Lifestyle changes aren’t always easy. Change is hard! Establishing a new habit can take weeks to feel like it’s the norm. And healthy lifestyle changes? Well, that can be even harder, given your entire existence has revolved around food and activity balance. Your diet is one of the most important parts of overall wellness, so if you’re making changes to your food intake to support a healthier lifestyle, meal preparation may be the most effective way to make these changes stick. These meal prep tips are designed to give you the 101 on how to get the most out of your food choices.
What is Meal Prep?
Exactly what it sounds like. Preparing your meals in advance means that you have a stock of pre-selected, balanced, and ready-to-eat entrees in your fridge and available when you need them. Ultimately, this saves people time throughout their busy weeks so that there is an abundance of healthy choices at the ready, versus opting for a less nutritious option when you’re on the go.
Fast food, convenience store snacks, and take out dinners can be a detriment to a healthy lifestyle, as these quick eats are typically devoid of good proteins and nutritious vitamins, and instead loaded with processed oils and sugars. Not only are they calorie-dense and full of fat, they don’t contain ingredients that will properly fuel you throughout your day and help you reach your health and fitness goals. So meal preparation, known to the health and fitness industry as “meal prep” for short, will indeed save you time and give you the edge you need to make healthy choices day after day.
What do you need for meal prep?
In order to prep your meals, you need somewhat of a handle on how to cook them. That means having the proper cookware, seasonings, and food storage containers handy so that they go from the pan to packs you can use throughout the week. Healthy meal prep tips wouldn’t be relevant unless cookware and storage were discussed.
Prepping meals in advance means that you’re making use of your main kitchen appliances to cook food in larger quantities. The stove or oven is a go-to appliance, so pots, pans, cookie sheets, muffin tins and cast iron skillets are the most versatile essentials for this task. And if you’re not a seasoned cook or chef, don’t be discouraged! This whole process is designed to be easy and save you time.
The best food storage containers range from plastic baggies and tupperware, to glass storage containers with rubber lids. Most people opt for containers that are small enough to pack in a lunch box, yet big enough to fit a sandwich or meal. Smaller containers also accommodate smaller quantities of food or liquids like a handful of nuts, salad dressing, or apple slices. So remember when shopping for containers to think about the portions you’ll be toting along. On that note, ensure you have a lunch box or cooler than can fit your food storage containers.
Healthy Meal Prep Cooking Tips
Now, with the proper essentials to get the job done, you need to get cooking. Here are some hacks for how to use your cookware and storage containers to prepare a large quantity of meals and snacks you can portion properly and keep you on-plan for your health goals.
Let’s start with your food choices. When prepping meals, you’ll want a well-balanced portion of protein, vegetables, and starch or carbohydrates. And if you’re on the fence about not what to cook, but why to cook, make sure you bust any myths about healthy diets before you hit the grocery store.
Protein is essential for any healthy diet because it’s the amino acids in protein that help repair cells and make new ones. People who lift weights increase their protein intake, because when they shred muscle tissue during workouts, the protein helps repair the muscle by increasing the cellular content, which builds mass. Protein is also paired beautifully with natural grains or rice that are easily cooked in large batches. Some tips for meal prepping this meal must-have come straight from the pros.
Poach or boil chicken in large quantities in a pot of seasoned water for a large quantity of protein that can be used in a variety of ways: on salads, flatbreads, sandwiches, or made into a healthy chicken salad using hummus instead of mayo. Cooking meat in water means no added oils or sauce, so you’re keeping the nutritional value of the chicken at point blank and don’t have to worry about additional calories or additives.
Grill meat in large batches with rubs instead of sugary sauces. Sauces can be loaded with chemicals and sugars, so stick to savory seasonings like cayenne pepper, salt, paprika, or other pre-made herbal rubs. You’ll have a maximum flavor impact with minimum guilt. And if you’re not a grill master, pull out that cookie sheet or cast iron skillet. Broiling meat in the oven helps it retain as much of the natural flavor and juice without burning it off while keeping that bit of crispy char.
Need breakfast ideas? Yes, that muffin tin mentioned earlier can be used to make mini egg muffins. Chop your favorite veggies and whisk with egg, pouring the mixture into muffin tin sections and top with cheese. After you bake them, you’ll have several (adorable) little mini omelets or egg muffins you can take with you for breakfast or as a snack.
Once you have your protein, steamed or baked veggies of choice, and a starch, start packing up those food storage containers. Since these ideas are relatively neutral in taste, you can jazz them up by adding marinara or pesto sauce or even cheese to enhance the meal and give you a wider flavor profile.
If you’re going the vegan or vegetarian route, you can use the same methods of boiling and baking for beans or peas. You can also bake chickpeas on a cookie sheet that have been lightly coated in oil and seasoned to taste. These are packed with protein, low on the calories, and can be added to salads or taken along as a snack. And speaking of snacks, it’s really important that you have a plethora of snacking options in addition to your meals to tote along, but that they’re just as nutritious as your other food choices and keep you out of those sugary convenience store isles.
The most reliable, filling, and nutritious snacks on the market are smoothies. They are loaded with nutrients–but you should be careful, as some are packed with sugar. Fuel for Fire protein smoothies are made with real ingredients and no added sweeteners of any kind. Because they’re shelf-stable, you can take them along without having to even worry about refrigeration. Registered dietitians, coaches, and athletes use Fuel for Fire because of their concentration of protein and nutrition, so make sure these–as well as other healthy snacks like nuts and cheese–are on your shopping list.
Congratulations on taking a small step toward fueling your body with better, more nutritious ingredients. Get the most out of your meal prep by cooking things in batches, portioning out properly, and most importantly, don’t forget to snack!