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Plan and prepare food for the week ahead of time with these tips in mind.
Your weeknights are already a juggling act — shuffling kids around to after-school activities, running errands or winding down from a long day at the office. Eating healthy dinners during the week is a lot of effort. For many of us, driving through Taco Bell or sticking a pre-made pizza in the oven is just easier. But what if you could come home from work and school and already have a healthy homemade meal prepped for dinner?
Advanced food prep is your best ally when you want to eat — and feed your family — healthy meals all week long. Lindsay Livingston is the registered dietitian and creator behind The Lean Green Bean blog and literally wrote the book on food prep (check out her ebook here).
She says: “I think food prep is one of the most under-utilized healthy-living tools. Spending even an hour on Sunday can make it so much easier to make healthy choices during busy weeks.”
Rather than stressing out about what to make for breakfast, lunch or dinner every day, fill your fridge with healthy pre-prepared options that can simply be reheated or easily combined into a balanced meal.
Here are Livingston’s pro tips for successful, delicious meal prep.
1. Plan it out.
Set aside time early in the week to plan. Whether it’s just dinners, or all meals and snacks, writing it out will help you get organized. From there, make two lists — a grocery list of everything you’ll need for the week and a list of items that can be prepped ahead of time.
Think about how you can repurpose proteins into different dishes — for example, you might grill a big batch of chicken on Sunday, eat it with some BBQ sauce Sunday night, chop it up for a burrito bowl on Monday and eat some in a wrap for lunch on Tuesday. Cook shrimp or steak during prep and add it to pastas, salads and stir-fries during the week. Bonus: Planning and shopping from a list usually results in a lower grocery bill, too.
2. Set aside an hour or two to prep.
After you grocery shop, spend an hour or two washing, chopping, cooking and portioning. This prep might involve:
- Cleaning and chopping fresh veggies for snacks.
- Chopping, sautéing or boiling veggies to add to meals all week.
- Grilling chicken to add to meals.
- Hard boil a half a dozen eggs for high-protein on-the-go snacks or salad toppers.
- Boil brown rice, quinoa, or other healthy grains as a good base for meals.
You’re going to want to make extra quinoa so you can whip up Lean Green Bean’s Quinoa Breakfast Bars recipe. This is a healthy grab-and-go for breakfasts.
3. Portion out snacks.
If you struggle with portion control or want to have easy snacks on hand, pre-portioning is a great idea. Make a big batch of trail mix and portion it into baggies for a snack. Chop carrot and celery sticks and store in small mason jars. Pair the snack with pre-measured dollops of hummus or Greek yogurt.
These Lemon Energy Balls are the perfect sweet snack to stash in your fridge (or freezer!). They’re gluten-free, Paleo-friendly, ready in five minutes and only use five ingredients. What could be better?
4. Be realistic.
“I try not to prep more than I know we can eat in three to four days,” says Livingston. Most leftovers will safely last that long in your fridge. “There are foods — like hard-boiled eggs — that last a week or so, but for meat, I would stick to about three days.”
To ensure you still have things to eat at the end of the week, prep some slow-cooker meals during your Sunday meal prep (like browning ground beef and sautéing onions for chili) and stick those cooked foods in the freezer once they’ve cooled.
The night before, pull a bag of already-prepared food from the freezer and put it in the fridge. Before you head to work in the morning, throw it in the Crockpot and you’ll walk in the door that evening to a ready-to-eat dinner.
5. Make the freezer your friend.
When you’re food shopping and prepping, think about foods and dishes you can stockpile in your freezer. Livingston’s favorite foods to cook and add to her freezer include: burgers, casseroles, soups, broths and sauces, as well as muffins and breads.
This Lean Green Bean blog recipe for Avocado Chicken Burgers can be grilled or baked during meal prep, then enjoyed for lunch or dinner, served on a whole grain bun or on top of salad greens!
Now get to prepping!