As a dietitian, one of the most common topics I get asked about is meal planning and how to get started. I am often hearing things like,
“I know I need to meal prep but I just don’t have time.”
I get it. My days are typically 10-12 hour long, and the last thing I want to do when I come home, hungry, is stand in my kitchen and cook. I LOVE finishing a long day knowing I have something prepped in the fridge that I just have to heat up. But that means, come Sunday, I’m making the time to shop and prep. Also, eating out adds up, guys! That’s another huge motivator for me to prep because you best believe that this girl shops on a budget!
Meal Prep Myths
Okay, so let’s clear the air on a few different things before we dive in. First: prepping doesn’t have to take hours. Sure, if you’re whipping up a four course meal you’re going to put some time in, but a basic, weeknight dinner? Nope.
Second: it doesn’t have to be expensive. The reason most people say it sounds expensive, is because they’re either having too much fun in the cheese department or they’re used to eating out and only spending $8 here or $10 there, which doesn’t seem like that much when you’re dropping $100 on food at one time. BUT, when it’s $8-$10 5 days/week for the whole month (and that’s just for one person eating one meal out), that $100 dollars doesn’t sound too bad.
Let’s also not deny that when most of us dine out, we typically eat everything on our plate, even after we’re full. And what do we know about most restaurants? Big portions. You do the math.
Third: it doesn’t have to be perfect. We all have this notion that dinner needs to be a beautiful plate of food every night and I find that this pushes people away from cooking. Friends, many dinners of mine have consisted of a simple plate of eggs and toast with some sliced tomatoes or a couple of veggie burgers over some rice and veggies. Sure, do I love eating fresh foods as often as I can? Yup, but sometimes it doesn’t happen, and that’s okay. Healthy, nutritious, balanced meals can be simple and humble.
4 Steps to Quick Meal Planning
Here we go!
1: Create a list of easy recipes
I’m going to be honest, I cook a lot of the same things, over and over. I have certain recipes I cook almost weekly because they’re delicious, affordable, and easy to prep. Some of my favorites include:
- Chicken pesto pasta
- Lemon salmon + roasted veggies and sweet potatoes
- BBQ chicken thighs + roasted veggies and sweet potatoes
- Chicken Caesar salad + whole wheat roll
- Chicken sausage + rice + salad
You’ll see from the list, these are simple, everyday ingredients that you can find at any store. My meals typically consist of about five ingredients and let me tell you, I’m am always left feeling satisfied and nourished. I plan to cook six meals and treat myself to dinner out at least once/week but plan for whatever works best for you.
You’ll also notice that there are some repeats, and this is on purpose. I personally don’t mind eating the same thing for a couple nights, and it just makes things that much easier. When you plan out your recipes, build them off of each other so you’re not buy a ton of different ingredients. For example, for my Caesar salad, I buy enough lettuce to use the extras for side salads the next night. And
2: Take inventory and make a list of ingredients
Once I know what I’m going to make for the week, I throw together a list of what I need, taking inventory of the things I already have. For this week, I have a lot of sweet potatoes that I snagged at the farmers’ market so, one less thing on my list. For my tacos, I’ve already got some salsa and lettuce but I’ll need tortillas, ground turkey, and an avocado for guacamole (yum).
I do this for each recipe, also taking into account how much I want to make. And if there’s one tip I tell everyone, it’s to COOK IN BATCHES, because if you’re going to cook two chicken breasts, cook six and knock them all out. I like to make a lot of food at once so I have leftovers for lunches, and even if you make too much, you can always freeze.
Of course, depending on the size of your family, having leftovers for everyone might not work out and that’s okay. I keep some staples on hand in the event that I don’t have the leftovers I planned on. I try to keep veggie burgers, eggs, and canned tuna, fruit, and veggies on hand all the time, just so I have something to throw together for lunch.
3: Schedule your grocery shopping
Git er done. Now that you have your list in hand, you can whip through the store, knowing exactly what you need. This will also help you to stay focused and not give into temptations (speaking from experience).
And we’re here! Now, prepping doesn’t have to come right after shopping. I typically wait till Sunday evening but do it when it’s best for you.
Okay, so let’s go back to that list of dinners. Here’s what I do for prep:
- Season and cook the ground turkey
- Grill/bake all the chicken and sausages
- Steam a big pot of rice- turn on that timer and forget about it!
- Chop the sweet potatoes and your veg of choice (I love to roast carrots, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and zucchini), throw them on a sheet pan, toss in olive oil and salt and get them roasting!
- Wash your lettuce
- Marinate the salmon- this is one I cook the night of
- Marinate your thighs- I grill these the night of
It might look like a lot but each of these actually requires very little time, if you think about it. Plus, while things are cooking, you can do your chopping and marinating.
And look at that! So come Monday, that taco dinner will take you five minutes, as all you’ll have to do is heat that meat up, whip up some guac, and warm the tortillas in the microwave.
When you want that chicken Caesar, just pull out the lettuce, toss with some Caesar, top with some of that grilled chicken, maybe some tomatoes, and you’re done.
Keeping Things Convenient
I like to call these food hacks but they’re things to keep on hand to make prepping even easier.
- High quality, pre made dressings. I like to get the ones made with olive oil. Sometimes I make my own but ain’t no shame in buying.
- Balsamic reduction. I like to make mine, but keeping a bottle of this thick, sweet goodness on hand will add flavor to anything
- Pre made pesto. Okay, so I actually love making my own, and it takes just a few minutes, but keep it simple and just buy a jar.
- Prewashed greens. Makes salads just that much easier to assemble.
- Frozen veggies. Yes, still loaded with nutrients but affordable and won’t spoil on you.
- Slow cooker- Love my slow cooker!
- Salad spinner. I’ve had mine for probably 12 years and she’s still going strong. Night and day difference for when you have to wash your lettuce.
Cook in big batches and keep it simple. Even if you just start planning for 1-2 meals, that’s a great start. Go easy on yourself.
I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to call, text, or email.
And if you’re in the Columbus area and would like to schedule a time to meet you can learn more here.