September 2019 3 Steps to Meal Prep
By Kaley Birge
It’s difficult to keep up with all there is to do in autumn. With work, school, and everything in between, it can be hard to make healthy meals on busy days. Meal prep can help you save money and time, and make the healthy choice the easy choice. There’s no perfect prescription for meal prep—find what works best for you! You can prepare ingredients ahead of time and use them a different way each night, or batch-cook ready-to-eat meals for the whole week. It’s easier than it sounds if you follow these three simple steps to effective meal prep.
Step 1: Start with a PLAN
- Decide what to make: If you’re unsure where to begin, Pinterest, cookbooks, and coupons are good places to start. Consider if you have ingredients that need to be used before they expire and plan a meal around these. Pick recipes you like—if you like it, you’re more likely to actually cook and eat it.
- Start small: If you’re not currently meal prepping, jumping into planning and prepping three meals/day for 7 days/week is unrealistic and overwhelming. Plan out one meal at a time until you’ve worked up to a comfortable routine. If you decide that weekday dinners need the most work, then start there!
- Map out your ideas: Use an app, notebook or create your own system for mapping out your menu so you can see where there are opportunities to create a food routine.
- Portioning: Make sure to have enough containers to portion out multiple meals. If a part of a meal needs to be heated and another part kept cool, consider using separate containers. If you have a side of dressing, consider using a separate seal-able container.
- Consider balance: The basics of a balanced meal include: protein, starch/grains, and vegetables. Healthy fats, fruit, and dairy can also be added.
Step 2: Now you’re ready to PURCHASE
- Make it simple: Create your grocery list alongside your meal plan so you don’t forget anything. Organize your grocery list by the map of your store and stick to your list. Consider some convenient ingredients (i.e. pre-washed/pre-cut vegetables) to help save time.
- Get enough ingredients: With volume-reducing foods such as meat or leafy greens, it can be difficult to estimate how much you need to buy. For meat, account for about 25% cooking loss. For example, 4 oz. of cooked chicken x 3 servings = 12 oz. cooked chicken, so plan to purchase about 16 oz. raw chicken.
Step 3: Take time to PREPARE
- Batch cooking: If you’re already making a meal, double, triple or quadruple the recipe and freeze leftovers. This works great for chilis and stews. In a few hours, you can make enough food to last multiple weeks.
- Schedule the time: Investing time to cook at the beginning of the week will ultimately save you time later on. Consider reserving a consistent weekly time block to meal-prep.
- Not a leftover-lover?
- Wash and cut all your ingredients for different meals at the same time so you only have to chop and clean once, then on busy nights you just have to cook and eat.
- Give the same ingredient a different twist: batch-cook chicken to add to chicken noodle soup, chicken Caesar salad, or chicken stir-fry all in the same week. A large pot of cooked beans can later be added to soups, salads, tacos, and breakfast burritos.
- Best foods to meal prep: Sturdy vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans), ground meat, beans, hard-boiled eggs, and starches keep great in the fridge.
- Hold off on prepping: Salad with dressing, sandwiches with wet ingredients, and crunchy foods can get soggy. If prepping salad, keep the dressing on the side. If preparing sandwiches, keep the bread separate until ready to eat.
- Simplify with sheet pans: These are great for baking multiple things at once: chicken, sweet potatoes and asparagus can all be baked on a single sheet pan for a complete, balanced meal.
Make it fun: Meal prep doesn’t have to be a chore. It’s your food, make it how you like it and make it fun. When you’re done, congratulate yourself–you just saved yourself money, time, and effort for the whole week.
Get to know our author
Kaley Birge is pursuing a degree in Nutrition and Food Science and Spanish Language at CSU. She is passionate about reducing nutrition-related socioeconomic health disparities, particularly in Spanish-speaking communities. Birge plans to obtain a master’s degree in Public Health and become a registered dietitian nutritionist.
For additional resources to healthy eating, check out these programs from our registered dietitian nutritionists. More health tips are also available at the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board. Lastly, don’t forget to sign up for the KRNC monthly newsletter!