Meal Prep: The Shortcuts You Need to Know
A big part of feeling successful in your healthy eating regime is planning and preparing your meals ahead of time -- so you’re not tempted to just stop at the fast food drive-thru on your way home from work! So, why not bring back the tradition of good ‘ol home cookin’ and start eating healthier, more nutrient-dense meals… at home?
Well, first off, you may be thinking that it’s way too time-consuming to cook all of your meals from scratch. However, if you plan in advance AND do at least some of the meal prep ahead of time, healthier home-cooking habits can be established far more easily than you think!
It really doesn’t matter what type of diet you follow – whether it’s vegan, gluten-free, keto or diabetic-friendly. Nor does the size of your kitchen need to limit you - just a few basic pieces of cooking equipment is all you need to get started. I know you’re busy, busy, busy and time really can feel like a luxury these days. So I've chopped, diced and puréed everything you need to know about MEAL PREP, including all the best shortcuts.
What is meal prep?
Meal prep does involve planning ahead – and preparing your meals in advance. Basically, you’re cooking complete or near complete meals in advance so all you have to do is reheat them at meal time. This generally works best for lunch & dinner, but I'll show you how to do it for breakfast too ;)
However, the prep part can’t really happen until your meal planning is done first. During the meal planning process, you need to decide what meals you’re going to prepare, make a grocery shopping list, and then buy all the ingredients. Then you get to prepping!
Meal prep can offer these benefits:
→ MORE ORGANIZED & SAVES TIME COOKING
By prepping your meals in advance, you’ll only have to cook or reheat your meals when it’s time to eat, giving you more time for other things. Many people do their meal planning and prep on a weekly basis on preset days.
→ REPURPOSE INGREDIENTS & STRETCH YOUR FOOD BUDGET
Prepping for multiple meals (at the same time) with frequently-used ingredients will save you even more time during the week AND can stretch the food budget.
Many “dry staple” ingredients, such as grains, flours, pasta, nuts, seeds & legumes, can be bought in bulk and kept in the pantry to be portioned out for meals as you need them.
→ STAY ON THE HEALTHY LIFESTYLE TRACK & PORTION CONTROLLED
There’s less chance that you’ll veer away from your healthy eating regime since things have already been prepared, allowing you to have healthier meals and snacks at the ready.
Part of prepping food in advance includes storing meals in proper portion sizes, and this can certainly help to prevent overeating. Win!
Meal prep meets “batch cooking” - and other ‘just get started’ tips
Use a calendar to get organized, and pick the day(s) of the week to do your grocery shopping, meal prep and/or batch cooking. Schedule these events just like any other appointment. Consider your grocery shopping day when you’ve decided on your meal prep day so food doesn’t spoil. Sunday is popular for meal prep because it’s just before the beginning of a new work/school week.
Batch cooking is really just another cooking idea related to meal prep, and at its simplest, it means preparing multiple batches of the same meal, portioning them out, then freezing them for later use over.
It may be easiest at first to just focus on one daily meal to prep in advance: lunch or dinner. Then, once you’re a more seasoned meal prepper, add in some other meals each week.
Consider purchasing some foods that are pre-cut to save time and extra mess, if this is something you know is going to get you flustered. Consider the advantages and disadvantages as some pre-cut foods may also have been processed in some way.
Set up your prep station before anything else, being mindful of where the sink, appliances, kitchen gadgets and trash cans are situated in your kitchen. Also, organizing & prepping each of the ingredients before you start cooking is key.
KNIVES: make sure they are sharp! CUTTING BOARDS: Use non-porous cutting boards to prevent cross contamination and food-borne illness. It’s also wise to have at least 2 separate cutting boards: one dedicated to meat/poultry + one for fruits & vegetables. POTS & PANS: Make sure you have various sizes - for example, using a large pot or pan to cook a small amount of food can be wasteful and inefficient.
Some meal prep tasks should be put off until the night before or right before eating the meal. Examples include not chopping & adding fresh herbs (to minimize oxidation and maximize the flavour), not washing fresh fruit (chance of mold - berries are notorious for this), and not chopping greens (to prevent wilting).
Clean as you go during meal prep. This helps keep counters clear (of which space may be at a premium in your kitchen), and it allows you to reuse dishes & utensils - because again, you don’t need much to do meal prep efficiently and effectively.
Label food storage containers, i.e. what’s in it, and the expiration date. Most food keeps well in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, or in the freezer for up to several months. However, some foods do not freeze well (e.g. eggs, sweet potatoes).
Refer to this Safe Food Storage Chart.
Let hot food cool to room temperature before storing it in the refrigerator or freezer. Refer to these Food Safety Tips for Leftovers.
So there you have it… meal prep tips galore so that you can more easily reach your goals of living a more health-full lifestyle - one that includes pre-planned meals.
Check out this easy, make-ahead casserole that’s sure to please any crowd :)
RECIPE Crowd Pleaser Breakfast Casserole - serves 12 (Gluten-free + dairy-free & make-ahead options) Ingredients
Parchment + avocado oil or preferred cooking oil for pan
12 large whole eggs**
1 Tb Mexican seasoning blend (no salt added)
2 tsp garlic powder
1½ tsp sea salt
Black pepper, fresh ground, to taste
1 cup any milk or dairy alternative (e.g. unsweetened almond or cashew milk)
1 cup hard cheese, shredded & divided (sharp/old cheddar suggested, but can use non-dairy “cheese”)
2 Tb jalapenos, seeded & minced
½ cup bell peppers, seeded & chopped
½ cup green onions &/or cilantro, chopped
3 medium sweet potatoes, coarsely grated (= roughly 3 cups)
4 cups baby spinach leaves, packed
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F, line 9×13 baking dish with unbleached parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.
In a large mixing bowl add eggs & spices; whisk for 30 seconds.
Add milk, ⅔ cup cheese, green onions, cilantro (if using), bell peppers and jalapeños; whisk gently to combine.
Add shredded sweet potatoes and spinach; stir well with spoon to mix.
NOTE: Mixture will be thick, and will likely appear as if it needs more eggs, but don’t add any!
Transfer to prepared (oiled) baking dish, and flatten mixture with back of spoon. Bake for 1 hour.
Sprinkle with remaining ⅓ cup cheese/non-dairy “cheese”, and bake until cheese is just melted.
Remove from oven, cool for 10 minutes and cut into 12 squares using long serrated knife. This is important so that you don’t shred and crumble the slices.
Serve warm for breakfast with a slice of wholegrain/sprouted grain avocado toast - or cold with a side salad for lunch!
Store casserole, cooled to room temp, in fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Freezing is not recommended as it changes the texture and consistency.
*To make ahead: Assemble, cover and refrigerate for up to 48 hours. Bake as described above.
**Substitutions: Want to cut down on yolks? Substitute with 6 large eggs + 2 cups liquid egg whites.