When it comes to meals, how often do you find yourself pressing the easy button? If you are on a first name basis with the fast food drive-through checkout person or if the frozen pizzas boxes are starting to pile up, keep reading.
Between work, family, and other obligations it can be challenging to find the bandwidth to plan and prepare healthy meals. Luckily, there is a middle ground between getting pizza delivered to your house on a daily basis and spending every waking moment designing the perfect food plan.Invest now, save time/money/energy/your health later. #mealprep #saslife Click To Tweet
Repeat after me — routines will set you free. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Stay with me for a minute. How much time do you currently spend each week doing the following: worrying about what to eat, regretting what you ate (or actively suppressing those feelings), wandering around the grocery store without a plan, driving to pick up food (fast food, restaurants, extra trips to the grocery or convenience store, etc.), and/or distracting yourself just to avoid meal planning? Now subtract all of that time by just a few hours per week, and that’s the time you’ll get back each week by embracing a new routine-based strategy for healthy meal prep.
When it comes to food, you can’t beat the return on investment that a little preparation will get you. Planning ahead frees up your brain to be more creative in other areas of your life. Weekly routines will save you time, energy, and possibly money for doing things that are far more exciting and rewarding than scarfing down the remains of last Halloween’s reject candy during moment of low blood sugar-induced desperation while trying to figure out what’s for dinner. Can you tell I’m speaking from experience? These moments can happen to any of us, but they won’t happen nearly as often if you take some time to think ahead.
So scan through the Seven Simple Suggestions below, and decide which would be easiest to work into your current lifestyle. Choose an idea to try in the next month, and stick with it for at least three weeks before deciding if it is worth keeping. Once you lock it in, you might eventually decide you want to graduate to the next level.
Disclaimer: If you already enjoy cooking all of your meals from scratch using the vegetables from your garden and eggs from the chickens that are living out back, please skip down to the comments section and share your secrets with us!
1. Subscribe to a meal delivery or meal planning service
- Level 1 - Pre-Made Meals: Just schedule them, store them when they arrive, and heat them up when you’re ready. Fresh N Lean, Ion Nutrition, Factor 75, and The Good Kitchen are just a few options.
- Level 2 - Meal Kit Delivery: All of the ingredients are delivered to your doorstep with recipes to follow when you are ready to make dinner. Check out this blog for a review of some popular options.
- Level 3 - Meal Planning Services: These services either help you develop a weekly menu or develop one for you. Then you get a shopping list (often with links to grocery pickup and delivery services) and recipes. Prep Dish is one that gives you instructions for a prep day. If you are able to devote a couple hours on the weekend, your weekday meals can be as easy as heating up the oven and putting in what you chopped and marinated on Sunday — major weekday time and brainpower saver! Here are some other meal planning services you might explore.
2. Order groceries online
If you are not into the concept of a meal service, but limited on time or desire to shop for groceries, take advantage of technology by ordering online, and then pick them up curbside or have them delivered. Most grocery apps will remember what you’ve ordered before, making it easy to reorder your favorites from week to week. You may even save money by avoiding in-store impulse buys. Worried about the quality of the produce if you don’t pick everything out yourself? Just ask to inspect the veggies during the transaction with the person bringing your order to you. If there's a problem, they can swap them out or refund your money.
3. Use an Instant Pot to batch cook weekly staples
Start with hard-boiled eggs, grains (e.g., steel cut oats, quinoa), sweet potatoes and beans/lentils. There are endless ways to uses these ingredients like tossing together quinoa and beans with vegetables, avocado and spices — Viola… you’ve got dinner for tonight and lunch tomorrow.
4. Prep weekday meals and snacks on weekends
Whether you pack veggie containers ahead of time, dish up yogurt and oatmeal parfaits, pre-wash and chop vegetables to be roasted with weeknight meals, or batch cook complete meals, you’ll thank yourself during the week. You can find lots of ideas here.
5. Learn to love leftovers
Whenever you cook, make extra and immediately pack leftovers in individual containers with a handful of leafy greens. Have your leftovers for breakfast, lunch, or dinner later in the week.
6. Stop measuring
Unless you are baking pastries, breads, or cakes, most recipes are forgiving if you don’t get measurements exactly right, so ditch the measuring cups and spoons, and freestyle it. It’s liberating and allows you to tailor ingredient amounts to your suit your taste buds.
7. Always have a backup plan
Memorize your in-case-of-emergency meal, and be sure to always keep the ingredients on hand. For example, red lentil pasta (with just one ingredient and about 15 g protein per serving) pairs well with any baby leafy green, extra virgin olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, basil, and precooked shrimp or roughly chopped sardines. Think of a handful of foods (including a quality protein, vegetable, healthy fat, and nutrient dense carbohydrate) that you can combine and turn into a meal in a pinch. Consider shelf-stable and frozen staples, and set reminders to rebuy them when your supply gets low.
Remember the tips above work best when they become part of your routine, so block time on your calendar, and set reminders for ordering, prepping, and eating your way to better health.
Southwest Stuffed Sweet Potato
Serves 4 (main dish) or 8 (side dish)
4 sweet potatoes
1½ - 2 cups cooked black beans seasoned with ½ tsp cumin
½ - 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 lime (juice and zest)
½ cup chopped cilantro
- Cook sweet potatoes.
- Instant Pot method – Add 1 cup water, place sweet potatoes on steam tray, and set to high pressure for 12-13 minutes for small to medium potatoes, 15-17 min for large potatoes. Allow steam to release naturally.
- Oven method – Pierce sweet potatoes all over and bake at 400°F until tender (40-55 minutes).
- Microwave method – Click here.
- Mix yogurt, juice, and zest from ½ lime.
- Mash avocado and mix with a squeeze of lime juice and sprinkle of salt (optional).
- Split sweet potatoes and fill with beans, avocado, and Greek yogurt.
- Top with cilantro and remaining lime zest.
- If serving as a main dish, serve on a bed of leafy greens.