Many of the pitfalls that we can run into when we are trying to change the way we eat is to the time it takes to prepare fresh food compared to unhealthy prepackaged or pre made meals. There is a simple way to avoid this stressful time sapper by finding a certain day during the week that you can spare an hour or two to get things prepared beforehand so it is much easier to just grab some healthy food and go. You can skip the fast food and be proud to grab your own “fast and fresh food”.
There are certain foods that should be a staple in your fresh food prepping list. Of course, you shouldn’t try to prepare every meal you are going to eat that week ahead of time. Allow yourself a little bit of spontaneity in your food. Let’s take a step by step approach to this.
Step 1 – Discover Your Needs
In this step you’ll decide what foods you like to eat and of course what foods you should be eating. Decide ahead of time what can reasonably be prepared ahead of time and what will lose its flavor or texture if it is stored in the fridge for later. Make sure you think of the three meals of the day and don’t forget about snacks. Snacks are usually what can kill our healthy eating goals. Get out your paper and pen and brainstorm what your desired eating habits would be. Tailor this to you. If you have a hard time making breakfast in the morning, focus on this meal. If you find your weakness is eating out for lunch, make sure you think of ways to pack a healthy lunch instead. Maybe you have a long work day and are too tired to cook when you come home. You need to find ways to have dinner ready and able to pop in the microwave when you get home.
Step 2 – Menu
Now that you know what meals you need to prepare, you can have fun coming up with balanced meals that will entice your taste buds and still help your waistline. Make sure you write down your meal plan for the week, including what you need to prepare so there is little room for mistakes. Winging it usually leads to poor choices. Realistically, you’ll have to wing it sometimes because life isn’t pre-planned. Things will come up and you’ll get off track. Just jump back in and dust yourself off. Don’t let one slip up ruin your whole week.
Step 3 – Shopping!!!
Once you’ve written down your menu, you’ll need to stock up on the necessary ingredients for your chosen meal prepping. If possible, buy in bulk to save yourself money. Shop around and buy as local as possible. A good rule of thumbs is to shop the outside aisles of the store. All the real foods, like the produce, meat, and dairy are located on the outermost aisles. The frozen and “convenience” foods are located in the middle. You’ll find some of your grocery list in the middle, such as your whole grains and spices but for the most part, avoid these areas. Remember to stay in your budget. It is much cheaper to prepare your own food than it is to eat out but you can still get carried away buying exotic fruits and overpriced health foods. Always read the labels of any boxed or bagged items to make sure they are as simple as possible. The least amount of ingredients, the better.
Step 4 – Meal Prep Like Crazy!
Alright, you have your plan, your menu, your ingredients and a couple of free hours. Now it’s time to get to work. The most efficient way to do this is in batches. If you’ve found a meal that is easy and a favorite of yours, make a big batch and separate it into several containers. You can then use these throughout not just the week, but possibly even the next week as well. Make sure to label all your food well. You should a description of the meal and the date. You don’t want to be eating expired food and it is frustrating to dig through random mystery containers trying to find the food you are looking for. Place your prepared food in airtight containers in the right location. Some might be best if you freeze them, others can be left in the cupboard. Organize them well so you can easily see and grab what you need.
Now that you have your steps down let’s go over a few ideas that might get your meal prep juices flowing and help you come up with some meals that will work for you.
Many people consider this the most important meal of the day. In a sense, if you start the day off right, it is much easier to stay on task. So let’s make breakfast a priority. A healthy breakfast should include plenty of protein and fiber to help you stay full and focused until lunch. There are some go to portable breakfasts that work great for people who rush out the door in the morning:
The Green Smoothie - This one drink can contain so much nutrition if you make it right. It doesn’t have to be green but green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are some of the most nutrient dense foods that you can eat, so try to make at least half of your smoothies green. Some other good ingredients to include in your smoothies are berries, tropical fruits, yogurt, coconut water, almond milk, organic protein powder, chia seeds, flax seeds, natural peanut or almond butter, oatmeal, the list goes on. You can never get tired of smoothies because there are so many different flavors to experiment with. Make sure to stay away from ingredients with added sugar like juices, flavored yogurts, syrups, etc. The best way to meal prep smoothies is to freeze all your ingredients in little baggies so all you have to do is grab a baggie, throw it in a blender and you have a delicious and healthy portable breakfast.
Breakfast Burritos - Breakfast burritos can be healthy and delicious if you use the right ingredients. Always include a lean protein, usually eggs, plenty of vegetables, and a light sprinkle of cheese for melty goodness. Wrap them in wax paper, place in a freezer bag and freeze until you need them in the morning.
Other good breakfast ideas include homemade oatmeal packets, breakfast casseroles cut into serving sizes, and granola, yogurt and fruit parfaits.
Think about where you will be at lunch time. Make sure your meal is easy to eat according to your circumstances. You might need something you can eat with one hand or you might have a little more freedom. Again, make sure it is a balanced meal with healthy carbs to get through the afternoon slump.
Healthy Lunch Bowls – These bowls usually include three main components; a healthy carbohydrate, lean protein, and plenty of vegetables. For instance, a fajita bowl could include brown rice, sautéed onions and peppers, sliced steak, and topped with chopped cilantro and lime juice. There are many varieties you can create. Healthy carbs to use in these bowls include rice, quinoa, farro, and more. Proteins include chicken breasts, lean steaks, pork loin, beans, tofu, chick peas, shrimp, and fish. You can play around with the flavors to cater to any ethnicity. Make it Greek by adding olives and feta. Throw in a little Asian flair by adding seaweed and sesame seeds. You get the idea!
Soul Warming Soups and Stews – If you have a thermos, you can bring soup with you anywhere. Soups and stews are easy to cook in batches and you can add almost anything and it will still taste good. There is nothing better in the cold winter months than a delicious bowl of chicken soup. You don’t have to wait until you are home to enjoy it, take it to work with you!
There are always the go to salads and sandwiches and they shouldn’t be forgotten but many people get tired of eating these every day for lunch. You can easily make salads and sandwiches new again by thinking out of the box and using new and fresh ingredients.
When it comes to dinner, for many people the crockpot is their best friend. You can easily freeze ingredients in big freezer bags, place these ingredients in your slow cooker in the morning and you come home to a delicious smell and dinner cooked and ready to eat. Here are a few delicious crockpot ideas for dinner:
Ground Turkey Chili – Substitute ground turkey for the ground beef in your chili recipe for leaner protein in this classic. You can add any greens such as kale, spinach, or collard greens for added nutrition.
Chicken Cacciatore – Slow cooking this meal intensifies the flavors for delicious Italian goodness.
Curried Chicken and Lentils – The spices in curry have healing powers and lentils are a great source of vegetarian protein. Feel free to omit the chicken if you want to take this route. Serve on a bed of brown rice.
You can always roast a big pan of vegetables and a batch of chicken breasts and make containers to pop into the microwave if you don’t have time for crock potting in the morning.
As mentioned, snacks can be our worst enemy when we are trying to eat healthy. To keep yourself from grabbing for something your later regret, make plenty of healthy snack choices easily available. You should always have containers of cut up fresh fruits and vegetables in your fridge with a rainbow of color and flavor. Try to switch up your choices throughout the month so you don’t burn yourself out on the same fruits and vegetables each week. You should also have string cheese and hard boiled eggs ready to eat. In your cupboard should be individual servings of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. Try your hand at baking and make some healthy homemade energy bars. Veggie chips are also a great snack. A few favorites are kale chips, beet chips, and sweet potato chips.
Here are many ideas to get you started but the when you use your creativity the options are limitless! With just a little planning and an afternoon in the kitchen, you can help make your healthy eating goals a success!