Meal Prep: Your Strategy to Eat with Confidence
One of the main nutrition questions that we have been fielding since social distancing was instated was “How can I avoid mindlessly or stress snacking while I am constantly at home?” A simple answer would be to provide healthy snacks, strategies to avoid snacking, discussing snacking behavior, etc. However, this creates a mindset completely focused around eating food NOT in the form of meals, which is how we should consume the majority of our nutrients. The most holistic approach for healthy food at home is implementing easy, weekly well-rounded meal prep.
Go In with a Plan
Maintaining a plan provides you with a sense of security and confidence. The uncertainty surrounding nutrition leads to poor habits, consequently creating mind fog, decreased energy, and poor health. Here is a compilation of tips and tricks for seamless meal prep no matter your goals.
- Know your schedule for the week ahead: Not only are we discussing being prepared in your meals, but we are also including the organization around your life. Understanding how much time you have in the upcoming week dictates how much meal prep is necessary, your nutritional needs, and coordination with others around you. For example, the duration of your workday sets the number of meals to pack. A healthcare worker on a 12-hour shift may need to bring lunch and dinner, whereas the standard nine-to-five employee brings lunch and a balanced snack. Consider any travel, intensity and duration of workouts, and upcoming special events.
- Establish that meal prep is in your routine, not something that you need to “fit in”: Integrate the amount of time required for grocery shopping and cooking into the weekly schedule outlined in step 1. If one afternoon full of cooking seems daunting, space it out to two days. I recommend using Sunday and Thursday.
- Keep it simple: Meal prep menus are not the time to create an extravagant dish. Reserve those for the weekend when you have time to slow down, share this activity with your family or friends. Know what your staple meals are, then rotate through a new recipe every couple of weeks to create variety.
- Have a standard grocery list: create a list that you can easily remember or maintain on your phone or the refrigerator to enable you to keep stock of what’s in the kitchen inventory. An example of the “standard grocery list” is below. From this list, you can create an exponential variety of meals!
- 2-3 protein sources
- 2-3 types of fruit
- 3-4 pre-cut, fresh, or vegetables
- 1 bag of leafy greens
- 1 quick-cook whole grain
- 1-2 healthy fats
- 1 bag of complex starch (potatoes)
- Use kitchen appliances/tools that make bulk easier: Items like air fryers, pressure cookers, and crock pots are game changers when you are short on time. They are versatile, enabling you to cook all types of foods and many one-pot meals. One of my favorite quick tips is that you can cook chicken from frozen in the Instant Pot/pressure cooker. It’s also my favorite way to make a big batch of steel-cut oats for the entire weeks’ breakfasts.
- Learn what a balanced meal looks like: Your meals should consist of a protein, a form of complex carbohydrate depending on your energy needs, and plenty of vegetables, with some healthy fats. These are building blocks – from these, create lists of food groups you like, then mix and match! Buddha bowls are a great strategy to implement this!
- Cook in batches: Prepare large amounts of the building blocks above. Double your meats, carbohydrates, and vegetables, then add spices and herbs to taste. Storing these pieces in large containers then dividing into individual servings throughout the week also saves space in your refrigerator!
- Have containers you LIKE and are high-quality: Ideally, select stainless steel or glass containers to protect your food from plastic. If you do choose plastic, go for BPA free. Amazon has a great selection of glass containers that are microwave, dishwasher, and oven safe!
- Start with a clean cooking space: Physical clutter is mental clutter, creating stress. Meal prep should be easy, streamlined, and make your life easier. Before you start cooking, tidy up the kitchen, put dishes away, and get rid of that mail you dropped on the counter.
- Maintain an organized kitchen: This includes the inside of your refrigerator, the cabinets, and pantry. Knowing where things are and how much is there contributes to clearing your mental space and making cooking efficient.
- Prepare multi-purpose foods: Write meal plans in which ingredients overlap: the quinoa you make in the beginning of the week can be put into a grain & vegetable salad for lunch on 3 days,, then be used in a curry dish later on for dinner for several other days.
If you’d like to learn meal prep strategies hands-on, reach out to us for an initial consultation and a customized plan! We can’t wait to work with you.