As a certified nutrition coach, there’s almost nothing that brings me more joy than sharing my health hacks and life saving wellness tips with you all in the hopes it will inspire and help you to live your healthiest, happiest life. So with the transition from the dog days of summer to the fall (aka productive/busy/ school/ must.do.everything season) I’m posting about something that has ultimately saved me countless amounts of time, hundreds and thousands of dollars and hundreds and thousands of calories to boot – how to meal prep #LIKEABOSS. This has been a key pillar for me to achieve balance in my life, and I’m hoping some of this content will help you do the same.
WARNING- there is A LOT of writing in this post- but if you can make it through to the end it will all be worth it and you’ll walk away feeling like you’re the next meal prep master.
Did you know……..
- If you spend 1-2 hours batch cooking per week- you can save up to 7 additional hours per week on those 30-60 minutes you spend cooking every night
- Federal data from Nation’s Restaurant News showed average prices for food eaten at home in January actually fell .5% year over year, while restaurant prices rose 2.7% due to rising minimum wage and other labor costs
- Eating out at lunch costs on average $10-$15 per day, while packing a lunch averages $5 a day- with 260 weekdays in a year this equates to a savings of $1,300- $2,600 per year
- Research shows that people who eat the same breakfast every day tend to be healthy for life– namely because they have removed the possibility of splurging on unhealthy food. Packing pre-planned meals for work is key in cutting out the opportunity to chose something unhealthy
- New research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that compared to meals prepared and eaten at home, both fast food AND full-service fare is linked to increased fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and calorie consumption
- In a study done by the AMA Journal, participants who waited until they were ready to eat chose higher calorie food and those who ordered ahead of time chose more nutritious meals
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail…
Spending a couple of hours meal-prepping each week can help you….
- Save time
- Save money
- Make healthier choices
- Take the mental burden/ obligation off your mind of “What am I going to make/ eat?”
- Think of fun ways to diversify your food choices throughout the week
It’s all about the plan
- Building any new healthy habit will require some effort, which is why it’s so important first to determine what’s inspiring you to change. The best motivation to inspire others comes from within and rooted in positive thinking.
- You have to determine how much time you’re willing to commit. Shifting towards a healthier diet and changing habits is a long-term objective. Do you have an hour or two on Sunday when you normally watch tv you could spend meal-prepping instead? Schedule the time in your calendar and stick to it.
- Once you’re committed and you’ve scheduled out the time to plan and prep, the next step is taking into account your schedule for the upcoming week. Do you have happy hour with friends Wednesday? Factor that in so you don’t make too much and waste extra food. Do you know you have a long work day on Thursday and the last thing you’ll want to do is come home and cook? Make sure you have something super simple and ready to pop in the oven or on the grill. Are your mornings always insane and you usually cave and buy a breakfast sandwich from Starbucks as a result? Make sure you spend 10 minutes the night before whipping up something simple to take with you. Knowing your schedule AND how you operate (what meals are hardest for you to make or when is your ultimate weakness) and planning accordingly for this is going to be the biggest help in keeping you on track.
- While it may sound exciting to whip up something new and creative every night- it’s just not realistic (unless maybe you’re Rachael Ray here). Having a list of favorite and healthy staples that you want to include in your diet every week will ensure you have something to mix and match for a quick fix as well as a backup plan handy incase other plans go array. In this blog post I included a list of some of my weekly staples I always buy and can easily incorporate into meals. As an example a few of those would be- greens, fruit and coconut water to toss in morning smoothies, quinoa and eggs to mix in for salads and lunch bowls, sweet potatoes to roast and stuff with quinoa or grill for dinner, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and lemons to whip up a quick dressing or coat on any veggies for roasting or grilling.
- Prior to making your grocery list- you need to know what meals the ingredients you’re buying are contributing to. If you go to the grocery store without a plan you’ll end up buying items that look delicious (I’m talking to you squash blossoms) but may have no purpose- and waste food and money as a result. Spend some time perusing pinterest or some blogs to get inspiration. You’ll likely find seasonal, delicious recipes that will inspire you to come up with something similar.
- While gathering recipe inspiration, be mindful about how you can reuse these ingredients for different meals throughout the week? Taco night on the agenda? Make extra beans and guacamole to toss on a bowl with quinoa and spinach for lunch the next day? Making a pesto sauce to toss with pasta? Double that recipe to coat on salmon, roasted vegetables or zoodles later that night? Baking sweet potatoes for dinner? Bake extra and top with yogurt, honey and nuts in the morning for a delicious, nutritious breakfast. Every meal you make you should be able to reuse the food items for at least ONE other meal that week.
- Now that you have an idea of your schedule the following week, what meals you’ll need to plan in advance and have an idea of what sounds good/ what you want to make it’s time to create your meal plan. You can use this template to fill out what you’re going to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner that week.
- Now, using that plan create your grocery list with the items you need to make your weekly meals. This is a crucial step- as much as you think you’ll remember everything you need you won’t. Group your list into sections of the grocery store like this template so you don’t have to run back and forth all over the grocery store like a chicken with your head cut off and can make efficient use of time. Also don’t forget to take inventory of your staples to see if you need to stock up on more. Those roasted vegetables won’t taste as good without olive oil or sea salt and pepper. It’s also a good idea to have a backup plan on hand for those days when all hell breaks lose (i.e. buy chicken breasts and veggies to throw in the freezer and saute for a quick meal). Lastly, do not forget those condiments/ sauces. Whether homemade (which I believe taste best and are best for you) or store bought these will jazz up and make any meal more exciting. Think hummus, pesto sauce, marinades, bbq sauce, guacamole or lemon dill salad dressing.
Know Before You Go
- Make sure you have the essentials. It can be a major bummer to get back from the store ready to meal-prep and realize you don’t have any tupperware to store your food in or forgot that you need a food processor to make that hummus recipe. Take inventory of your current status and make sure to invest in some quality tupperware. You’ll reuse these over and over again.
- Don’t go to the grocery store hangry. I’ve made this mistake many times and it’s NEVER a good idea. Make sure you’re going on a full stomach, prepped with your list so you won’t veer off course (remember 60% of unplanned grocery store purchases are thrown out).
- Avoid peak hours. Have you ever gone to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon or Monday evening? It’s madness and I refuse to deal with the long lines and people banging their carts into mine. Try and pick a time that works for you that’s low traffic- like Saturday or Sunday morning.
- Know your store layout. Each store will have somewhat of a different layout, but there are some general principles grocery stores always follow- produce around the perimeter of the store, then typically meat/ dairy products, with more processed foods and frozen foods grouped together in the middle. I know my local grocery store like the back of my hand and it makes my trip so much easier. I have a circuit where I hit up fresh produce first, followed by the seafood/ egg/ dairy section, then grains, condiments and canned foods in the middle. I have my food list grouped together like in the resource I handed you, and that way I don’t have to run back and forth all over the store.
- Purchase pantry staples online/ in bulk. In order to save some money, a lot of those pantry staple items can be bought in bulk online or at Costco for a much more affordable price. We always buy our olive oil, coconut oil, smoothie and protein powders, almond/ nut butters, grains like quinoa or oats on Amazon Prime or Thrive Market as we use these in large quantities and they don’t go bad for a long time. Buying small batches repeatedly at the grocery store can add up quickly.
- To go organic or not? There’s a lot of buzz out there about whether or not organic food makes a difference. My rule of thumb- check out the clean 15 and dirty dozen- a cheat tip for this is think of foods where you eat the skin like cucumbers or apples- since the skin comes into contact with pesticides and other chemicals it’s best to buy these organic when possible. Foods with thick skin you don’t typically eat like bananas and avocados are a safer bet to buy non-organic.
- Local Farmers Markets FTW. We’re lucky to live in an area abundant with delicious local produce and farmers markets. This is THE season to visit local farmers markets as you can find one nearly ever day of the week. My local farmers market is on Saturday and I’ll hit it up for organic duck eggs, berries, herbs and squash and fresh flowers for fun. I find it much more fun and enjoyable then going to the grocery store and much more affordable! Plus it’s a great way to support local farmers in the area… which brings me to…
- CSA Subscriptions are cool too. Although I have to admit I have not yet taken advantage of this option- I think this is a brilliant idea- ESPECIALLY if you are trying to eat more produce or support local farmers in the area. This will also help you save time and money at the grocery store as it’s a subscription that delivers fresh produce to your doorstep once a week. Try and make sure you can view the week’s delivery and if there is something in there you know you absolutely will not eat see if you can swap it out for more of something you love.
- Insta-cart- Insta-satisfaction. If you simply do NOT have time to go to the grocery store- you’re in luck as we live in the age of convenience. With new delivery services like insta-cart you can order your groceries online from a local store and have them delivered within an hour.
Like A Boss
Ok so you’ve made your plan, navigated the grocery store and are in the home stretch!! Now it’s time for the fun part- the actual meal prep.
- Make it fun. First of all- you’ve got to find ways to make it fun. Sure meal-prepping is not the most enjoyable activity per se- but reach back and remember that why- what is motivating you to do it in the first place? Save money, save time, eat healthier, lose weight, etc? Now channel your inner meal-prep boss and make it happen. I always turn on a killer spotify playlist and I occasionally pour myself a glass of wine (or two). Get your kids or significant other to join in on the fun too- it can be a great bonding activity and teach kids the importance of healthy eating and cooking.
- Clean and chop like a boss. This is going to be your #1 best time saver and is a fantastic way to ensure you’re eating all your fruits and veggies. Wash and chop leafy greens like kale and other veggies like carrots, cucumber, bell peppers etc. Store in a container in the fridge to toss in smoothies, salads, bowls, soups or as a snack. The same goes for fruit- but I recommend chopping fruit into individual sized smoothie portions and storing it in ziplock bags in the freezer. When you want a smoothie or protein shake just grab the baggies of fruit and toss in a blender with some greens and coconut water. So easy.
- The freezer is your friend. This brings me to taking advantage of your freezer. Produce, meat and seafood, soups, sauces and baked goods all hold up well in the freezer. In fall/ winter I typically make a huge batch of soup and immediately freeze half of it so I have something to eat in a pinch. Same goes for sauces like marinara or pesto.
- Multi-task like a maven. This is an important one and will save you tons of time overall. Cook items on the stove top like soft/ hard boiled eggs, quinoa, brown rice, lentils or soup while simultaneously roasting veggies, baking sweet potatoes or an oatmeal bake and blending together dressings, sauces or homemade hummus.
- Batch-cooking mentality is key. Batch cooking is a way of preparing most or all of your snacks for the week on day 1- so that you have to do the least amount of work possible the rest of the week. Remember this as you’re making quinoa (make enough for lunch bowls and as a dinner side throughout the week) or grilling chicken- don’t just grill enough for tonight’s dinner but to make chicken salad sandwiches and toss on tacos for dinner.
- Get Saucy. Having tasty dressings and sauces on hand will jazz up any meal instantly. You can always purchase these, but I find homemade ones always taste the best and you can rest assured are free of ingredients or fillers you can’t pronounce. I always make one salad dressing to top on my salads for the week and at least one sauce like a tahini sauce to drizzle in baked sweet potatoes or over roasted vegetables.
- Bring it all to work. Sometimes we just don’t feel like portioning everything out in individual containers and carting it to and from work every day. In these cases I recommend bringing your container of chicken, quinoa, vegetables, dressing, and whatever else you plan on tossing together for lunch that week. Then just mix it all in a big bowl and bring whatever leftovers you have home on Friday.
I know- it can be a lot at first, especially if it’s a totally new concept for you. Take it from someone who didn’t even know how to boil water for pasta 6 years ago, you will get used to it and it will transform your life! If planning meals for the whole week seems daunting for you, I encourage you to start with the one meal you’re the most pressed for time for or poses the most challenge for cooking and start there, then gradually add in more meals as you feel more comfortable. I promise in no time you’ll be a meal prep master. #LIKEABOSS