Make-ahead meals: You can make a larger meal, so you have extra portions for another day or two.
Individually portioned meals: This can be very helpful for lunches. Divide cooked food into individual containers and refrigerate them, so you have ready-to-go meals for the next few days.
Batch cooking: This is when you intentionally cook large amounts of versatile ingredients to be used later in the week. This can be done with grains, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, and meats. If you prefer not to pre-cook meats, consider marinating them on your prep day so they are ready on cooking day. Depending on the dish, you can also make enough to freeze for a different week.
MEAL PREP TIPS
Start small by making enough dinners for 2 or 3 days of the week.
Pick foods and meals you enjoy cooking and your family enjoys eating.
Consider themes or specific goals for different days of the week, since some structure can be very helpful. For example, Asian Wednesday or Fish Friday.
Plan and stick to a schedule. Pick a day on your calendar to prep your meals and commit to it.
Check your schedule. Look out for days you know you won’t have time to cook so you can make a larger meal the day before or start the slow cooker that morning, for example.
Prepare your kitchen and have a back-up plan. Write a list of proteins, vegetables, and grains, for example, and always keep foods from these categories in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer. If for some reason meal prepping doesn’t happen, you will be able to whip up a meal with no sweat by choosing options from each category.
Use your freezer whenever possible! Keep your freezer stocked up with veggies, fruits, seafood (such as tilapia fillets and shrimp), and meat (such as ground beef and meatballs). It is a great back-up plan and helps reduce food waste. I even stock up my freezer with all sorts of bread (artisan, flat, naan, and whole wheat).
Invest in the right storage containers. You will need appropriate containers to store all these foods. Glass containers are my favorite, but the silicone ones also do a great job. And don’t forget how versatile the Mason jars are!
Remember that you don’t have to do it all. Experiment to see what system works well in your schedule and what can set you up for success. The main goal here is to save you time throughout the week.
Here are some resources for recipe inspiration: