Let’s face it, trying to eat healthier can sometimes feel a little overwhelming, especially when we aren’t used to having to shop and prepare healthier meals in a consistent manner. The kitchen can seem a little intimidating at times and the thought of having to slave over slicing and dicing can all too often persuade us to abandon our carefully selected healthy groceries and order take-out instead. Rest assured, there are manageable ways to stick with your healthy meal plan without all the stress of meal prep.
Follow the 3 Ps of Healthy and Easy Meal Prep …
1 | PLAN
Much like most busy tasks in our day, having a plan in place helps us to be more efficient with our time and our energy. The same can be said for meal planning. Start with selecting easy and healthy meals that you’d like to have for the upcoming week. Follow the recipes we provide for you as a guide each week, or adjust them to suit your flavor and dietary preferences. This will be your roadmap for your weekly grocery shopping venture, for your kitchen prep, and for your ease of time. Plan to have staples as part of frequent meals. Let’s say you enjoy the flavor and ease of using baked chicken in several meals each week. A staple item like this can go quite a long way, where it can be added to a morning omelet, your lunch salad, soups, stews, casseroles, stir fry, and more! Or how about adding quinoa or brown rice to these very same dishes for some additional fiber and plant-based protein? Maybe you love the flavor and benefits of tomatoes and begin to plan how to use them fresh in salads, as raw snacks, or to cook a delicious at-home pasta sauce. Plan to have these favorite items on hand at all times to save on time, money, and the stress of having to plan too many complicated meals for the week.
Tip #1: Create a Shopping List that includes Staple, Occasional, and Rarely Foods
2 | PREP
Once you’ve finished your grocery shopping, it’s helpful to prepare some of your foods right away to save on time and energy later. Oftentimes, having cut fresh fruits and vegetables on hand is just what we need to avoid snacking on processed and unhealthy foods such as chips, cookies, and candy. Trying to incorporate more salads into your daily diet? Why not make a large bowl of fresh lettuce, spinach, or mixed greens and have the additional goodies (e.g., sliced mushrooms, cooked salmon, grated carrots, tomatoes, etc.) packaged separately in sandwich bags and ready to compliment your tasty greens? When you are ready to serve and eat the salad, simply add the additional foods, some light dressing or olive oil, and voilà—a beautiful and healthy salad!
Use the example below for a way to get ready for your next family feast:
- Cut green, red and yellow peppers
- Diced onion
- Minced garlic
- Sliced baked or grilled chicken
- Shredded romaine lettuce
- Shredded low-fat cheese
- Portioned plain Greek yogurt (use as a substitution for sour cream)
- Corn or whole grain tortillas
- Optional: cooked brown rice or quinoa, cooked corn, cooked black, pinto, or kidney beans, cilantro, and lime
*Tip #2: After cutting each ingredient, place into individual containers or sandwich bags to have ready for later use. When it is time to cook, each ingredient can easily be thrown into a pan and will be ready-to-serve in less time!
- Pre-wash berries and have ready-to-eat
- Have baby-peeled carrots, sliced cucumber, broccoli, and cauliflower crowns on hand
- Dice low-fat cheese and serve with fresh grapes for a mid-day snack
- Keep hard-boiled eggs on hand for a high quality protein snack—eat as is or add to salads
*Tip #3: For a quick snack to fill you up, cut an avocado in half, sprinkle with a little sea salt, pepper, and lemon juice and eat fresh! Feeling a little daring? Sprinkle with powdered garlic, chili pepper, or paprika for some extra flavor.
3 | PRESERVE
One very important part of the 3 Ps is to ensure you are preserving your prepared foods in a manner where they are easily accessible, remain fresh, and ensure you are more likely to use them for healthy meal preparation. Some helpful tips include:
- Prepare freezer-friendly foods—Meals such as soups, stews, chilis, and casseroles generally preserve well and are easy to reheat for future meals. When you do opt for these freezer-friendly foods, prepare larger quantities that store easily in your freezer. Broths and smoothies can be stored easily in ice-cube trays. Burritos and freshly prepared lean meat or veggie burgers are also freezer-friendly foods to keep on hand and later re-heated.
- Keep a cooler bag on hand for taking meals with you on the go. Instead of tempting yourself with fast food while driving in your car, riding the bus, or walking down the street, keep healthier treats with you at all times. Things like trail mix, peeled oranges, sliced apples, and snap peas are great for those times on the go or when you are just in a hurry and need a little snack.
- Invest in portion control and sturdy containers—there’s nothing worse than having your soup spill out from a poorly made plastic container or to work so diligently on maintaining healthy eating habits only to ruin them by placing too much food in the container, leading to overeating later in the day. Opt for portion-control containers with tightly sealed lids and keep fresh with ice packs or use a refrigerator where possible.
- Use mason jars—these jars are not only great for storing jams and jellies, but come in handy when taking healthy smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt on the road. You can even keep things such as salads, dips, and cut fruits in veggies in them for easy access.