The 3-Step Method for Successful Meal Prep

MARCH 20, 2018
For the busy person, the words 'meal prep' may be the last thing you want to hear. You may have so many responsibilities that cooking makes you cringe. However, many of the clients I help find that when they plan out their meals, they stay on track with their nutrition goals and minimize stress. They feel more in control of what they are eating since they know what ingredients they used and they are more organized. 
 
Meal preparation, or more simply, 'meal prep,' doesn’t have to be an elaborate, miserable task. Everyone has different food preferences, food allergies or intolerance, and a variable schedule, so it is important you find a routine that works for you. By following the 3-step meal prep (I didn’t plan on it to rhyme), you will be on your way to staying on track and making healthy meals for you and your family.
 
If you are new to the meal prep concept, remember it doesn't have to be 'perfect' the first time through. Timing out your meal prep schedule may take some trial and error to find what works best. You may choose to dedicate a whole day to this or spread it out. If you are planning your weekly dinner meals in advance, it may be in your best interest to just get it done and out of the way on one day. If you have enough time and prefer to plan out your lunch and snacks while you’re at work, you may prefer to take some time to do this every morning.

By following the 3-Step Meal Prep plan below, you will be on your way to healthy, simple cooking in no time. Here it is: 
 
1. Plan
 
Select one day of the week that is going to be your 'prep' day. For example, Sunday or another day of the week with available time. On that day, you can think of meals that you’d like to make for that week, do the grocery shopping and do the cooking. You can also choose to do those three things—planning, shopping and cooking—on separate days. Try to choose meals that are simple and healthy and require minimal prep and cook time. The goal is to cook and store pre-portioned food that you can throw together and reheat quickly.
 
Take a calendar and write down the meals you will be preparing for the week. This depends on which meals you plan on making ahead, as mentioned before—just dinner, just snacks, all meals, etc. If a week’s worth of planning seems too overwhelming for you at first, start with 3-4 days first, and slowly build up to a week.
 
Write down the list of ingredients you will need for each meal, and how much you plan on cooking. It is also a good idea to use recipes that can be prepared in advance and won’t spoil too quickly. For example, overnight oats are a great breakfast recipe that can sit in your fridge for a few days or hard-boiling eggs that you can take on the go.
 
Not only are these methods a good way to help visualize your plan, but it also helps you stick to it and not be tempted by unhealthy takeout food when you are in a hurry!
 
Side note: If you are so busy that you can’t shop, you can often order your groceries online and have curb-side pick up. Doing a quick online search of your go-to grocery store can help you find out if they offer curb-side pickup. Online-only stores also deliver groceries. 
 
2. Prep
 
After the planning and shopping comes the actual 'prep' part of meal prep. Getting good-quality containers is a good investment. BPA-free Tupperware, glass, and even the pre-portioned 'lunchboxes' with different sized compartments will make storing and transporting food easier.
 
If you have prepackaged items (e.g. bags of salad greens, precut/pre-peeled produce, containers of berries, etc.): Store these as you normally would. These are easy enough to grab on-the-go, or to throw salads together quickly without already assembling a salad and having the lettuce go bad. 
 
If you have foods that require cooking (meat, fish, or other proteins, or anything you plan on baking or roasting, such as potatoes): Season these first and start cooking. Using the oven is a great way to prep, because you don’t have to keep an eye on it as much as you would if you were cooking on the stove.
 
If you have foods that require a little more prep (peeling carrots/dicing onions/steaming vegetables): Prepare this while your other food is cooking. This way, you are managing your time effectively.
 
Another option is to make one larger batch of your favorite sauces or salad dressings and refrigerate them, rather than make several smaller batches. If you like your vegetables freshly cooked, then you can portion them out for each meal and put them in containers ready to be steamed or cooked. If you know you will be making a meal that requires a lot of chopping, you can do this in advance as well. You can also wash all fruit and portion the nuts that you will be using as snacks, so that you can easily take them on-the-go. 
 
3. Cook
 
While the point of meal prep is to make life easier for you during the week, this doesn’t mean you have to pre-cook all of your food. For example, you can marinate some chicken breasts, place them in the freezer, and defrost when you’re ready to use them.
 
When it comes to cooking carbohydrates, such as quinoa, brown rice, and whole grain or bean pasta, these are easiest to cook ahead of time and refrigerate as well.
 
A helpful tip that minimizes time spent on cooking is using a Crockpot. You can make a Crockpot recipe, like chili, and freeze it for later use. Either the night before or the morning of, you can place all your ingredients into the Crockpot, leave it on for the day, and come home to a delicious meal. This is useful for anything that requires slow-cooking such as soups, stews, oatmeals, and even desserts.

Many healthy recipes can be found online. You can tailor your search by category, such as meat (poultry, fish, beef), or by calorie, fat, protein, carbohydrate amount.

Preparing your meals in advance will save you so much time stressing and worrying about what you will feed your family. Not only will you have peace of mind, but your family will be eating much healthier.
 

Dr. Christina Tarantola, PharmD, CHC, CHt
Dr. Christina Tarantola, PharmD, CHC, CHt
Dr. Christina Tarantola, PharmD, CHC is a licensed pharmacist, nutrition consultant and CEO and Founder of Enlightened Wellness Solutions, a transformational coaching company geared to empower and energize people to take charge of their health! Dr. Christina is also a passionate author of two paperback books, Revealing Your Inner Radiance: Healing through the Heart and Reclaim Your Power: A Roadmap to Re-energizing Your Life. For the last 5 years, Dr. Christina has been providing educational health talks in the Pittsburgh area, sharing her expertise on her monthly podcast segment on The Pharmacy Podcast, and creating relevant, informative health articles, YouTube videos and newsletters to empower her clients to live healthy lives!
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