Meal Prepping Can Help You and Your Family Eat Healthy During the Week … Without the Stress!
Spring is here, and although it’s the perfect time of year to start thinking about healthier lifestyle habits (that beach vacation is almost here!), we’re all busy with work, school, family and, well … life. It’s easy to ditch your plans for making a healthy supper when french fries are calling your name from the drive-through.
Even when you’re trying to commit to a healthier diet, counting points or managing portions, or even monitoring how many healthy greens you’re getting can feel overwhelming when your week feels like a blur of work, child pickup/dropoff, after-school activities … before you know it, everyone is hangry and you don’t feel like you have any good options for feeding your family.
Cue Meal Prep!
What’s Meal Prep?
You might have heard of this trend in nutrition. The idea is pretty simple, and, although it takes some time on the front end, meal prepping takes all the stress out of feeding you and your family healthy meals during the busy week.
We’ll show you how to plan your menu, buy groceries and get your meals ready for the week in 5 easy steps.
Step 1: Pick your planning and prepping days!
It’s best if you choose two separate days, so you don’t get burned out before you even get started with meal prepping.
Choose one day for planning your menu for the week, and then choose another day for your meal prepping. Try Saturday morning for planning and grocery shopping, and Sunday afternoon for prep.
Step 2: Plan your menu.
Now that you’re in official menu-planning mode, take the time to think about the kinds of meals you and your family like to eat, and how you can make them healthier. There’s no shame in sneaking in extra veggies in the spaghetti sauce. Nobody has to know! Coming up with a blank? Get some inspiration from places like Pinterest — a great place to find healthy recipes, nutritional information and food substitutions for meal planning.
Attack your biggest problem meal first. If you’re eating too much fast food for lunch during the workday, find ideas for fast, easy, tasty lunches you can pack from home. Once you’ve got your lunch routine in the bag (pun intended), tackle dinners and snacks. It really is all about routine! Meal planning and prepping may seem daunting, but once you get the hang of it, it will become part of your regular schedule.
Step 3: Make a list and go shopping.
Now that you have your menu planned, sit down with your recipes and make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Be thorough with your list; you don’t want to have to leave half-raw chicken in the pan to make a run for garlic!
Take a few minutes to make sure you’re getting snacks and breakfast basics on the list, too. Things like apples, almonds and oatmeal in the pantry are much better than cookies. And if you pack your kitchen with healthy snacks instead of junk food, guess what you’ll be forced to eat?
Bonus: Planning your menu and shopping on a completely separate day from prepping means you have time to check for sales and do some price comparison. You might have to stop at a few different stores, but you can save some serious cash if you check sales ads before you head out the door!
Pro Tip: Add matching storage containers, labels and markers to your list. You’ll be needing those in Step 5!
Step 4: Start cooking.
The key thing to remember on your official meal prep day is strategy. Get a game plan in place before you start preheating the oven. Start cooking things that take the longest first, and remember you can have several appliances and meal components cooking at the same time. For example, cook hard-boiled eggs on the stovetop for snacks and salads while you roast a sheet pan dinner in the oven.
Don’t feel bad if you get a little overwhelmed at first! Consider the first few times you meal prep to be test runs. It took ALL DAY to prep lasagna? Take it out of the menu, or figure out what took so long and tweak that part. You underestimated how long it would take to peel potatoes? Next time you’ll remember and plan to do that part while pasta is boiling.
Pro Tip: if other people will be eating these meals, think about asking them to help! Even young kids can pitch in with a few chores to make the afternoon in the kitchen go faster.
Step 5: Pack it up.
All your kitchen counters, the dining room table and maybe even the coffee table in the living room are now covered in the week’s meals. Great work! Now, it’s time to pack everything up. Think about making your week’s mornings and dinner times easier by packing up lunches in portion sizes, and putting different parts of your dinner all together in the fridge. Label things so you know which meal is for which day, and which container goes with what. This is the part where you get to use those cute, matching containers you bought.
Pro tip: Purchase a small food scale so you can check portion sizes and weigh food before you pack everything up for the week. You’ll thank yourself on Tuesday, when you’re happily eating lunch at work without worrying about calories, points or portions: you already got that under control!
Remember to start simple! Meal planning and prepping is meant to help dial down the stress in your life, not make it worse. Start small and work your way up to more meals, once you get the hang of it.
Are you interested in taking control of your health with a better diet? At HealthStar, our healthcare providers are here for you.