Meal Prep 101: Creating a Plan
By Eleanor Baker, MS, RD, LDN
Ah, planning for Meal Prep! This is one, of the many, fun and exciting parts of meal prep as you get to choose which tasty treats you will create to nourish your body for the week. We will review key points to keep in mind as you create your plan, to help save you time, energy, money, and reduce waste.
As I mentioned in the first article of this series, it is essential to take stock of what you have on hand so that no repeat items are purchased or have food thrown out because something has gone rancid. Choose recipes that include items that you have on hand already.
When choosing your recipes take note of how the food is prepared. If you are on a tight schedule and a recipe calls for 2 hours of hands on time, that recipe will not be the best choice for you. On average, Americans rotate cooking the same 9 recipes. If you learn to cook 3 new, healthier recipes you can improve your diet by 33%!
Start by choosing 3 recipes for your meal plan. Good staples to have on hand are:
- Multiple protein sources
- i.e. tofu, seafood, chicken
- Frozen are great options for when you need to make a quick meal or for the winter season
- Have salad greens for an easy packable lunch or nutrient dense dinner
- Cook up a variety on a sheet pan to add to stir-frys or complement a protein
- Precooked grains (rice, quinoa, etc.)
- Freeze your grains in individual freezer bags for quick and easy “minute rice”
- Freezing rice also helps to convert some of the starch to resistant starch that can act as prebiotic for a healthy gut bacteria
- Wash and precut your fruit
- Have frozen berries and bananas on hand for smoothies
- This will allow for quick breakfast options and on-the-go snacks
As you choose recipes to add to your plan, keep these key points in mind:
- Time: How much time do you plan to allot for cooking? Choose your recipes accordingly. Most should list the amount of time to prepare and cook the meal.
- Choose a day or two to plan, shop, and cook. Block time off in your schedule to accomplish it. Stick to it like its a million dollar appointment!
- If you are a leftover lover, plan one day to knock out all your cooking. Maybe you prefer fresher meals – choose two days per week to cook.
- I love to do a big casserole for group that always has lots of left overs on Sunday, a slow cooker meal on Wednesday, and cook on Friday night with friends.
- Save time by repeating meals. Have one or two go-to breakfast and or lunch options to streamline your meal prep planning.
- Preparation: Slow cook or sauté? Grill or bake? Take into consideration the equipment you have on hand as you dive into selecting recipes.
- Check out sheet pan recipes for easy clean up meals
- Have an evening that you know you will be busy? Break out a slow cooker recipe!
- Number of Servings: Take a look at how many the recipe serves. If you are cooking for one and the recipe serves four you can stretch that out over 2-4 days in your week! Double check the calorie counts in the recipe to ensure that it will be an appropriate portion for you. (1)
- Plan for Flex Days: If you have days you know you will eat out, plan for it!
- Create a Grocery List: You have taken stock of what you have on hand already, and picked out recipes, now its time to create a list.
- If you are trying to stick to a budget having a list will reduce the chance of impulse purchases.
- Storage: If you don’t have good food storage containers on hand already, invest, invest, invest! After all your hard working preparing your meals, the last thing you want is for one to accidentally leak all over you bag.
- Choose ones that have a rubber ring for a water tight seal. Choose glass to store your fruit and vegetables. Place them at eye level in your fridge so they are enticing and are more likely to be eaten first.
- Some examples of good containers are Popit, collapsible ones like SMARTPAN , or glass options such as Glass Meal or Mason Jars.
With your recipes selected and grocery list in hand, it’s time to hit the store and gather your supplies! No time to shop? Check out Instacart and have your groceries delivered to your door! Keep an eye out for the next part of this meal prep series on how to stream line your cooking as you create your meals.
If you would like to have hands on instruction for meal prepping, sign up for a grocery store tour or try an energized cooking lesson, contact Eleanor Baker, MS, RD, LDN to learn how easy meal prepping can be!
1. Your needs may vary depending on your activity levels. Want to know the best distribution for your needs? Contact Eleanor to find out!