Yep, It Can Actually Be Simple:
Meal. Prep. These two words are a source of anxiety for some but pride for others. Healthy Meal Prep might seem even harder. Why is there such a range of emotions revolved around simply planning some food choices for the week?
It can seem daunting if you haven’t tackled it before, but once you form your own strategy and – this part is key – actually just DO it, it’s easy to see how beneficial and simple prepping healthy meals can really be.
I go to work Monday through Friday (no, I don’t yet have my dream job of blogging all day from home) and my schedule usually requires me to bring both my breakfast and lunch with me. I do have some markets and restaurants nearby that I can grab a meal or snack from, but I find I feel better and save money (not to mention it all tastes better) when I use my healthy meal prep skills to plan ahead and bring food for my busy day.
Where to Start
The key to a healthy diet – no matter if you’re Vegan, Paleo, Mediterranean, low-sugar, whatever – is lots of fruits and vegetables. They are overflowing with nutrients – the more colorful your diet the better because you’re getting a greater range of nutrients and beneficial compounds, like antioxidants. Sadly, a certain fruity candy company took the perfect slogan to embrace this healthy dietary habit and applied it to a not-so-healthy product. Do yourself a favor and reclaim this concept – eat a rainbow of produce and your body will thank you!
Your individual health needs may dictate which types of produce are better for you, but in general, these are such important foods for every body. When you’re at the grocery store you should be filling up in the produce section! You should also be focusing on produce when it comes to your healthy meal prep efforts.
It takes about 2 minutes to chop a big bunch of rainbow carrots into smaller carrot sticks, 1 minute to chop celery stalks into smaller twigs, and 30 seconds to cut a cucumber or zucchini into nice little rounds. Apples, bananas, sugar snap peas, tangerines, radishes, strawberries – these are all ready to eat as they are (after washing of course) and can easily be snagged on the go. Are you getting the picture? It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to eat well! Plus, not only can you eat these raw but you’ll also have all sorts of ingredients ready to roast, grill or sauté whenever you find yourself ready to cook.
You might be one of those people who say they hate eating vegetables. Sometimes it can take eating a food several times for your taste buds to adjust. I know many people don’t grow up eating as many vegetables as they should, whether it’s a small amount per day or a very slim variety, which makes it harder to jump into healthy eating as an adult.
If you just really aren’t digging them, here are some other options to help up your produce intake: sprinkle fruits or veggies with cinnamon, nutmeg, cacao powder, or even vanilla bean powder, dip any vegetable at all in some hummus, dip or drizzle your produce with nut butters, tahini, lemon juice, lime juice or fresh orange juice, and try spices like garlic, oregano, smoked paprika, or chili powder to give these healthy snacks a new kind of kick.
It doesn’t have to take long to prepare some delicious, fresh, produce. For successful healthy meal prep you just have to plan your grocery list accordingly (then actually buy what you wrote on it) and put aside a few minutes to chop and stash. Feel free to change it up each week so you don’t get bored. If you’re having a busy, stressful day and you need to grab something fast, you’re so much more likely to reach for these healthy options when they’re ready and waiting in your fridge – another trick is to store them in a glass container on the top shelf, so these are the first thing you see when you open the fridge feeling hangry. If you’re like me, you also won’t want your effort or money to go to waste by not eating them. I can’t stand throwing away food!
A great hack for the busy person is utilizing your market’s prepared produce section. Buy prewashed lettuces or spinach or even one of those big platters of precut and prewashed fruits and veggies – it’s more expensive but if this works for you and helps you eat more of these nourishing foods then, by all means, do it! You can save money by not buying junk food or eating out so much ☺ My new favorite is precut jicama sticks – they are so crisp and refreshing plus their high water content makes them really filling.
Nuts and seeds are some other awesome, easy options for healthy eating. They are super satiating since they are full of healthy fats, fiber, and protein. I always keep jars of various nuts and seeds in my fridge (so they stay fresh as the oils in them can go rancid) which I can grab a handful of or scoop into a jar and take on the road. Almond butter is another major staple in our house, it’s great for dipping fruits and veggies and it’s easy to divide into little jars for the week. Just watch out for nuts or nut butters that have been roasted with oil and heavily salted or sweetened, this takes away from their nutrition super powers.
My Typical Daily Diet
If you’ve read many of my posts you know I love baking, so I actually find it fun and relaxing to bake something up on the weekend – and I LOVE having a yummy baked good to grab in the morning when I head out to work. Usually, I’ll bake something on a Sunday and we have it for breakfast that day, as well as the rest of the week. My Paleo Pumpkin Muffins with Figs and Banana Nut Breakfast Cookies are perfect for this very purpose, plus they’re damn tasty! I made mini Zucchini Bread muffins for this post (from the LeeLalicious Coconut Flour eBook) and they were great with a couple hard-boiled eggs and fruit. Hard-boiled eggs a fantastic source of protein, they’re travel-friendly, and they are a pretty hands-off food when it comes to preparing them. Throw all these delicious options in a bowl and you’ve got a complete breakfast on the go!
Another great meal prep option for breakfast is overnight oats or chia pudding – eat a lot of chia pudding in the summer time especially. I’ll make a big batch of this on a Sunday and then just pour some into a smaller bowl with fruit and nuts each morning. I also like this method because I can store one big bowl in the fridge instead of a ton of smaller containers.
For lunch, I will often eat lots of chopped veggies – again, I usually keep them in a large container and then pack enough for the day into a smaller one – and eat these with some hummus. I might add in some salsa, a piece of fruit, some seed crackers, or some coconut flakes if I’m still hungry. A little bite of dark chocolate never hurt either…. After eating this kind of lunch I have so much more energy to go back to work while still feeling full and satisfied. My absolute favorite store-bought hummus, the green stuff in the pic below, is from Majestic and it’s sprouted, making it easier to digest. This one is their Jalapeno Cilantro and it is the creamiest thing ever.
My absolute favorite store-bought hummus, the green stuff in the pic below, is the Sprouted Jalapeno Cilantro from Majestic Garlic. It is AMAZING and the fact that it’s sprouted makes it easier to digest while the nutrients are more bioavailable.
I am a huge salad eater, I eat it every day and sometimes 2-3 times a day. Usually, I’ll make one big salad over the weekend so during the week it’s ready and waiting to pack for lunch or add to my dinner creations. I love playing with different combinations of greens- sometimes I’ll use lacinato kale with romaine, other days red lettuce with butter lettuce and purple cabbage, you get the point. Salads are so versatile and you can really play into whatever the season has to offer, try tossing in herbs and different fruits and veggies, or making a fun dressing, which can make the same base of greens into a totally different dish. There’s a lot you can do to keep it interesting!
Most weeknights my husband and I eat salad with a protein and some other type of cooked vegetable– this is an easy template for lots of different styles of meals and is a breeze to throw together. Making a big batch of quinoa or brown rice over the weekend is also a smart way to meal prep, you can add different seasonings or sauces each night to mix it up.
When it comes to protein, I don’t have time to cook meat ever night. We’ve found that buying a plain (salt and pepper only) rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods will last us for several meals and ends up being pretty cost effective (Wednesdays are discount chicken days!). The first night we usually have it “as is” over some salad, the next day I might make a taco bowl or some stir fry with it, and sometimes there’s even enough leftover for a Chicken Waldorf Salad. The remaining bones and skin are ideal for making a homemade bone broth.
As for other quick meat options, ground bison or turkey can be cooked up with some garlic, onion, peppers, salt and pepper and used in tons of other dishes (like marinara sauce and black bean pasta) throughout the week.
An important part of healthy meal prep is making your time in the kitchen count – make more than you plan to eat at that meal so you have leftovers ready for the next day.
I also love the ease of low-sodium canned beans and lentils – simply throw them on your salad, mix with grains and veggies, or layer over a baked sweet potato with some steamed broccoli or cauliflower – done and delectable.
Usually, the biggest obstacle to successful healthy meal prep is psychological. Don’t psych yourself out about it! The more you build it up to feel like a huge pain, the scarier it will be. Start small, maybe just plot your breakfasts or lunches first, then each week slowly expand your meal prep goals. If you plan a list and approach it as a simple way to make the rest of your week easier and healthier, it will feel good and you’ll fly through it. Just remember you’re helping your future self and taking care of your health (and your family’s) in the process.
Most of the containers I use are glass containers. They’re available in tons of shapes and sizes plus glass is always a cleaner and greener option compared to plastic. For stuff like chia pudding I enjoy the 4 cup round ones, for chopped veggies I like rectangular ones, and for things like almond butter or nuts I bought a case of small tiny mason jars, which are great for all sorts of other fun recipes, like my Peppermint Patties in a Jar!
You can use these links to find some helpful meal prep containers on Amazon. As part of the Amazon Affiliates program, I do receive a small commission for anything you buy through them but this is at no extra cost to you:
Snapware Total Solution 18-pc Glass Food Storage Set, BPA Free
Ball Mason 4oz Quilted Jelly Jars, Set of 12
Anchor Hocking 4-Cup Round Glass Food Storage Containers, Set of 4
Anchor Hocking 6-Cup Rectangular Food Storage Container
Stasher Reusable Silicone Food Bag, Aqua
Dakine Party Cooler Tote, 9 Print Options
If you’re still struggling with healthy meal prep, or general health challenges, and want some one-on-one guidance please contact me! Especially when you’re tackling a dietary change, like going gluten-free, deciding what to eat might feel overwhelming. As a Clinical Nutritionist, I can assess your diet, health goals, and preferences to create meal plans and shopping lists that are customized to your needs. I try to make it fun and I promise to make it tasty. Check out my Work With Me page and shoot me an e-mail for more information, I’d love to help you!