A–Z Of Quick and Healthy Meal Prep
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Why Meal Prep & Plan?
The reason why you should meal prep is basically down to 3 main benefits:
The first reason you should meal prep is that if you have your meals planned in advance you won’t feel so overwhelmed about the prospect of cooking dinner.
And not feeling overwhelmed about the idea of cooking dinner means there’s a much higher chance of you actually doing so.
Indeed, having meal planned and got everything ready to go means that cooking meals is a cinch and something that can often be done within a few minutes.
Secondly, this prep and planning has the knock-on effect of you not throwing in the towel and ordering pizza, or some other quick and easy take-out option.
The health benefits of this are three-fold:
With a home-cooked meal it’s much easier to achieve a balanced meal with all 3 macronutrients; protein, carbs, fat.
This all but guarantees a meal with better nutrition.
Home cooked meals are generally also less fatty and lower calorie, so therefore easier for you to stay at a healthier weight over the long term.
Almost needless to say, but home cooked meals also cost a lot less.
You can also buy a bunch of stuff in bulk, which further saves money.
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So with the benefits now out of the way, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of meal planning.
The Best Kitchen Appliances for Meal Prep
While none of the following appliances are required, they’re handy tools and can really make the meal prep and planning process go much smoother.
A food processor will save you so much time, so if you plan to do a lot of chopping and dicing to prep your meals, a food processor is most definitely a worthy investment!
The little extra time and energy it requires to wash this thing is nothing compared to dicing piles of veggies.
You are probably no stranger to using a blender, but it has many uses aside from just making smoothies and margaritas.
Think about what it can chop up for your smoothies and it gives you a good idea of what this thing can do for other meal prep purposes.
It can also substitute for a food processor in a lot of cases.
Air Fryer & Pressure Cooker
Each of these work in different ways and for different purposes, so get one or both and you have even more little helpers in the kitchen for meal prepping.
Use the air fryer for healthier fried foods, like fries and potatoes, “fried” chicken or nuggets, and any type of rolled up food like taquitos.
Use the pressure cooker for chicken breasts and other meat, hardboiled eggs, and veggies.
Slow cookers are great. You can just throw in the ingredients, turn it on, and walk away and do other stuff.
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Healthy Meal Prep For The Week
Healthy meal prep for the week can seem challenging, but start with the fundamentals and it becomes a lot more simple.
Basics of Healthy Meal Prep
Healthy meal prep should be achieved by ensuring you balance nutrition. That is, have a good balance of nutrients:
Carbs can be fruits or vegetables as well as grains.
The type of fat you eat matters, and they should mostly be unsaturated, which can come from a variety of sources such as fish, avocado, oils, nuts, etc.
Aim for variety and a colorful plate.
After knowing the basics you then want to move onto some favorites you know your family enjoys, as already knowing the ingredients and cooking process will make it easier.
Use Current Ingredients
Don’t buy all new ingredients! Meal planning is easier and more cost effective when you can work from what you already have, whether that is herbs or seasonings, meat in the freezer, or milk and butter in the fridge.
Don’t forget leftovers can be used for different types of meals.
Have some essential ingredients and condiments to hand to make the process (and taste) be a lot nicer!
Meal prep and planning isn’t about creating a nice presentation or cooking something with exquisite taste. Save that effort for your next date with the in-laws.
Rather it’s about focusing on calories and macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat).
Unless you’re a fan of cooking then the cooking method you like the most is probably the best method to choose, but if you don’t know what you like then experiment with different cooking methods to find what you do like (or dislike the least).
Changing up how you cook can also help with the meal prep process as you can have multiple appliances going at once to cook different parts of your meals.
When making a meal prep plan, keep it simple and stick to weekly meals.
Trying to accommodate longer periods just increases the work, stress, inconvenience, and makes it more difficult to switch up your meals for a different taste and experience if you’re getting bored.
Prepping is the most vital part of meal planning. Prepping ensures you have everything in place in your fridge or freezer and all that’s left to do is heat it up.
Avoid Getting Bored with Your Meal Prep Ideas
The convenience and health benefits of meal prep and planning can be for nothing if we start to lose interest in our meals and become bored. After all, few of us are going to be content with eating boring food for long!
So it’s a good idea to stave off this boredom, and here’s some tips for doing just that.
Add In Color
Sounds like it might not work, but we typically eat with our eyes first, and so something as simple as a fresh dose of color can be all that’s needed to resume interest in our meals.
Colour can most certainly freshen up the appearance of our meals.
For example, focus your first two meals on greens. Then, around the middle of the week, go for reds or purples.
Spread the colours throughout the week.
Try Something New Each Week
For those who become bored quickly, you should try out one new recipe a week.
This is a great way to further enhance your creativity in the kitchen and keep your taste buds alive and excited.
The more recipes you have the greater the variety of your meal plans can be.
A quick and dirty way to make a meal more exciting is to add a different sauce to it.
Something as simple as a sauce can make the taste of your meal completely different.
Perhaps you cooked a lasagna on the weekend and most of the leftovers are gone so you don’t really have anything for the week.
However, that doesn’t mean that the last portion should just go to waste. Instead, you make a backup meal out of it.
Place the lasagna in the freezer. If at any point during your week you’re sick and tired of your current meals, then you have your backup meal—in this case, lasagna—to break up any monotony.
Meal Prep for Picky Eaters
Picky eaters can be challenging, so having strategies in place to try and tackle the problem can be helpful.
Let Picky Eaters Pick Their Healthy Food
The first thing to do is let the picky eater have more choices.
Of course, you don’t want them just eating pizza and cookies, which is likely what some would choose to eat if left to their own devices with everything.
But have them pick their own fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins out of the choices you give them.
The benefits of this are two-fold:
It makes them feel like they have more control over what goes in their meals, which sits well with them.
It gives you some peace of mind because you know they’re getting the most important nutrients whatever they choose.
Flavor Up The Less Desirable Food
The second thing to do is try and find new ways to make or flavor the foods they don’t really enjoy that much.
For example, steamed broccoli is a bit mushy and something many people don’t like. But if you roast broccoli with garlic and pepper it tastes like a completely different food.
Try different flavor combinations to get the vitamins you need from certain foods that aren’t someone’s favorite.
Experiment with New Recipes
Additionally, find new or exciting ways to cook foods you don’t easily go for. The web is full of stuff like this.
Vegetables are a common one, with myriad different ways to cook and recipes to try.
Try Custom Meals
The worst situation is when it feels like everyone in your family is a picky eater.
In this situation go for meal ideas that allow people to add their own toppings.
This also makes it less stressful for you.
For instance, with tacos, your family can easily add their toppings according to what they like.
The same applies to pizza, salads, and salad dressing.
Simplicity also counts when you are preparing a meal as a picky eater yourself. Go for simple meals with fewer ingredients to give you an easier time in the kitchen.
Healthy Meal Prep For Vegetarians
Eating a vegetarian diet can appear to be a great way to eat more healthy foods and lose weight, but if you don’t do it right then you’ll do it wrong and it’ll be less than healthy because you’ll be missing some important nutrients.
As mentioned above, a balance of your nutrients is important, but B-12 is one of those nutrients that you can often miss as a vegetarian if you don’t plan for it.
B-12 is found most often in meat products, but it’s also in foods like cereal, soy, and dairy products.
B-12 is an essential nutrient, so make sure you plan it in your meals.
If you don’t plan it in then at the very least ensure you should supplement for it.
Iron keeps your red blood and muscle cells healthy and remains a necessary part of a healthy diet.
Iron deficiency remains an issue with some vegetarian diets, and although it’s available from plant sources it’s not as bioavailable (harder for the body to absorb).
Iron can be had from the following sources:
Fortified cereals and grains
Dark, leafy greens
Seeds and nuts
Consuming vitamin C-based foods, such as oranges and tomatoes, alongside these foods will allow your body to absorb more of the iron.
If you’ve got lactose intolerance and so have given up lactose-based foods like milk and cheese, then you’ll need to find another way to get your calcium.
Calcium remains a key ingredient for strong bones and teeth, and a few excellent choices for increasing your calcium intake are:
Dark, leafy greens
Protein is important to build every cell in the body and mediate many bodily processes, and if you don’t eat sufficient protein then your body starts tearing down its own structures to supply the amino acids that it needs (starting with your skeletal muscle).
The effects of insufficient protein are insidious and can take years to manifest (especially in the young and healthy), but they can be pretty dire, such as a compromised immune system.
Fortunately, a wide variety of protein sources are available to the vegetarian:
Lentils and legumes
Fermented soy products
Nuts and nut butter
Hemp and chia seeds
Tofu is an excellent substitute for meat. It also takes on the flavour of the other ingredients around it and works well in a wide variety of traditional dishes as a meat substitute.
Remember, protein needs to be a complete protein otherwise you’re basically not getting it. If you don’t know how to do this on a vegetarian or vegan diet then educate yourself.
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Tips for Meal and Grocery Lists
As mentioned, convenience is one of the benefits of meal planning—it allows you to plan a week or more of meals ahead of time, often prepped and ready to go, so all you have to do is heat them up.
And you don’t get much more convenient than that, and is no doubt the leading reason that ready meals are so popular—couple of minutes in the mic and they’re done.
However, the idea of having planned and prepped meals is all well and good, but it’s missing half of the equation—that of having the stuff that’s actually going to be used, the stuff that will ensure you have agreeable tasting meals and you and your family have balanced nutrition.
Take Inventory First
This is the first step. You need to know what you already have.
Taking stock is good for severals reasons, such that you can plan meals based around ingredients you already have, and that it keeps you from adding an item that already exists in your cupboards.
Start with The Simplest Meals First
How and what you plan is very much an individualised thing. You may just plan your dinners or you may plan every meal of the day for every member of the family.
And to simplify the whole process you want to start with the simplest meals on your list.
For many people, this is breakfast. If you know you want omelet every day then you can write down the ingredients you need and be done with it.
Write down the amount of meals, the ingredients for the meals, and the amount of ingredients for the meals, otherwise you’ll run out of an ingredient and it’ll put a wrench in your meal planning.
For example, if you’re having more than one chicken dish then look at the amount you need for each and get a good total of how much chicken to pick up. This prevents multiple trips to the store in the middle of the week.
Work on Your Grocery List
This one is completely up to you, and some would say that it’s getting a bit obsessive, but it does help to organize your list.
You know what order you go into the store, whether you start in produce or do the deli and bakery first, so that is how your list should be ordered.
It can make shopping faster by allowing you to avoid aisles you don’t need, as well as making it easier not to overlook something as you’re just working your way down the list.
Have a General Consensus of Everyone’s Tastes
One of the most annoying things is when you cook a large meal, enough to have leftovers that carry you through the week, only to find out that no one likes it. It’s just time, money, and effort wasted.
Before you start looking or creating a recipe you should speak to your family about what they like and don’t like.
Be sure to include yourself in this interview.
Stick with Themes
Another recipe idea is to stick with a theme for certain days.
For example, Tuesdays can be taco or soup night. If you find doing this makes creating recipes easy then be sure to incorporate the idea.
Sticking with themes can certainly allow your week to be broken up just enough to prevent you getting bored.
But if it makes it more difficult due to the need to conform to a theme, then don’t do it.
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Of course, all this meal prepping and planning requires places to store what you’ve prepared, so let’s have a quick look at containers.
Meal Prep Containers
What containers are actually best for you will depend on your needs, but this section will discuss a few tips on how to choose them.
The first thing to remember, especially with meal containers that you bring with you to work or other places outside the home, is to choose the highest quality you can comfortably afford.
Higher quality containers results in two things:
They last longer.
They keep food fresher.
Look for containers that come with airtight, leak-proof lids. These might be plastic or glass containers, depending on your budget and personal preference.
Glass containers have several benefits:
Easier to clean.
The lids are typically snug.
You can microwave them.
You can use them for a long time.
They’re fully recyclable so they’re kinder on the environment, especially over the long term.
For those who want to make their meal planning a staple of their lifestyle then you should pick up a few glass containers, even if only for their longevity and cleanliness.
Expect to pay a little more for the glass containers than you would the plastic, though.
These are the type of container that have different compartments, making it easy to separate different parts of your meals (with the added bonus of portion control at the same time).
Benefits of compartment containers include:
Everything is portioned out, which is handy for dieting.
It makes it easy to balance your meals in each compartment.
You keep your food from mixing together when you don’t want it to.
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We’re almost done, but lastly, since we all have a budget, let’s finish with a couple of tips on meal planning to one.
How To Meal Plan & Plan On A Budget
How to Stock Your Kitchen
Seasoned grocery shoppers will know that buying in bulk is nearly always less expensive than purchasing smaller quantities.
When you’re deciding which meals to prepare for the week, consider recipes that call for versatile ingredients that are available in bulk, such as rice, beans, or pasta. Then attempt to incorporate these into as many meals as possible.
Tips for Staying Under Budget
Make a list—and stick to it
Since you already know what you’ll be making, there’s no need to fill up the cart with superfluous items.
Buy only what you need for the weekly menu.
This requires having a grocery list each and every time you head to the store.
Remember To Take stock
Chances are, you already have the building blocks for a meal or two right in your fridge or freezer without realizing it, so before you go shopping, do a quick inventory of what you have on hand.
Try to incorporate any ingredients that are either nearing their expiration date or have been hanging around in the freezer for longer than a few months.
Keep it simple
There’s no need to go gourmet for every meal.
A savory roast chicken accompanied by steamed veggies makes a perfectly appealing dinner, and you can use any leftovers to top a salad or two later in the week.
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Once you’ve gotten into the habit of planning and prepping your meals in advance you’ll find it easy to stick to the schedule (and your budget), and wonder why you hadn’t done all this before!