Post from MY FITNESS PAL
A Dietitian’s Guide to Meal Prep: Getting Healthy Foods on the Table Fast
AUGUST 25, 2021
Meal prepping is an easy way to save time each week preparing meals. It’s a great idea for anyone who has a busy schedule or for those who like to plan ahead. It’s also an effective tool to stay on track with your weight-loss goals. Having the “what to eat” question already answered at mealtimes helps limit mindless or impulsive eating.
If you’re new to meal prep, it’s important to have the right mindset. It’s easy to get caught up in the planning part of the process, but when it comes to the prepping part, it can feel like a chore. If this sounds like you, give yourself a break. Don’t fall into the “perfectionist” trap, thinking you have to prep and plan for every. single. meal. This can lead to major overwhelm, especially if you’re short on time or not the strongest cook.
The point of meal planning and meal prepping is to save you time and bring ease to your life, not stress and overwhelm. Always keep that in mind!
To help you get started, here are my best dietitian tips to get you into a healthy meal prep mindset and help you create easy, delicious meals that support your health goals in a sustainable way.
CLICK TO TWEET THIS ARTICLE > This dietitian is sharing her best tips for getting healthy meals on the table fast! @MyFitnessPal
HAVE A PLAN
The first step for meal prep is creating a meal plan. Knowing what recipes you’ll be prepping and gathering all the ingredients you’ll need makes meal prep a whole lot easier and much more organized.
It’s also important to look at your calendar and set reasonable goals for the week. Decide which meals you want to prep in advance, how much time you have to cook each day, and what your nutritional goals are for each meal.
For example, I like to start my day with easy-to-assemble, satisfying breakfasts that also work for post-workout recovery. My afternoons are busy, so I want lunches that are light, healthy and easy to grab and eat while on the go or at my desk. For dinner, I prefer simple, veggie-forward meals packed with flavor, fresh produce, and nutrient-rich ingredients.
INVEST IN YOUR EQUIPMENT
Having the right equipment on hand for meal prep is essential for success! A sharp knife, proper storage containers, a few sheet pans, and a set of cutting boards is a great start. A slow cooker and a big Dutch oven are also nice.
I love to organize my fridge with bins and baskets for loose items and use glass Mason jars with lids to store salads, soups, sauces and dressings, pre-cooked grains, cut up veggies and chia pudding. I also like using two-sectioned glass storage containers for prepping lunches (these are easy to heat up in the microwave, too). For freezing meals, like chili or smoothie bags into grab-and-go portions, you’ll need zip-top storage bags or freezable containers and some masking tape to date and label the contents.
Healthy food is great, but only if you eat it! Using clear glass containers you can see inside gets you excited to grab all that healthy ready-to-eat food!
CREATE SOME SPACE
Organizing your fridge and freezer to fit a week’s worth of meals may take a little forethought, especially if you have a small fridge. This is one more reason why meal planning first is so helpful. To keep things organized and uncluttered (and save money), only buy what you need for the week. It also helps to do a fridge clean-out before you start meal prepping to make sure nothing is hiding in the back or went uneaten from last week.
Clearing time in your schedule is also important! Meal prep doesn’t need to take all day, but if this is a healthy habit you want to keep, it does require taking the time to shop, wash, chop and cook some food! If Sunday is too busy a day for you, choose a weeknight instead. You can also prep for 2–3 days of meals and do a mid-week prep session for the remaining days. And if prepping all your meals ahead of time seems daunting, just go with the one meal that trips you up the most!
HEALTHY MEAL PREP FAST: TIPS TO GET STARTED
OK, now that you’ve got the mindset in place to start prepping your meals each week, here are some helpful tips to get healthy and delicious meals on the table fast, while supporting your weight and wellness goals.
PORTION IT OUT
A benefit of meal prepping is you can portion your food before you’re ready to eat it. This is helpful because sometimes when we’re rushed for time or get too hungry, we tend to overeat. Having your meal already portioned not only saves time but may also end up saving calories. When meal prepping, use measuring cups to portion out your food. A food scale works best for meat, fish and other proteins. This shows you what appropriate portion-sizes look like on your plate, helping you eat more confidently when eating out or away from home.
THINK VEGGIES FIRST
To create a healthy eating style long term, try building your meals around veggies and greens! Instead of focusing on the protein as the star, make in-season, nutrient-rich veggies and greens the “hero” on your plate! By doing this, you’ll not only get more creative in the kitchen, you’ll be eating more veggies and greens, and that leads to a healthier you. Salads are an easy win here, as are roasted veggies for grain bowls, fajitas and tacos, sheet pan dinners and veg-based soups.
Another benefit? Seasonal produce is readily available, less expensive, and full of flavor.
CONVENIENCE IS KEY
Every meal you make doesn’t have to start from scratch. While it’s less expensive to chop and prep food yourself, there’s nothing wrong with buying yourself some convenience foods to save time! Pre-chopped onions and squeeze garlic are a regular in my grocery cart, as are bagged salads, which are perfect weeknight meals tossed with canned salmon or leftover grilled chicken. Frozen veggies and pre-made sauces for pasta are easy wins as well.
DON’T FORGET BREAKFAST
If busy mornings have you running out of the house hungry, a little meal prep can help! Smoothies are a great way to get in some fiber, antioxidants and protein first thing in the morning, and pre-made freezer smoothie bags save you tons of time. Just throw your favorite smoothie ingredients into a zip-top freezer bag, and in the morning add your liquid, blend it up, and drink!
Grab-and-go breakfasts also make it super easy to eat healthy on the run. Stay out of the Starbucks drive-thru lane by making a batch of chia seed pudding, overnight oats or egg muffins each week so you’re never without a quick and healthy breakfast option.
PUT A LID ON IT!
For many parents, evenings are spent driving kids to and from sports practice, meetings, or other school events, making dinner an unhealthy afterthought. Utilizing a Mason jar when meal prepping can make for quick and easy lunches or health-up your evening meal (and it gives you something to do while at the soccer field!). Portioning quinoa salad, soups, pasta and grain bowls into Mason jars save space in the fridge and makes for a quick grab-and-go meal.
From potato bars to taco bars and everything in between, “dinner bar” nights are a fun way to feed your family, and they’re perfect for getting dinner on the table fast. By prepping all the bar fixings ahead of time, dinner is as easy as opening the fridge door! A few creative bar dinner ideas include:
- Pasta bar with sauteed veggies, frozen peas, chopped chicken, wilted greens or a side salad
- Mediterranean flatbread bar with hummus, roasted veggies, sauteed greens, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and olives
- Salad bar with all the fixins (pre-chopped and ready to go!)
- Taco bar with pre-made ground turkey, roasted veggies, salsa, guacamole and canned beans
- Sweet potato bar with roasted veggies, canned beans, steamed greens and salsa
- Omelet bar with sauteed mushrooms, steamed spinach, salsa and black beans
WRAP IT UP!
Lunch has never been easier than with a wrap! Instead of just heating up leftovers, throw them into a high-fiber tortilla for a quick and easy lunch wrap. For low-carb options, use cabbage, chard or Romaine leaves in place of the tortilla. You can also make a batch of chicken, egg or tuna salad to stuff into wraps for the week.
It’s a fact, we make time for things we enjoy doing. This is why I suggest making your meal prepping session as enjoyable as possible. Use your prep time to get caught up on a podcast or audio book, turn up the music and have fun or even watch a show on your iPad while you chop. I love being in the kitchen with my favorite playlist, creating healthy meals that will nourish me for the week ahead.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Meal prep can be a great time-saver, but it doesn’t mean creating a rigid structure you can’t change. Stay open and allow for flexibility — switch up meals and get creative! If meal planning and meal prep are new to you, remember this: You are learning a new behavior, and when creating any new habit, it’s important to keep an open mind and learn from your experience as you go. There will be meals that miss the mark and you’ll have some mishaps along the way. This is totally normal and only helps you better refine your own unique process.
Keeping a healthy mindset around meal prepping can make the experience feel more like self-care than a dreaded chore. And you never know: You might start looking forward to it!
Make progress every day while you work on mini fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps or learning to track macros. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.