Let’s talk meal prep
Meal prep is one of those things that’s usually met with a groan when I bring it up with clients. They picture kissing their Sunday goodbye to spend hours in the kitchen. They see themselves making multiple complex recipes that are then pre-portioned into perfect containers for the week. If that’s what meal prep is, then I’m out too!
No one wants to spend 50% of their weekend in the kitchen, dietitians included. That said, there are real benefits to taking some time over the weekend to set yourself up for success for the week ahead. Enter what I like to call: meal prep “light” aka meal component prepping.
Instead of thinking about full meals, it’s helpful to break down meal prep into various components that you can work into meals throughout the week. Here’s where to start.
01 – Pick a protein (or 2 or 3). We all know protein is a key part of meals, so I recommend having 1 or 2 options prepped and ready to go for those crazy days. Some quick favorites include:
- Hard boiled eggs
- Salmon or tuna salad
- Grilled chicken (substitute rotisserie chicken or Instant Pot/CrockPot shredded chicken)
- Baked tofu cubes
- Canned beans (it doesn’t get easier than this, people – just drain and rinse)
02 – Next we want to think about cooking a whole grain or starchy vegetable. Cooked grains store really nicely in the fridge, so make a big batch so that you can add a scoop to your salads, soups, or bowls all week long. Here are some to try:
- Wild rice
- Sweet potatoes (baked or cubed then roasted)
- Roasted butternut squash
- Roasted baby potatoes
- Brown rice
03 – Don’t you think I forgot about the veggies!! When thinking about prepping veggies, the goal is to make eating the vegetables easier and tastier. Let’s be real, no one is interested in washing and chopping an entire head of kale at 7 pm on Wednesday when you’re starving. Hence, we end up with wilted veggies that we don’t eat. Instead, try some of the tips below to make adding more vegetables into your diet super simple.
- Wash and chop any leafy greens/herbs right when you get home from grocery shopping. Store in a Ziploc or reusable silicone bag with a paper towel to absorb any leftover moisture. (Time saver hack: buy all pre washed and chopped greens).
- Peel carrots and store in a container with enough water to cover. This also works for other crunchy veg like celery and radishes. (Time saver hack: buy the pre-chopped veggie sticks or baby carrots).
- Roast ‘em up – combine any veggies you like (think: broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms, string beans, fennel, broccolini, bok choy, asparagus, beets, cabbage), chop to roughly the same size, toss with avocado oil to coat, and roast at 400 degrees until tender and browned (cook time will vary depending on which vegetables you use).
- Try frozen (just as nutritious as fresh!) – keeping things like frozen spinach, frozen kale, frozen peppers and onions, frozen cauliflower rice, and others will allow you to add some vegetables to a meal even when you haven’t recently been to the store.
04 – Last but not least, I recommend having a sauce/dressing/marinade on hand. This gives flavor to your meals, which is so important for creating meals that truly satisfy you. Below are some great quality mostly store bought options, so no prep required.
- Haven’s Kitchen
- Primal Kitchen dressings
- Gotham Greens pesto
- Tahini + lemon juice
- Rao’s marinara sauce
- Tessemae’s dressing
- Maya Kaimal simmer sauce
- Olive oil + vinegar
- Trader Joe’s Green Goddess dressing
Ok, I’ve got my components…now what?
The options are endless! Try to follow the balanced plate method – ½ of your plate should be filled with vegetables, ¼ of your plate is a whole grain or starchy vegetable, and the last ¼ of your plate is your protein source. Here are a few “recipes” you can put together using your prepped components.
- Brown rice pasta + marinara or pesto sauce + 1-2 servings vegetables + white beans
- Roasted salmon + roasted broccoli + wild rice + drizzle of tahini/lemon juice
- Chopped salad (using any chopped greens and crunchy vegetables) + quinoa + rotisserie chicken + Primal Kitchen honey mustard dressing
- Tuna salad + 2 handfuls arugula + high fiber crackers (such as Wasa or Mary’s)
- Avocado on whole wheat toast + 1-2 soft boiled eggs + steamed kale
- Brown rice + chickpea curry made with Maya Kaimal simmer sauce + wilted Swiss chard
The more you implement this method, the easier it will get to create different meal combinations and be creative. No more wasted time on meals that you don’t even like!
If you give this method a try, we’d love to hear how it goes in the comments! If you need more support, click here to work with a registered dietitian at Culina Health!