Fitness Facts: Meal prepping

By Liz Cook
Registered Dietitian, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic

With the fall semester right around the corner, things are changing. Maybe you’re back on campus, maybe your children are starting school, maybe you’re finding yourself a little busier than before.

Whether your schedule is changing or not, most of us could use a few more hours in the day. While we can’t add hours to our days, we can simplify our routines to work smarter, not harder.

Meal prep may be a foreign concept to you, something you’ve dabbled in, or something you’re a total pro at. No matter which if those you are, meal prep can save you time and energy without compromising your healthy habits. It can even help improve your eating habits by making healthy eating easier!

Meal prep does require a bit of a time commitment upfront, but it saves valuable time day to day. It also eliminates the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” question because that already has been answered. Meal prep helps make the healthy option the easily accessible, default option to prevent having to run through a drive-thru.

Before we get into how to get started with meal prepping, I highly recommend checking out this article on Meal Planning, which goes hand in hand with meal prepping.

There are a few different methods to prepping your food ahead of time, all of which will save you time in the long run.

The first method is preparing individual, complete meals. This is what many of us picture as the stereotypical meal prep where you see multiple containers laid out, all filled with the same meal.

This generally works well for preparing lunches for the workweek. When it comes to what to actually put in the container, go for a combination of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, fruits and/or veggies, and some healthy fats. Here are a few examples of each:

  • Complex carbs: brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes
  • Lean protein: chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, tofu, tempeh, beans
  • Fruit and/or veggies: anything goes here – pick your favorites
  • Healthy fats: olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, seeds

If you are someone who doesn’t mind eating the same thing over and over, this option is for you! If you tend to get bored easily, try preparing the same foods but varying the seasonings, sauces and/or dressing for some different flavors.

The second method is batch cooking, often in a Crock-Pot. Essentially, you make one big batch and use it for meals until it’s gone. This method works well for soups, stews and chili. You also can freeze part of what you made and use it for future meals.

If you are someone who wants to save time but really values eating fresh food, give ingredient prep a try. With this method, you prepare your ingredients to the point they are ready to be cooked but save the actual cooking for later.

You can wash and chop veggies, prep your protein and even pre-cook your grains. By doing the washing and chopping ahead of time, you will be able to go straight to the cooking when it’s time to make your meal.

This works well to prepare ingredients for a salad, stir-fry or soup. This is also a great method for those who aren’t big fans of eating leftovers. Try doing your ingredient prep right when you get home from the grocery store – that way, it’s done and checked off your to-do list right away.

Finally, cook once/eat twice is an in-between option. This is a simple method where you just double up everything you cook to cut your cooking frequency in half.

If you make double the quantity of dinner tonight, you can eat it tonight and tomorrow night to save yourself the time and effort the second night. You also can triple the recipe to further cut down on cooking time in subsequent days.

This option is also great for cooking dinner and eating the second half for lunch the following day. It’s a good balance between preparing ahead of time but not eating the same meal over and over.

Just a quick food safety tip: To avoid spoilage, consume all meals within five days of cooking. If you are not going to use them within that time frame, it’s best to freeze them to prolong storage time.

Finally, if you are interested in branching out a bit, check out Yummly for tons of new recipes! You can search by the ingredients you have in your kitchen or even by meal-prep ideas. The site has plenty of filters to allow you to refine your search and find exactly what you are looking for.

If you’ve never meal-prepped before, I hope this has given you some ideas and the confidence to give it a shot. If you’re a meal-prep expert, I hope you’ve learned enough to kick it up a notch. Happy prepping!

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