WHAT IS MEAL PREP?Essentially, meal prep means maximizing your time in the kitchen so that when you are able and willing to cook, you are cooking not just for one meal, but for 3 or more. Maximizing your time like this means that you’re not tied to the kitchen every time you need to eat (or tied to the local coffee shop or fast food restaurant).
By mastering meal prep, you become the person who places those dishes of healthy meals in front of you when you need them, on a regular basis. And you become the person who is consistently eating in a way that supports your goals and feeling amazing.
Meal prepping helps you consistently eat in a way that supports your goals and feel amazing.
I know I don’t need to convince you of the benefits of meal prepping (save money on wasted groceries and eating out, support your weight/health goals, be less stressed, make grocery shopping easier, have less food waste), but I understand that the biggest obstacle to meal prepping is time. That is the time in which meal prep takes – which is ironic, because the very reason meal prep is so crucial is because we don’t have time to cook healthy meals on a daily basis! So what’s easier? Trying to fit in the time each and every day, regardless of what might be going on in your busy life that day, or strategically selecting a time that is most convenient for you to spend the time in the kitchen doing your meal prep for the following days?
PRO TIPS:Here are some helpful ideas for meal prepping, some tips that have made a world of difference to me and those I work with, tips that make meal prepping less overwhelming, less time-consuming, and even rewarding.
1. FIRST & FOREMOST, MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUJust as the amount and types of food you eat must be selected with your individual body and goals in mind, the schedule or methods you use for meal prep must also be fully customized for you. What works great for one person may not be a fit for you. Identifying your needs and creating a plan that works for your lifestyle and schedule is key to meal prep success.
Most meal prep programs have you spending a few hours on a Sunday cooking and packing food for the entire week to follow. Although this works great for many people (those who work full days Monday to Friday perhaps), it’s not for everybody. Maybe you ski, cycle, or camp every weekend with the family, and the last thing you want is to be tied down to your kitchen every Sunday.
Your schedule, your family, your like/dislike of cooking – all will determine how you meal prep to best support your goals and keep you on track with your nutrition plan.
A few things to consider when determining how to meal prep:
2. WHAT DAYS & TIMES WORK BEST FOR YOU?This may change from week to week. We recommending spending a few minutes each weekend to consult with your schedule for the upcoming week, and determine in advance what days and times are going to work best for you to go grocery shopping and for cooking. Sunday may or may not be the most convenient time for you. Think about when you will be home anyway, think about whether there’s anything else on your schedule at that time. If you’d like to make cooking a family affair, think about when the kids are home and can spend quality time with you in the kitchen. As for the grocery shopping, think about where your grocery store is and when you might just happen to be driving by that way for something else, making your outings more efficient. Think about when you have energy and enthusiasm and when you are tired and less patient. For me, mornings are great for food prep. As I’m relaxing with my coffee catching up on social media or emails, I put a pot of quinoa on the stove or bake a sheet of a dozen chicken breasts. Think outside the box and don’t be pigeon-holed by the conventional “you cook dinner at dinner time only” model. If you are rushed and hangry at 6pm when you get home from work, wouldn’t it be nice to already have your dinner ready and waiting for you – the dinner you prepared that morning while you were enjoying your morning coffee and not rushing around?
3. DO YOU ENJOY COOKING?If you enjoy cooking, great! Meal prep will not only help keep you on track with your diet, but also provide a creative outlet that likely brings you relaxation and personal fulfillment. If you don’t enjoy cooking or it stresses you out, it’s a good idea to pick times that are clear of other additional stresses; ie: if it stresses you out already, maybe don’t meal prep while your family has The Walking Dead blaring on the tv in the next room. Also chose simple and basic meals, rather than complex recipes that are out of your comfort zone, at least until you’ve established a good rhythm for yourself and feel more comfortable in the kitchen.
4. CAN YOU SEE THE TV FROM THE KITCHEN?Time is our greatest resource and I am all about multitasking! I can get a ton of food prep done in the hour that I’m watching The Voice or Survivor from my kitchen. Multitasking is truly an art when it comes to meal prepping!
5. DO YOU HAVE A FAMILY?I highly recommended you get everyone involved in cooking and packing snacks. 1) it’s for them also, why shouldn’t they share in the task? 2) it takes the sole burden off you, 3) it’s an opportunity for role modeling and “teachable moments” (educating on food quality and health), and 4) it’s quality time. Yes, quality time! Picture this – your teenager comes home from school and you ask how his day was, and he says “fine” and walks away. Now picture this – you’re in the kitchen anyway (cause you’ve strategically starting doing some meal prep at that particular time) and your teenager heads to the fridge – because what kid isn’t hungry after school?! As he’s standing in the kitchen munching, where you just happen to be, he breaks out in a story about math class or lunchtime antics with his buddies. Strategically timing food prep in the kitchen provides opportunity to connect.
6. KEEP IT SIMPLEA structured meal plan can be a lifesaver and has so many benefits. It takes the guess work out of things for you, and provides a framework for peace of mind. We develop our meal plans at Mipstick will 2-3 breakfasts and typically 2-3 dinner ideas. This way, you’re taking advantage of leftovers and not having to prepare something different every single day.
If working with exact recipes overwhelms you, chose only a couple recipe dishes each week. In between, simply cook up a large batch of the core components: your protein, complex carbs, and veggies. Have large bowls of these cooked foods ready to go in the fridge, so that when you get home late and are starving, you simply plate and heat.
Likewise, keep your ingredients list simple on a weekly basis. Chose meals that have similar ingredients and eat that same ingredient in several dishes all week. For example, an extra large bag of fresh spinach can be used in spinach salads, omelettes, in smoothies, and as a veggies side dish. This saves you money and shortens the grocery list. Next week, you can use kale instead.
7. GROCERY SHOP LIKE A BOSSChoose specific days of the week to look at your upcoming schedule and plan your meals, and different specific times for grocery shopping. Make sure you have your list of required ingredients to make the meals and snacks you’ve planned. Purchase those ingredients and only those… unless… and here’s our next tip:
8. BE OKAY PIVOTING ON THE FLYYou’re at the grocery store and fresh tomatoes are drastically marked down. You can’t not take advantage of this great sale price. But nothing you planned for the upcoming week has tomatoes in it! Pivot. Think about what you can change slightly to accommodate this new twist. Are there salads you can add fresh tomatoes to? Is there a soup or stew on your plan you can add tomatoes to? Perhaps you can add making a slow cooker pasta sauce to your week that can be frozen for later use. The tomatoes themselves can also be frozen and perhaps next week you can build more tomato-based recipes into the plan. The more comfortable you become with grocery shopping and meal prep, the more you’ll confidently make adjustments as needed.
9. MAKE DELICIOUS FOOD & INCLUDE TREATSJust because you’re prepping healthy meals doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Experiment with spices and different flavor profiles, and be sure to include snacks and treats that you enjoy eating. We have many recipes for cleaned-up versions of pizza, butter chicken, cookies and fudge. There’s nothing like food boredom to derail your best intentions, so be sure to enjoy cleaned-up treats and snacks as well.
10. BEING REALISTIC IS BETTER THAN BEING PERFECTIf you often eat out, or foresee social occasions in your upcoming week, allow for it on your meal prepping schedule. Leave some gaps in your calendar so you don’t overspend on groceries that end up going to waste.
Take it easy. You don’t have to change your entire life all at once. Take small steps toward making better food choices and toward being prepared in advance. Perhaps you aim for having 2 lunches and 2-3 dinners prepped in advance for yourself at first, and go from there.
Staying healthy at home
Habitat for Humanity Victoria is connecting families with valuable local resources to help them stay healthy at home during these uncertain times.