The cold, dark months and shorter days of winter can leave us feeling
more tired and pressed for time than usual. This can make it even more difficult to muster the motivation required to prepare healthy meals on a daily basis. However, with a little planning, we can avoid the pitfalls of the sluggish winter season that leave us reaching for the phone to order takeout. By incorporating some simple meal prepping strategies into your weekly routine, you can ensure you and your family have access to home-cooked, healthy food—even on days when you don’t feel like cooking. Here, some expert meal preppers among the NHR staff share tips to help you streamline your weekly schedule while achieving your healthy eating goals.
Decide whether you want to pack individual meals or if you want to bulk prep. Individual meals can be great for people who are only preparing food for themselves or those who want to eat consistent portions throughout the week.
On the other hand, batch prepping large containers of staple foods, such as beans, grains, roasted vegetables, and meats might be a better option for families or people who want to mix and match their preprepped foods throughout the week.
Make sure you have the correct containers for the type of meal prep that you want to do. For individual meals, you can find uniform meal prep containers in a
variety of sizes in stores and online. For convenience, look for individual prep containers that can be microwaved, frozen, and run through the dishwasher. For bulk preparation, be sure you have large enough containers to fit the amount of food you want to store.
Plan out your meals before going to the grocery store, then make your grocery list. When planning your weekly meals, first check your pantries and refrigerator to see what you currently have and decide whether you want to use any of these items for your meal prep. Next, write out a detailed plan of what you’d like to eat that week and the ingredients required for your meals. If you’re prepping with a particular goal, such as maintaining a calorie deficit or incorporating more fiber into your diet, now would be a good time to plug your potential meals into a food tracking app, such as Cronometer, in order to determine nutrition and portion sizes. After, use this list to make a final grocery list of everything you need to prepare your meals for the week.
Don’t make a weeklong prep of a recipe before trying it. Embarking on a
new meal-prep journey in an effort to improve your eating habits can be exciting, and it can be tempting to pack your prep containers with that brand new recipe you found online. However, on the off chance your recipe doesn’t turn out the way you expected, you’ll be left with several days’ worth of food that you might not want to eat for dinner every night. When starting out with meal prep, it’s best to prep tried-and- true recipes that you love and will want to eat for multiple days in a row.
After you have your meals planned and your groceries purchased, make a to-do list. This can help you stay focused when you’re in the thick of the meal prep process and you forget what else you have to do.
Example: Your lunch consists of roasted chicken, whole wheat pasta, broccoli, and a creamy cashew sauce; your dinner consists of brown rice, marinated baked tofu, and green beans. Identify and write down each action required to complete these meals, such as marinating the tofu, chopping and steaming the broccoli, and boiling the pasta and brown rice.
If you have room for it, an automatic pressure cooker, such as the wildly popular Instant Pot®, can make a big difference in meal prep. An automated pressure cooker allows you to easily and quickly cook grains, beans, potatoes, soups, stews, and more without tending to another pot on
the stove. In addition, prepping items in a pressure cooker will free up space on the stove and in the oven, so you can increase your kitchen’s multitasking potential.
Utilize your kitchen wisely to optimize prep time.
When prepping your meals, think about how every appliance in your kitchen is going to be used in the hours you’ve set aside for meal prepping.
Example: If you want to prep roasted chicken, roasted broccoli, and roasted sweet potatoes for your weekly lunches, but only have access to one oven, re-evaluating your cooking options will save you time. Roast the chicken, steam the broccoli on the stove top, and pop the sweet potatoes in a pressure cooker. This way, you’ll have every component of your meal cooking at the same time.
Podcasts and audiobooks can be a lifesaver during long meal prep sessions. Even with the time-saving strategies outlined here, meal prep can take a long time, and a lot of that time might be spent doing mindless, monotonous tasks, such as chopping vegetables, washing dishes, or weighing and packing food containers. Spice up your prep session with a podcast or audiobook, and the time will fly.
Clean up as you go! It might be tempting to throw your dirty dishes into the sink and forget about them until meal prep is complete, but you will be better served by washing and reusing your pans and mixing bowls as you go. Trust us—you do not want to be met with a pile of dishes to wash after several hours of meal prepping
FAST FACT—Regular exercise can thrwart genetic tendancies to gain weight. Researchers have found
that regular exercise weakens a particular obesity gene variant by about 30 percent in adults who carried the
gene in their DNA.
SOURCE: Graff et al. Genome-wide physical activity interactions in adiposity: a meta-analysis of 200,452 adults. PLos Genetics. April 27, 2017https://doi.