Do you meal prep? If you're following a specialized diet, don't have time to cook every day, or are looking to eat clean without having to pay for a food-delivery service, then meal prepping is for you. The premise behind meal prepping is to take one or two days a week and prepare all of your food for the next three to four days. You can prep just one meal (dinner) or all three meals and snacks ahead of time. The key to successful meal prepping is having a PLAN.
FAILING TO PLAN IS PLANNING TO FAIL
Rule number one: Make a plan. It's far easier to be successful when you have a plan to follow. Take one day and sit down and plan out all your meals for the week. If you don't mind leftovers, then meal prepping will be a breeze. But if your taste buds require variety, then our mix-and-match plan (plus a whole lot of spices) will be perfect for you.
Here are the basics to planning any meal: pick a protein, one or two vegetables and a carb (starch or fruit). Then consider any seasonings and sauces you will need to jazz things up. You can only handle plain chicken and steamed broccoli for so long. And don't forget to add in some healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, hemp seeds and walnuts.
Once you've settled on the menu for the week, make your grocery list. This will help keep you organized and focused when you are food shopping and leaves little room for items to accidentally slip into you cart. Stock up on plenty of fruit, vegetables, protein, starches, dairy, nuts and seeds. It's better to have too much than not enough food.
Now's the time to rummage through your cabinet full of plastic containers and see how many you have and if you can find all the matching lids. Purchasing a new set of containers, especially ones of the same size, makes stacking in the fridge much easier than trying to play Tetris with them. It is helpful to have a few sizes that can accommodate either meals or snacks. The 24 oz. containers (square or rectangle) are great for lunches and dinners, while the ½- or 1-cup size is better for snacks. Snack-size zip-top baggies are great for making your own nut/seed/dried fruit combos. Plus, these bags offer built-in portion control.
COOKING IT ALL UP
Set aside one or two days a week to cook up big batches of food. For example, we like to cook on Sunday for the whole week, which leaves us with the weekends to go out and be more flexible with our meals. Some people like to cook twice a week and make enough food for three or four days and then cook again for another three or four days.
1. Depending on how many meals you plan to make, cook up all of your protein at the same time. For example, make a batch of turkey burger patties while the chicken breasts are cooking in the oven. If you are cooking up five chicken breasts, season each one with a different blend of spices to keep you from getting bored with what you eat. If you are vegetarian or like to include some meatless meals, cook up a batch of beans or lentils, or bake up some extra-firm organic tofu.
2. Vegetables can be raw (salad), steamed, stir-fried or roasted. If you are cooking your vegetables, make sure to cut them into same-size pieces, so that they will be done cooking at approximately the same time. Roasting vegetables brings out the natural sweetness in them, making it our favorite cooking method. Make sure to add some fresh or dried herbs and healthy oil (coconut, olive) to maximize flavor.
3. Grains can be cooked up once for the whole week. A pot of quinoa, brown rice or amaranth will last for five days. Bake up sweet potatoes, butternut squash or spaghetti squash at the same time you are cooking your chicken in the oven.
4. Do you have a slow cooker (a.k.a., crockpot)? You can put everything in there and let it do the cooking for you. It's also great for making oatmeal.
5. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day as it jump-starts your metabolism and gives your body and brain the fuel it needs to function. Plus, it helps curb cravings later in the day, which will make it easier to meet your calorie goals. You can make mini-frittatas in muffin tins, bake up batches of high-protein muffins, get your overnight oats soaking in the fridge, or whip up a batch of high-protein pancakes and portion them out into baggies and refrigerate or freeze them until you're ready to use them.
Here are a couple of examples on how to use the helpful Mix-and-match graph (below) when meal prepping.
Breakfast: Oats + Yogurt + Berries + Chia Seeds. Prepare a big batch of overnight oats in a slow-cooker that is enough to last a few days. Each morning add in other ingredients.
Lunch/Dinner: Turkey Burgers + Quinoa + Roasted Vegetables. Grill turkey burger patties (make enough for a few extra meals), cook a pot of quinoa and roast at least two different vegetables.