Prudent planning ensures the best possible outcome when embarking upon affordable, nutritious and tasty meal prep. The time invested pays off tenfold! Follow these steps to simplify the process.
Selecting Menus in Advance
When helping clients navigate the all-important nutrition piece of the fitness puzzle, common complaints revolve around time: time to plan healthy meals, shop for quality ingredients, cook, and repeat. While this issue merits consideration, once clients adapt to a new lifestyle approach, they wonder how they ever managed without the advantages of meal prep.
In order the get the entire family together and on board with any new culinary process, begin with foods they already enjoy. Menu planning tops the list of meal prep advantages ~
Step 1: Choose the family’s favorite healthy meals…and toss a few surprises in the mix as well. Pay attention to grocery store weekly promotions to further stretch food dollars.
Step 2: Categorize the grocery list: produce, bulk pantry items, frozen foods, dairy, and protein sources.
Step 3: Clip coupons…and remember to bring them to the store.
Step 4: Visit farmers’ markets for seasonal produce. By arriving later in the vendors’ scheduled time, bargain prices abound as sellers need to unload their remaining stock.
“Handy” Portion Control
Clients seeking basic nutritional advice frequently inquire about serving/portion sizes. Sharing this “handy” reliable method simplifies the process without needing a kitchen food scale.
A serving of protein, from fish to eggs to poultry/beef/lamb, approximates the size of one’s palm. Typically, men require more protein than women, and tend to have larger palms, thereby making this rule consistent regardless of gender.
The size of a fist represents a serving of veggies/fruits. Keep in mind that produce, whether cooked or raw, should occupy half of one’s plate (or in the case of meal-prepping, half of the single-meal-sized container).
Carbohydrate measurement gets a bit trickier. A cupped handful works well for approximating a serving of cooked rice/pasta/potatoes and dry cereal. Crackers’ serving sizes usually appear on the boxes.
Freezing in the Freshness
Many meal-preppers count heavily on their freezers to store cooked foods, either in casserole sizes for family dinners or individual serving-size portions for grab-and-go convenience. While some foods transition perfectly well from cooked to frozen to thawed, others definitely do not!
Foods/meals offering the most successful outcomes include the following:
· cooked pasta/rice dishes
· lasagna/other casseroles
· cooked pork/beef/ poultry/seafood
· cooked beans
· steel-cut oatmeal
· breakfast sandwiches
The following foods do not take kindly to freezing/thawing:
- dairy-based yogurt (coconut-milk yogurt freezes well)
- raw watery produce (zucchini/tomatoes/cucumber/cabbage/green beans/mushrooms/potatoes)
- processed lunch meat
To keep vegetables looking and tasting fresh upon thawing, blanche them prior to freezing. To store fresh berries at their peak of ripeness, place them in a single layer on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, store them in a freezer-appropriate bag or container. They will keep for months without sticking together.
Tricks to Save Time and Money
Busy clients love time-saving tips. Substituting plant-based proteins for meat in a few dishes each week offers variety, health benefits, and less cook time. High-protein pasta, edamame, lentils, quinoa and split peas/beans prepared ahead of time make for quick meal assembly. If it suits the tastebuds, keep tofu on hand as well. One night’s dinner can easily transition into a variety of fun lunch options for the next 2 days.
Establishing a tight grocery budget means remaining open to brands owned by specific stores. Shoppers usually find little difference in the quality or nutrient density of generic brands when compared to the pricier options. Also, frozen and canned vegetables work wonderfully in place of fresh when making casseroles.
Sheet pan dinners, ideal for delicious, inexpensive family meals, do not require much prep/cook time. Such recipes lend themselves to larger quantities, making them perfect for storing/freezing leftovers in single-serving sizes for future lunches.
Include the Children
Keeping kid-friendly foods on hand eases advance meal planning. Stock the fridge with these options ~
- Cut-up apples/pears (stored with lemon water to retard browning)
- Oranges/grapes/kiwis/melon balls
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Cut-up variety of colorful veggies for lunches or snacks: carrots/celery/cucumbers/peppers/broccoli/cauliflower/tomatoes/beans
- Homemade granola/trail mix
Prepping for the Day’s Most Important Meal
Clients who rush getting children fed and out the door to meet the school bus often do not make time for their own breakfast. Older kids who drive themselves to school tend to prioritize arriving early and socializing over eating a healthy morning meal. To meet everyone’s needs in the household, thaw a frozen pre-prepped breakfast sandwich. A short time in the microwave can ensure a warm and nutritious start to the busy day.
- Bread ~ Choose whole-grain options with at least 3 grams of fiber/serving: sandwich-type breads/bagels/English muffins/whole-grain pocket pitas.
- Eggs ~ Scrambled eggs freeze well.
- Meats (optional) ~ Turkey sausage/lower-sodium ham/turkey bacon/Canadian bacon.
- Cheeses (optional) ~ Choose low-fat options that melt well.
- Veggies ~ Pepper strips, or fresh sliced tomatoes (added post-reheating)
After prepping, place items individually into freezer bags or airtight storage containers. They should stay fresh for close to 3 months, depending on ingredients.
Lower the carb count with omelet muffins. Prepare eggs/meat/cheese/vegetables in muffin tins; bake until set. Cool, and freeze.
Staving Off Food-Borne Illness
No matter how carefully we prep weekly meals, they should still be considered as leftovers. Remind clients to adhere to all food safety recommendations for leftover foods. After about four days in the refrigerator, bacterial growth may kick in. While the idea of cooking an entire week’s worth of menus on Sunday, for example, appeals to the busiest professionals, allocating two prep days each week significantly lower the risk of food spoilage.
Economical meal planning reduces the impulse to buy random and perhaps less-than-nutritious items at the grocery store/vending machines. By preparing meals/snacks ahead of time, clients not only maximize their money-to-nutrition ratio, but also free up hours in the day for recreational activities and/or leisurely family time.