Meal Prepping 101
by Krista Diekemper, RD, LD
Many New Year’s Resolutions include losing weight as well as becoming healthier. Of course, there are a number of people who have no idea how to go about accomplishing this goal. For some individuals who are trying to eat healthier to lose weight, it is not the food they mind, but rather, the perceived extra work of eating healthier that presents the barrier. Well I am here to tell you that with a little forethought and preparation, you can remove this barrier. Meal prepping does not have to be a daunting task, and below I will provide you with a technique that can help you become a food prepping pro.
Steps in Meal Prepping
1) Decide what meals you are going to prepare. Remember the fundamentals of a healthy meal include a lean protein (lean meats, nuts, beans, legumes, etc.) that equates to ¼ of your meal, non-starchy vegetables (most vegetables except corn, potatoes, starchy squash and peas) should comprise ½ of your meal, and then a complex carbohydrate (whole grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, etc.) should make up the remaining ¼ of your meal. When I’m deciding what meals to prepare, I first look in the fridge, freezer, and/or pantry to determine what I already have on hand and consider using it first to avoid waste. Once I know what I am working with, I grab a notebook and jot down a few meal ideas.
Commonly, I pick a protein first. Once I know my protein, I go through cookbooks or will look on Pinterest to find ideas on how to prepare the protein. When I find an idea in a cookbook, I will mark the page with a sticky note. If I find a recipe on Pinterest, I will save it to one of my boards and sometimes print it off to have it handy when it comes time to prepare the meal. After choosing a protein, I then try to decide what vegetables and starch would complement the chosen protein.
As I am writing down the meal ideas, I determine if I already have the ingredients on hand. If not, I make a grocery list. I then follow this same pattern to come up with several meals for the week. One thing to remember, if you can use a specific food for multiple meals it can save you both time and money. For example, if you plan to have BBQ chicken for a meal, consider cooking more chicken or another protein sources (i.e. pork chops) that you will be using later in the week. When you have your proteins cooked and prepared, you will save time when you put the meals together later in the week. I find that if I put my cooked protein in plastic or glass containers, it keeps very well.
For nights when you are short on time, avoid choosing meals that take a long time to prepare. This will leave you stressed and in turn, more likely to look more favorably on quick-prep unhealthy foods or heading to the closest drive thru instead. If your crazy busy schedule leaves you short on time, a crockpot can be your new best friend. When your schedule slows down in the evening, take time to prepare a crockpot meal. In the morning, all you need to do is place the ingredients in the crockpot and come home to a home cooked meal at the end of the day.
2) Gather all your Supplies. Once you have compiled your list of meal ideas and have your grocery list created, it is time to hit the grocery store and buy the items you need. This will insure you have everything on hand when the time comes to cook the meal. There is nothing more frustrating than being tired after work, coming home to make dinner, and find you are missing one critical ingredient. Grocery shopping in advance prevents this frustration, and can also help you spend less. Statistically, every trip to the grocery store results in spending extra on unnecessary items, which is costly to your wallet and waistline.
3) Set aside time. After completing your grocery shopping, set aside time to do some meal prepping for the coming week. For example, Sunday afternoon’s work great for me. I typically have a little time where I can do some prep for the week without feeling rushed. I wash and chop up any vegetables or fruit. Depending on my upcoming schedule, I may cook up my protein for the week either on the BBQ or in the oven. I really try to get as much meal prep done before the week beings so I can avoid the end of day rush. If you pack a lunch for work, your spouse and/or kids, this is also a great time to get some of the lunch items ready. I portion out my lunch food into containers for the entire week.
While this process can seem a little overwhelming at the start, it gets much easier as you go along. I try to make notes of any recipes that I really like, and keep them available for future meal planning sessions. As your list of list of menu items increases, it decreases the amount of time it takes to find and select meals for the coming week.
4) Be patient. I encourage you to give this a try for at least a month and see if it helps with your goals of healthy eating while reducing stress, and saving money.