If you search for meal prep tips on Pinterest, you can find a lot of good ideas, and also some complicated, time-consuming recipes that look delicious and healthy, but also like a lot of work.
Maybe it’s just me because hubby likes to joke that I can ruin boiling water, or burn cereal. Cooking does not come naturally for me. I know how to prepare simple meals with simple ingredients, but if the recipe calls for obscure ingredients (obscure to me may not be obscure to you), uses big words, or technical jargon, I get lost. Cooking stresses me out, timing everything to come out of the same time is slightly above my skill level. Ha.
Just because you’re not a gourmet chef and can only follow a kid-friendly recipe (like me), doesn’t mean you can’t prepare healthy food for the week.
Forget about elaborate recipes and spending six hours in the kitchen. Meal prep doesn’t have to be complicated. If when you think of meal prep, you envision perfectly portioned Tupperware dishes for each meal all week long, then you may be thinking too big (for now).
To start with meal prep, I suggest thinking much smaller. Ask yourself: What can I prepare today that will make meals easier to pull together during the week?
HOW TO CREATE A HEALTHY MEAL
Think of meals in the simplest terms possible. Choose a protein source, a healthy fat, a healthy carbohydrate, and a vegetable in each meal. It looks different depending on the meal, but don’t feel tied to tradition. If you want to eat eggs for dinner or chicken breast for breakfast, there’s no reason you shouldn’t.
Dinner can be as simple as a chicken breast (protein) topped with a thumb-size of avocado (fat), mixed vegetables, and a small baked or boiled sweet potato (carb).
Lunch may be turkey or tuna (protein) on whole wheat wrap (carb) loaded with veggies, a pinch of cheese (fat) and a small piece of fruit on the side.
A breakfast example is plain Greek Yogurt (protein) sweetened with sliced banana (carbs), eggs (protein/fat) cooked with spinach (veggies).
You can replace each protein, healthy fat, vegetable, carbohydrate with your preference. Don’t over think it.
Step One: Choose Protein
Athletes can aim for .8 to 1 pound of protein per pound of body weight (or ideal body weight if trying to lose weight). To meet these standards, structure each meal and snack around a protein source. If you prep your protein ahead of time, it’s effortless to add cooked chicken, turkey, beef, or pork to a salad, wrap, stir fry, or stand alone in a meal.
Choose two or three protein sources that you enjoy and can eat with several meals during the week such as chicken, turkey, beef, fish, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or eggs.
A serving of protein is approximately the size of your palm. You may need more or less, depending on your dietary needs and goals. Adjust according to your results.
Step Two: Choose Carbohydrates
Some people prefer lower carbs and higher fats, and others perform and feel better with lower fats and higher carbs. Healthy whole food carbohydrates are a balanced part of an athlete’s diet. It’s up to you to experiment with how many grams per day make you look, feel, and perform your best.
Choose a few healthy carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, quinoa, tabbouleh, beans, oatmeal, or fruits.
A serving of carbohydrates fits approximately into your cupped hand. Adjust more or less according to your needs and goals. If you choose to reduce carbs, eat your carbohydrate intake around workouts.
Step Three: Choose Fats
Fats can help you feel more satisfied between meals and are essential for hormone balance, plus they are tasty.
Choose fat sources such as avocado, olive oil, cheese, butter, nuts, or nut butter.
Serving size of healthy fats is approximately the size of your thumb. Adjust more or less as needed and preferred.
Step Four: Choose Vegetables
Veggies are also a carbohydrate source but are added in addition to your carbohydrate source because they are full of the micro-nutrients you need to look and feel healthy. Choose a variety of vegetables and aim to eat the rainbow of colors. Choose colorful veggies such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, squash, Brussels sprouts, yellow, red and green peppers, corn, eggplant, or green beans.
Veggies are high in fiber and nutrients, and usually low in calories, pile them on!
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Make multiple servings at one time, then store the leftovers in the fridge to heat up and eat later.
To show you some ideas, I’ve narrowed done some meal prep ideas into three categories: Easy, Easier, and Easiest. You’ll notice that often the easiest choice is sometimes the most expensive because we pay for convenience. Choose whatever works best for your lifestyle.
EASY MEAL PREP
Cooked protein generally lasts four to five days in the refrigerator. Refrigerate enough for several days and freeze any that you eat after five days.
In a large pot, boil two pounds of chicken. Cover skinless, boneless chicken breast with water and cook on high. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Check that the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the middle. Pull apart with two forks to shred the chicken while hot.
On the stove top, cook a pound or two of ground turkey or lean ground beef. Drain the grease and store, or add mushrooms, peppers, or your favorite veggies of choice to the meat mixture once drained and cook through.
Bake several servings of chicken breast or pork chops in the oven at 350 until thoroughly cooked.
As a ready-to-go breakfast, snack, or salad topper, hard boil six to twelve eggs. (Eggs are both a protein source and a fat source.)
Once you have cooked protein, it is easy to add to salads, wraps, tacos or stand-alone meals. Just heat and go— faster and cheaper than take out.
Boil or bake potatoes. Cook a batch of brown rice. or soak dry beans. Make several servings and store for the week.
Chop vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussel sprouts, top with your favorite seasoning and roast in the oven. Cook enough for several meals.
EASIER MEAL PREP
One (Crock) Pot Meals
Place uncooked protein (chicken, pork, beef) in a crockpot. Top with carbs (cubed potatoes, black beans) and veggies (peppers, mushrooms, sliced jalapenos, or whatever fresh, frozen or (drained) canned vegetables you prefer). Set on low and walk away. Heat up later to eat for several lunches or dinners during the week.
Cook your cubed protein choice, with potatoes, and veggies on skewers and grill (or bake). Prep enough for several meals.
EASIEST MEAL PREP
The most effortless meal prep doesn’t require much preparation at all, just buying precooked or easiest to prepare ingredients in advance, so they are available when you need them. Remember, it doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. It also doesn’t have to be perfect. Aim for better choices most of the time (not perfect) and you’ll have success with meal planning.
Buy a fully cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Use the chicken in meals all week.
Buy frozen precooked chicken or turkey patties to heat up later, or precooked chicken strips to throw in salads.
Buy cooked chicken or other protein from the salad bar or deli at the health food store.
Buy tuna in water pouches for an easy protein source in meals or as a healthy snack.
Buy microwave brown rice cups. or frozen microwave potatoes
Buy frozen microwavable steamed vegetables for quick prep at meal time.
Buy prepared vegetables from the salad bar or deli at the health food store — review ingredients to limit added sugars or processed ingredients.
Order a healthy meal delivery service. <— most effortless meal prep of all!
Meal prep doesn’t have to be complicated. Choose healthy foods that you enjoy eating and prepare several batches in advance to make your meals a little easier to pull together throughout the week.
Do you have a meal prep ritual? How can you make meal prep work for you? What is one food you can prep in advance this week? I’d love to hear about it.
More meal prep ideas:
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Questions? I’d love to help.