Meal Prep 101
By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD
I’m going to level with you: There is no magical, effortless solution to planning and prepping meals. Unless you have a personal chef, eating well requires a good amount of planning, time, and plain using your noggin. Every. Single. Day. Eating well also takes work, which is why so many throw in the towel and resort to convenience, packaged foods chock full of not-so-healthy ingredients.
But this isn’t meant to discourage you. It can be done! And it’s not as complicated as you might think. This year, challenge yourself to really do it right. Eat whole foods with minimal chemicals and additives.
There are lots of strategies around meal planning. There is no right or wrong. It just comes down to what works for you, your family and your schedule. I’ve included some tips below to help you get started!
Pick A Day for the Week’s Meal Prep
This strategy works for many people. It gained popularity in recent years and includes doing all of the week’s grocery shopping, meal prep, and meal assembly on a designated day of the week (usually Sunday). You can then pull meals out of the fridge throughout the week, and save yourself time on the busy weekdays.
- Spend less time in the kitchen during the week.
- Have the satisfaction of home prepared meals that are conveniently packaged and ready to go.
- Meals/food items can spoil or go to waste due to changes in plans (aka life getting in the way.)
- Time-consuming: This prep/assembly can take the better part of a day, depending on the types of meals being assembled.
Use a Meal/Ingredients Delivery Company
No, this isn’t cheating. You work hard all week and it’s hard to come up with creative (and healthy) meal ideas 7 nights a week! You’ve probably seen the ads for meal kit delivery services or other companies popping up with similar offerings. There is a variety of different options to choose from including number of meals per week, serving size of meals, prepared entrée or the raw ingredients, gluten free or paleo, conventional or organic ingredients, and price point.
The choices are endless! We tried one of the services recently and received dinners for 3 nights of the week. Even Dietitians appreciate someone else taking the reins and providing the recipe ideas from time to time.
- Convenience: Ingredients and/or prepared meals are delivered to your door.
- Quality: The entrees are really good!
- Cost: These programs can be pricey, especially ones that include local or organic, farm to table high quality ingredients.
- Time to Prepare Meals: You still have to factor this in for the plans that include raw ingredients and a recipe.
Take Advantage of Healthy Convenience Foods
There are some health conscious time-savers out there when it comes to dinner prep. Rotisserie chickens are a great example – ready to go and extremely versatile. But check that label and make sure you’re only getting chicken, salt, and pepper. Sometimes stores try to sneak junky filler ingredients in, like preservatives. Another great example is washed and cut produce from stores like Trader Joes. Already cubed butternut squash? Genius! I’ll never buy the whole squash again. Simple time saving solutions like these will free up time in your day.
Use a Weekly Meal Planning Template
Think of it as a weekly menu or meal schedule which you can easily create yourself. It forces you to think through the week, and at the minimum, plan out your 7 dinners. It also helps to have a list of your family’s favorite foods and recipes broken down by category (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.) Then you can rotate through these items when you’re not feeling creative or motivated enough to try out a new recipe. It’s easy to forget favorite foods when they aren’t all kept in the same place for reference.
There is no magical solution to meal planning. You’ve got to put in the work. But make it easier on yourself and use some of the suggestions above as well as recruiting suggestions from family members and your own quick research. You can do this! Contact a Dietitian if you need further help.
Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is an avid triathlete, having completed many triathlons of all distances including 3 Ironman races. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific fueling plans for her clients as well as sweat sodium concentration testing. For more information on services and offerings, visit her website at www.fueltothefinish.com.