Simplifying Meal Planning and Food Prep
Are you looking for a way to eat healthier or maybe you find yourself scrambling at dinnertime when you have nothing in your house to cook? Are you too tired after work and don’t want to put in the effort to prepare an entire meal for your family? “Let’s go out to dinner tonight, I don’t feel like cooking.” Or maybe you’ve told yourself, I’ll just have a bowl of cereal for dinner tonight. Well, meal planning can be the solution to help you and your family work towards a healthier and wallet-friendly life.
Check out Stephanie Smith providing her favorite tips on Fox 44 for Meal Planning and Food Prep
Meal Planning is different for everyone. It is simply the way you organize yourself and your schedule to be able to eat adequately while being efficient with your time and money. Whether you’re someone who likes to plan a month in advance freezing neatly stored containers of stews and soups, or shopping the day of and picking up whatever appeals to you to eat for dinner that night. The goal here is to be able to find a process that is both enjoyable and effective for your busy life. Our Dietitian, Stephanie Smith, RD, has written 10 Tips for Meal Planning and Prep that can help you stay on track with your health. Remember, don’t panic, stay calm and keep it simple!
1. Plan, then prep
Success usually starts with a plan. It’s the same with cooking and meal prep. Without a plan, meal preparation can be chaotic and stressful. Simply planning 1-2 meals/week can be the first step towards successful meal prep. Choose simple recipes online or in a cookbook that look delicious. Write your ideas on a white board in your kitchen or print out a list to put on your fridge. These can be reminders of your plan.
Looking for simple recipes? Checkout some of our favorite Quick and Healthy recipes from Cooking Light Magazine
2. Keep it simple
Consider preparing components of meals instead of the entire meal for each day. Try making pulled chicken in a crockpot or seasoned ground turkey so you have lean protein to add to any meal. If you do decide to prep entire meals, keep those meals simple. Stick with the plate method: 4-6oz protein, 2 servings of starch/carb and 1-2 cups of veggies. Don’t overthink it. Simple things are more sustainable.
3. Make a grocery list
This is an integral part of the plan. After coming up with a plan for meals and snacks for the week, make sure to write down the ingredients and foods you will need. If you shop without making a list, the task may seem overwhelming and unmanageable. You can even use grocery list templates that outline the categories of food, making it even easier and time effective. *Noted: Avoid grocery shopping when hungry; this may increase the chances of buying something that you are only craving in the moment (often high sugar, high fat foods).
4. Pick versatile ingredients that can work in many dishes
Think about components of the meal that are essential: protein, veggies, and carbohydrates. Protein foods like plain Greek yogurt, chicken, lentils and tofu can be used in many dishes. Baby spinach and frozen broccoli can be added to any meal. Brown rice and sweet potatoes are two of the most versatile carbohydrates you can add to lunches and dinners.
5. Pick a day to prep
Whether it’s a weekend day or a weeknight, find at least 2-3 hours a week to prep and cook your food. This can be done all at once or separated into a few days. If you’re someone who enjoys cooking after work during the week, simply pick 2 days when you are going to make a well-balanced dinner and make enough for leftovers. If you’re an extremely busy person during the week, then spending the hours on the weekend to prep is ideal. Don’t forget to plan time to plan! I’ll often plan and prep on Sunday so my week goes smoothly.
6. Look for shortcuts
Even shortcuts need shortcuts! If you think meal prep can make it easier to eat healthy, just think about all the possibilities that can come from precut veggies, precooked meats and prepackaged snacks. Frozen veggies, zucchini noodles, rotisserie chicken and chicken sausage are among some of my favorites. What are your shortcuts to meal prep?
7. Mix it up
Although it can seem easier to just prepare the same meal for all 7 days, who wants to eat the same meal every day. Humans like variety, especially when it comes to what we eat. Prepare 2-3 different meals if you can, so you don’t get bored and fall off the wagon. Variety supports sustainability.
8. Don’t forget about snacks. And Breakfast too!
Plan out your snacks ahead of time! These are almost as important as your meals. Make sure that each snack has a protein and a carb (ideally: 8-15g protein and 15-30g carb). If healthy snacks are planned and prepped, you’ll be less likely to reach for a treat or some other processed food. Pre cut veggies and make a homemade Greek yogurt dip. Have string cheese, yogurt, measured containers of nuts, and jerky on hand for a protein kick. Keep fresh and frozen fruit at home for some all-natural sweetness. If you are completely crunched for time, try grabbing a LaraBar packed with dried fruits and nuts. And for breakfast, try making egg muffins with veggies and turkey sausage. They are full of protein and fiber, and can make your mornings so much easier.
9. Invest in quality, environmentally-friendly containers
From glassware and mason jars to smaller storage containers for nuts and dressings and reusable sandwich and snack bags, you’ll be swimming in storage ware if you’re as hyped about meal prep as I am! If prepping meals ahead of time works for you and becomes a sustainable practice in your life, then purchasing the proper containers will only be a small yet necessary investment.
10. Consider theme days
Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Pizza on Fridays and Crockpot cuisine on Sundays! Theme days are easy to remember, fun for kids, and help to create diversity with meals.