It goes something like this: You have high hopes at the start of a weight loss journey when motivation is high. You imagine you'll start doing meal prep at home and have meals ready to go at the start of each week, or better, making each meal delicately from scratch with whole food ingredients and delicious seasoning and sauces. Visions of acai bowls and overflowing colorful salads dance in your head.
But week one is tough. It takes longer than you thought to meal prep and you get interrupted by normal daily errands and tasks and several hours later you feel like you’ve wasted the whole day and couldn't possibly keep up with this every week.
You feel defeated and overwhelmed and you slowly start ordering out again or grabbing your go-to snacks and the whole plan falls apart before you can say “intuitive eating”.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Healthy cooking - and doing it regularly - doesn’t have to be such a chore. It doesn’t have to take hours of your day or days of your week. It doesn’t have to be stressful and it can include the whole family.
This post is going to discuss how to meal prep at home in a way that is sustainable and time efficient. These steps will include:
Taking advantage of prepared foods
Pre-chopped and frozen veggies
Prepping while unpacking
An arsenal of go-to recipes
Soups, stews, and casseroles are key
Keep it simple
Divide food into sections
Here are the ways to make healthy eating fast and easy.
1. Take advantage of prepared foods.
It’s not lazy to buy some meals or components of meals already prepared. It can be healthy, it’s always quicker and it can be inexpensive. It’s also a great way to avoid making separate meals for yourself and the rest of the family.
Places like Trader Joes and Whole foods have prepared foods like baked or grilled chicken and other meats, soups, salads and sides that can easily fit into a healthy meal plan for the week.
Other services like Hungry Root, Plated, Trifecta and Daily Harvest send clean prepared meals (or the exact ingredients to make meals quickly) to your door so you don’t have to think or plan (and in some cases, you don’t even have to cook).
2. Pre-chopped and frozen veggies
Stock up on these pre-chopped or frozen veggies and sides for those in-a-pinch- moments.
I’m all for reducing waste and using fresh food whenever possible. But it isn’t always possible or practical for many busy families. We do the best we can with what we have. And sometimes, that means buying the pre-chopped broccoli, riced cauliflower, or just any frozen veggies we can pull out when the prepped meals run out.
3. Prep your foods as you unpack from the market
This may sound daunting at first. But you are already taking time to grocery shop, unpack and put away all the food. Take 20 extra minutes here to clean, chop, marinate etc now and you will save so much time during the rest of the week’s meal times.
It’s more efficient to keep the momentum going while you are already in grocery mode now, than to get out tools, prepare and then clean up 3, 5, 10 times throughout the whole week.
Now, when it’s time to cook (whether you do it in bulk or at each meal), you just pull out prepared veggies and meats and throw them right in the oven, on the stove, or in the pot.
4. Bulk roasting (or boiling or grilling)
Of course we all know that cooking in bulk can save time. Take it a step further, and plan meals for the week so that you can use the same method as well.
Buy a bunch of veggies for the week that all do well with say, roasting. Then throw all your (already chopped, see above) prepped veggies on a few sheet pans and roast at the same time.
You have dinner tonight, and right when you pull them out of the oven you can separate into storage containers for the week. Throw a few in the fridge and a few in the freezer for later in the week.
This goes for almost any cooking method, grilling, frying, boiling, and more.
5. Have go-to recipes and seasonings
It may seem obvious, but this is one of the areas that can save so much time and decision-making.
If you know that you like a certain spice combo on your chicken, and you like it baked and with a side of roasted asparagus and fingerling potatoes (Also with a certain spice combo), you can better plan and have fewer decisions to make about what to pull out of the cabinet when it’s chicken night.
Do the same for your other favorites. Tacos, stews, steak night, soups etc.
Take it a step further by pre-mixing your spices in jars and labeling them for that meal. Just pull it out and sprinkle on at cooking time.
6. Soups, stews and casseroles
There’s a reason our mothers and grandmothers took out the casserole dish a few times a week - throw everything together, scoop and eat!
There are tons of new and old recipes that make these dishes both tasty and healthy. Every meal doesn’t have to be pretty or complicated.
7. Don’t over-complicate
Lunches can be gourmet salads with all the colorful veggies and pretty drizzles…but they don’t have to be!
Make it easier on yourself. Many of my lunches include things like cold-cuts roll-ups with baby carrots and nuts (that’s a meal!), or a bed of greens with a hard boiled egg and some leftover chicken and roasted veggies from dinner last night.
Mixing leftovers (like protein and roasted veggies from dinner) with a few fresh ingredients (like salad greens and fruit) makes lunches quick, easy and actually tasty. Leftovers by themselves are not for everyone, but this combo works for even pickier eaters.
8. Un-complicate the plate
Divide the plate into sections. As a general guideline, fill 50% to 60% (visually, not by calories) with fibrous veggies, 20-25% with clean protein (again this is eyeballing on the plate, % of calories), and the rest with healthy fats in the form of oils you cooked with or the food itself like avocado, fatty fish or nuts, as well as starchy carbs if you’re in the mood (like quinoa, sourdough, potatoes etc).
BONUS: Learn how to order out like a pro
I have a full post on ensuring your takeout order is healthy, that you can check out here.
The more we understand how to save time, cut out redundant steps and simplify the plate (no need to count macros), the less stress we feel around cooking healthy meals and understanding how to efficiently meal prep at home.
For help applying these effective tips to your unique situation and getting you set up with a plan of action, schedule a 1:1 consultation with me (a health coach) today!