Now that the Summer holidays have officially ended, we’re faced with busy days filled with school, work, and after-school activities. Our schedules have become so packed that we’re scrambling each day to figure out what to cook that will be both healthy and quick. We barely have the time to sit down and eat, let alone having the time to grocery shop and cook at the end of the day.
Don’t worry. There is a solution. If you’re trying to eat more healthy, but don’t have the time to cook every day or the money to pay a food-delivery service, then meal prepping is for you.
The goal of meal prepping is to take one or two days a week, most likely weekend days, and prepare all of your meals for the week. You can prep just dinner or all three meals plus snacks for each day.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that spending more time preparing food at home was associated with healthier eating habits, including eating more fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, spending less than one hour a day preparing food at home was linked to eating more fast food and spending more money eating out. People with less time available for cooking valued convenience over nutrition, choosing instead to pick up something quick to eat. This research simply stressed what we all know: Time is a barrier to healthy eating.
The key to successful meal prep is the PLANNING. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Discuss with your family the types of foods they like to eat and their favorite meals.
2. Choose a day of the week to plan the menu, grocery shop, and do meal prep (or most of the cooking).
3. Record your planned meals in a weekly/monthly calendar or spreadsheet.
4. On meal prep day, start with the meals that will take the longest to cook, such as chicken and pork. Crock-pot meals are great because you can prepare other meals while the crock-pot cooks one meal for you.
5. If you prefer to cook your meats on the day you plan to eat them, consider marinating them in your favorite marinade on prep day. This way, you can easily put them in the oven or add them to a quick stir-fry meal later.
6. While meals or sauces are bubbling on the stove, go ahead and chop your vegetables and fruits.
7. When prepping, consider making enough for two meals. You can freeze one for a different week.
8. Seasonings are your friend. If you’ll be making chicken breasts for more than one meal for that week, season each one with a different blend of spices. Make one with Italian spices and another with a Mediterranean blend. Spice it up so you won’t get bored.
9. Before storing your food in the freezer or refrigerator, label each one with the name of the meal and the date prepared. Cooked meals will store better in the freezer in a tightly-sealed container, while perishable foods, such as salads, will keep better in the refrigerator.
10. Get a head start on breakfast, lunch, and snacks for the week by using individual meal containers. These will be easy to grab on the way out the door in the morning.