Meal prep is the new buzzword in healthy eating. What does it mean? It simply means prepping your meals in advance, so that during your busy week you can just grab and go healthy, delicious meals. A lot of people are prepping meals on Sunday and storing them away in individual containers in the fridge for lunches and dinners during the week. You can also create big batches of recipes and freeze some for later. There are lots of ways to save time on cooking with meal prep. So, I asked some of my favorite dietitians to dish on their favorite meal prep advice. Look for my new video on meal prep coming soon to my blog.
1. Cook double or triple batches of simple recipes. “Put half the recipe in the fridge so you can enjoy it during the week and freeze the rest for later. If you’re not used to batch cooking, start slow by preparing 2 or 3 dishes at one time and then work your way up to 5 or 6. You may be spending more time in the kitchen over the weekend, but you will save at least 45 minutes each weeknight when you tend to be in a time crunch,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD nutrition expert and author of The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook.
2. One big batch can last all week long. “For my week day lunches, I purposely cook large batches as part of my Sunday meal. The leftovers are used in my salad for my lunches for the week. I pack my salad the night before in covered containers and grab it in the morning when I fly out the door to work,” says Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, Nutrition Professor, Boston University and author of Nutrition & You.
3. Make the most of your time. “I prep my veggies in the morning while the kids are at school. It makes cooking before/after soccer much quicker! I also buy pre-peeled garlic from Trader Joe’s (vacuum sealed), because I don’t like peeling garlic,” says Jacqui Wilson, RDN.
4. Repurpose leftovers. “Using leftovers makes your meal prep a lot faster, but making them into a new meal prevents boredom from eating the same thing twice,” says Chelsea Allen, RDN, blogger at Chelsea’s Healthy Kitchen.
5. Focus on your food groups. “Focus on food groups rather than specific recipes. By keeping whole grains, lean proteins, and fruits and veggies on hand you can easily throw together a healthy, balanced meal in no time. I like to batch cook roasted veggies, tofu, or another protein, and a grain like quinoa to use in a variety of ways throughout the week,” says Jenna Gorham, RDN.
6. Simple dishes are key. “If you tend to get bored with meal prep, or you find yourself wasting a lot of what you prepare, focus on making a simple, rotating menu instead. Making 3-4 complete, but simple dishes gives you enough options to choose from during the week without getting bored. For example, you could prep a salad, a crockpot soup, and an entree or two large enough to give you leftovers for the week,” says Chelsea Jackie, RDN, blogger at Chelsea Dishes.
7. Plan ahead. “Set 2-3 hours every week to plan and prep your meals ahead of time. For example : chop fruits and veggies for snacking, make-ahead breakfast ideas like overnight oats, granola, or chia pudding, and batch cook 1-2 entree such as roasted chicken or big pot of stew,” says Dixya Bhattarai, MS, RD/LD Registered Dietitian + Food Blogger at Food, Pleasure, and Health.
8. Maximize your cooking time. “I don’t do a set meal prep anymore, but if the oven is going on anyway then I’m throwing more than one thing in it!” says Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD, and author behind Hungry Hobby.
9. Take stock of your pantry. “Take stock of what you have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer before making your menu and purchasing new items to prep. This will save you time and money if you have a lot on hand to cook with, and some of the easiest and quickest meals can be made from pantry staples like pasta and other whole grains, canned tomatoes, and beans,” says culinary nutrition expert Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN of Small Bites by Jessica.
Image: Look for Sharon’s 4-Way Vegan, Gluten-Free Meal Prep, coming soon!