Healthy Meal Prep Tips For a Busy Week
Finding the time to prepare healthy foods to eat throughout the week can be challenging, but with some thoughtful planning and helpful tricks you can easily prepare for the days ahead. Between juggling work, commuting, family time, exercise, and sleep, it's easy to rely on the crutch of fast food and takeout -- which can not only take a toll on your health but also your wallet. By following these healthy meal prep tips for a busy week, you'll find you and your family can enjoy quick meals that are good for you and delicious.
A crucial step is to plan what you're going to eat each day, as this will inform what, when, and how you prep. Start by picking a good time to prepare your ingredients and meals. Sunday afternoons are a time when most people can allot a few hours to get everything ready. Try listening to music to make it an enjoyable experience. Keep in mind you don't have to choose one day to prep for the whole week, and for some people it may make more sense to break up the work. As you plan, find out where ingredients overlap between recipes so you can prepare large batches at once.
Once you create a grocery list based on your meal prep plan for the week, be sure to stick to that list when you get to the grocery store. You'll not only save money by avoiding pricey impulse buys, but you'll also keep junk food out of your cart -- and the house. The list will also ensure that you have everything you need for the week and spare you from last minute runs to the store.
Buying in bulk can be a great way to save money, and it can be especially helpful for preparing meals for the week. Ingredients like grains, dried beans, nuts, frozen meats, and canned goods are all great raw ingredients that can be stored until you need them. It's also a good idea to stock your pantry with a variety of condiments, prepared sauces, and jarred ingredients that can be easily and quickly added to a recipe or leftovers to complete a meal or add variety throughout the week.
It's time to ditch those flimsy plastic containers with mismatched lids and invest in some quality reusable containers that will help you prep, organize and store your meals. Whether you prefer BPA-free plastic sets or glass containers, look for sets that can be used in the freezer and microwave and come in a variety of sizes. Glass containers are usually oven-safe, but can also be heavier if you're carrying them to work or school. Mason jars can also be used for storing ingredients (more on that later), just be sure to use widemouth jars. Don't fill them completely if if you plan to freeze them to avoid breakage.
Once you have great containers, it's time to put them to use by preparing and organizing your ingredients. Using quality knives, a blender, a food processor, and other essential kitchen tools, clean, prep, and store most of your vegetables and fruits so they're ready to go. Add a paper towel to containers of produce to help absorb excess moisture, and avoid chopping things like herbs and strawberries ahead of time, as oxidation will cause them to brown and lose flavor and nutrients. Consider adding a marinade to portioned proteins before storing, and prepare grains like rice, quinoa, and barley in large batches so they can be incorporated into multiple recipes.
Maximize time spent preparing meals for the week by cooking multiple ingredients at the same time. If you're oven-roasting a large batch of vegetables such as potatoes -- a great way to add flavor without unhealthy fat -- throw in a baking sheet of squash or other vegetables at the same time. If you're cooking a protein like chicken or tofu, consider preparing the ingredients with two or three separate seasonings (i.e. bbq sauce, teriyaki sauce, and pesto) and using aluminum foil as a divider on the baking sheet when you cook.
When you're cooking for the week, be sure to double or even triple up recipes so that you have plenty of leftovers to enjoy in the days to come. Use a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or Instant Pot to make big batches of soups, stews and sauces so that you don't have to constantly monitor the food during longer cooking times. To avoid getting tired of eating the same leftovers repeatedly, look for ways to creatively repurpose those leftovers with different recipes.
Preparing layered, ready-to-go-meals in mason jars is a great way to ensure you have an easily portable, healthy meal on hand throughout the week. From yogurt parfaits for breakfast to zucchini noodle pasta salad for lunch and even deconstructed sushi in a jar, the recipe options for mason jar meals offer lots of opportunities to get creative. Mix and match ingredients to create a variety of jarred meals at the same time so you don't get bored with the same one over and over again.
Your freezer is your friend when it comes to prepping meals for the week -- the key is making the most of the space you have. Look for recipes that freeze and reheat well, and make sure that any prepped vegetables and proteins are stored in moisture proof bags to avoid freezer burn. If you're freezing fruits for a quick smoothie or other ingredients that might stick together when frozen, start by freezing them in a single layer on a baking sheet first before placing them in storage bags or containers. It's also helpful to pre-portion stocks, sauces and soups in smaller containers or even ice cube trays, so that you can defrost only the amount you need on any given night.
Healthy meal prep doesn't necessarily mean that you have to make everything from scratch. In a pinch you can save time by incorporating healthy prepared foods like those from Cedarlane, Munchery, or Amy's to round out a salad or other midweek meal. As much as we may want to prepare everything ourselves, sometimes life gets in the way -- luckily, you don't have to sacrifice health or flavor.
If you're looking to improve your cooking repertoire or would like a bit of guidance in preparing your meals for the week, meal-kit delivery services can be a fun and convenient way to eat healthy during a busy week. Whether you choose Plated, Blue Apron, or any one of the many meal-kits, look for one that fits your skill level, schedule, and budget. While meal-kits won't work for every night of the week, they're a great tool to add to your arsenal to help you eat well despite your busy schedule.