If you have a busy schedule and a great deal of responsibilities, a healthy homemade dinner might not be at the top of your to-do list. However, spending extra time preparing healthy meals to last you a week is worth the trouble. You probably envision bland steak, rice and broccoli portioned out into several days’ worth of containers, but do not be quick to ignore the idea yet. Meal prepping can be adapted to your crazy schedule and lifestyle, making you efficient in the kitchen and taking out the annoying guesswork of meals daily. This gives you peace of mind and more time to focus on other activities in your week. If you have kids, they can get excited about what meal they can look forward to during the week, plus you can also include their favorite foods well in advance into your weekly menu.
Additionally, meal planning and prepping curbs the urge to call or swing to your favorite takeout for an emergency lunch or dinner every evening. This will save you money and help you improve your diet quality while reaching any health goals you may have. If this whole concept is new to you, you do not have to be intimidated or confused about where to start. Here are some helpful tips to get you started and perfect your meal-prepping skills.
How to Meal Prep
Meal prep is the act or practice of preparing the key components of a dish or the entire recipe before you plan to eat it and storing the meals in a fridge or freezer. This smart meal planning process gives you control of your kitchen by getting meals on the dining table simply and efficiently, leading to faster, healthier, and time-saving lunches or dinners without breaking a sweat.
You do not have to worry about cooking every single meal you will consume all week in a single day or spending money on new, fancy equipment. It can be full recipes or a list of food components. Your first focus should be learning how to create healthy, nutritious, balanced meal options. This is an essential part of meal prepping. According to studies, people that plan their meals are more likely to better adhere to nutritional guidelines and increase the variety of foods. This means you are highly likely to consume an all-rounded, healthy diet comprising various nutrients.
It is not a must to do meal prep over the weekend; you can do it on the most suitable day for your busy schedule. You can start by listing your meals of the week and specify what you want. Please discuss with your family what foods they would like to eat. Knowing what to expect makes things easier for everyone. If you are new in the game, do not overwhelm yourself with new recipes on your meal plan, it would be better to mix up things. You can google recipes or use Pinterest, save the ones you are interested in (for future reference), and note down the items you need to make them. You can also check what you have in your freezer and pantry and search for recipes based on the ingredients you have. Start with something simple and make adjustments as you advance.
Meal Prep Containers
Storage containers are vital for meal prepping because they can keep your food fresh and last longer. Invest in quality food storage containers and consider the intended use. Choose suitable or safe containers for microwaving, pre-cooked meals, freezing, and cleaning with a dishwasher. You can find a variety online or from your local store that comes in different designs, sizes, and shapes. Glass containers are dependable since they are microwavable and eco-friendly. Sandwich bags are great for chicken marinades and small freezer meals, while gallon-size freezer bags are ideal for batches of freezer meals.
Meal Planning Tips
- Start small by planning snacks or meals for the coming week. You will gradually figure out which planning strategy is convenient, and you can slowly add more meals and new recipes.
- Schedule in advance the day you are going to meal prep and write it in your calendar. Put off anything that will make it easy for you to bail out.
- Incorporate every food group for a healthy, nutritious diet into your recipes. Limit added sugars, refined products, and excess salt and focus on whole foods, vegetables, legumes, fruits, healthy fats, and protein. Go for ingredients with a variety of colors and textures to make your plate vibrant and loaded with different nutrients.
- Organize your kitchen, pantry, freezer, refrigerator, menu, grocery shopping, storage containers, tools, ingredients, and meal prep spaces for a smooth process.
- Go for meals in which you can reuse ingredients. For example, you can cook a batch of baked chicken and switch up what you serve it with one day, serve it with asparagus and mashed potatoes, and a different day over streamed cauliflower and brown rice.
- If you can, avoid making the same meal two weeks in a row, so you don’t get tired of eating the same thing. Go for recipes that can be cooked on a pressure or slow cooker to save time.
Ways to Meal Prep
- Assemble ahead meals: Assemble all the ingredients you need ahead of time but do not cook them. Chop, peel, slice, and portion them out, then freeze them when you need them in your recipes.
- Individually portioned meals: Prepare and cook them, portion them out in containers ahead of time, and freeze or refrigerate them later so you can grab and go.
- Reheat meals: Prepare and fully cook your meals of the week and reheat them when needed.
- Buffet style meals: Prepare the ingredients ahead of time, mix and match to create combinations that you and your family can enjoy.
- Batch prep: You can make large recipes at once, freeze them for use later or cook a large batch of a single ingredient ahead, freeze or save it and base several meals around it.
Food storage (freezing and refrigeration) is essential to successful meal prepping and planning. Tips on food storage include:
- Label and date all prepped items to track when you can use them by.
- Rotate your stored foods by keeping the oldest at the front
- Highly perishable foods such as chopped fruit, greens, or herbs should be stored at eye level so that you do not forget them
- Do not freeze high moisture content foods like tomatoes, water, melons, or salad greens since they mush up when thawed
- Blanch veggies before freezing to help them keep well
- Freeze cooked meals in airtight containers
Recommended temperatures and times for different cooked foods to ensure they are safe to eat and retain their nutrients and flavors include the following and are not limited to:
Refrigeration at 40°F or lower
- 1-2 days: Cooked ground beef and poultry
- 3-4 days: Cooked whole meats, fish, and poultry; soups and stews
- 5 days: Cooked beans and hummus
- 1 week: Hard-boiled eggs or chopped vegetables when stored in an air-tight container
- 2 weeks: Opened soft cheese
- 5-6 weeks: Opened hard cheese
Freezing at 0°F or lower
- 2-3 months: Soups and stews and cooked beans
- 3-6 months: Cooked or ground meat and poultry
- 6-8 months: Berries and chopped fruit such as pears, bananas, apples, plums, and mango stored in a freezer bag
- 8-12 months: Vegetables, blanched first for about 3-5 minutes (depending on the type of vegetable)
Contact Advanced Care Specialists today for more information on healthy meal planning.