One of the challenges to eating healthfully is time. When we are busy, we tend to grab whatever is convenient and ready to go. This often leads to eating a lot of packaged foods or going out for fast food. These habits can be harmful to our health and tend to be expensive! I follow two rules to make sure that I have healthy snacks and meals on hand. My first rule is to meal plan at the beginning of each week. The second is to spend time one day a week prepping meals and snacks to have on hand.
Have you ever run to the grocery store without a list and just bought everything that looked good? When you arrive home, you realize that you have a lot of snacks, but nothing that can be thrown together to make an actual meal. Or maybe you grocery shop and buy grains, protein, and veggies to make meals. When you get home, you realize you have plenty of ingredients for meals, but nothing to eat for breakfast, lunch, or snacks. This happens all too often and can be easily prevented by making a meal plan. Meal planning is even more important when cooking for one or two. It makes sure that the food you buy will be put to use before it goes bad.
Menu planning is really simple. Just take 30 minutes before you go grocery shopping to make a list of the meals that you will make for the week. I use the template below to plan out my week. It’s really easy to use and includes everything I need to make a successful plan. You can click on the picture for a printable version.
I keep a list of my favorite recipes and print and file any new recipes that I would like to try in a folder. I use this list and my new recipes to plan my menu. I find that trying a few new recipes a month helps me mix things up so that I am not cooking the same thing every week. When I am menu planning, I make sure to include a lot of leftover days. I call them “planned overs”. This helps me finish the meals I make so that I am not wasting food each week. Here is a sample menu of what I would plan for a typical week. As you can tell, I even have a plan for breakfasts and snacks so I don’t forget to include those in my weekly shopping trip.
Once your plan is ready, it is time to head to the store. Make a list of all the ingredients that you will need for the week. Be sure to check and see if you have those ingredients on hand so you don’t end up buying double. Grab your list and head to your favorite grocery store. Grocery stores tend to be the busiest after 5pm on weeknights and on Saturday afternoons, so try to work your shopping in at a different time. I like to grocery shop early on Saturday mornings, but find what works for you!
There are two methods of meal prepping that you can choose. Some weeks I use only one method and other weeks, I use both methods.
The first method of meal prepping is the easiest to start with. Once you have unloaded your groceries, take time to prep any ingredients that can be made ahead of time. This includes washing and chopping produce, cooking beans and grains for the week, and making a large salad to pack for the week. If you already have your veggies chopped, you are more likely to pack them for snacks and lunches. And if you have your grains cooked and veggies ready to go, dinner is a breeze!
The second method of meal prepping takes a little more time one day a week, but has big benefits later on. This method is for those who do not have time to cook during the week and rely on packaged meals or take-out. I like to meal prep on my busiest weeks so that I know I always have healthy meals ready to go. After your groceries are unloaded, set aside a couple of hours to get cooking. Look ahead throughout the week and decide which recipes you can make. I tend to choose really quick and easy recipes when I meal prep for the week. Cook each of those recipes and portion them into individual containers. Leave one or two days worth in the fridge and put the rest of the containers into the freezer (just thaw out the next days meal in the fridge overnight). When it is lunch or dinnertime, just grab your container, pop it into the microwave, and enjoy!
Here is an example of how I might use my meal plan to prep meals:
1. Cook shredded chicken for burrito bowls in the slow cooker.
2. Cook rice for burrito bowls and curry pineapple fried rice.
3. Chop veggies for burrito bowls.
4. Cook chicken for curry pineapple fried rice.
5. Prepare some tupperware containers with burrito bowl ingredients and some tupperware containers with curry pineapple fried rice ingredients. Label and date tupperware with masking tape.
6. Prepare freezer bags with ingredients for banana and berry smoothies. Label and date.
7. Wash fruit and veggies. Chop carrots and celery into sticks.
Keep veggies, fruit, and 1-2 days worth of meals in the fridge. Place freezer smoothie bags and any remaining tupperware in the freezer. Most of your meals are ready to go for the week.
Some other ideas to prepare ahead of time include:
- Dry pancake mix
- Banana bread or homemade bread for sandwiches
- Egg casserole
- Crockpot oatmeal
- Trail Mix
- Granola bars or snack bites
Here is the recipe for the Pineapple Curry Fried Rice. It is one of my favorite meals and tastes so yummy! Click on the recipe for a printable version.
Do you meal prep? What are some of your tips and tricks?
Certified Nutrition Education Assistant