Meal Prep Like a Pro

By Mary Beth Wallace

 


Meal prep, or the habit of planning and preparing meals ahead of when you need them, is having a moment in the world of health and fitness. And for good reason – meal prepping is a major time-saver, and with the right ingredients, it promotes a balanced diet. Since the idea of meal prepping can seem intimidating at first, it’s best to start simple: Choose recipes that you know and love, and focus on prepping one specific meal, like lunch, each week. From there, all you’ll need is time and a little elbow grease!



Benefits of Meal Prep

Once you start meal prepping, you’ll be amazed at the many benefits! Here are just a few:

It saves money.

If you have prepared food waiting for you, you’ll be less tempted to eat out or pick up a pizza on the way home from work.

It saves time.

By designating one day a week as your “prep” day, you’re freeing up hours during the week that are normally devoted to cooking and cleaning.

It reduces stress.

With meal prep, you can avoid the “What’s for dinner?” conversation and look forward to a home-cooked meal instead.

It teaches portion control.

Meal prep gives you control over your own nutrition, including your portion sizes. Portion control is often touted as key to maintaining a healthy weight.


 


Steps to the Meal Prep

1. Plan.

Choose the days that you want to shop and meal prep. Then, write out your menu for the week, making sure to include ingredients that are on sale and in-season at the store. Take stock of what’s in your pantry and build meals around those items too. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Including variety in your dishes will keep you from getting bored.

2. Shop.

Now it’s time to hit the grocery store. Consider dividing your list into sections, like grains, protein, vegetables, and fruit to simplify your shopping trip. You’ll also want to pick up spices, dressings, and sauces to give flavor to your meals, as well as grab-and-go snacks such as nuts, seeds, and string cheese. Buy in bulk to make your dollar go even further!

3. Cook.

You’ll need to devote a few hours to this step. A good rule of thumb is to start with foods that take the longest to cook. Bring your grains to a boil, roast vegetables and potatoes, boil eggs, mix together dressings, and chop up raw veggies and fruit – these foods are great for a “buffet-style” meal prep, which you can use in different combinations throughout the week. You could also whip up casseroles, soups, stews, or a whole chicken to enjoy for several days. By multitasking (using your oven, stovetop, and slow cooker to prep more than one food at once), you’ll cut down on time spent in the kitchen.

4. Store.

Portion your food into BPA-free containers and wait until everything has cooled before covering. Some ingredients, like salad greens and dressing, will need to be stored separately, while meats, grains, and cooked vegetables can usually be stored in the same container. Refrigerate the meals and snacks you’ll be eating that week, and then freeze any double batches of soups and casseroles for later. Consult the FDA’s guidelines for refrigerator and freezer storage to learn how long your prepped foods should stay fresh.

 


 


Meal prep doesn’t get any more basic than chicken, broccoli, and rice. To switch up the menu, try creating your own theme days! Examples include Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, and Stir Fry Thursday. 


 


 

With a little practice, anyone – no matter their schedule – can master the meal prep. These local ladies reveal their tips for enjoying healthy, home-cooked meals every week!



Maria Elliott from North Chattanooga“My number one priority is always to get back to the source – to whole foods. I frequent local farmers markets for the freshest and most nutritious ingredients. The Main Street Farmers Market on Wednesdays at Finley Stadium is my go-to, especially for meat. Then, I choose one night a week to dedicate to meal prepping: I’ll roast veggies, cook main courses in the crock-pot, and portion out snacks like nuts, olives, and berries for grab-and-go options. It’s such a time-saver! Most importantly, I always have glass containers on hand in a variety of sizes for food storage throughout the week.”

-Maria Elliott, North Chattanooga


 

Tami Fleming from Ringgold Georgia“Meal prep helps me eat out less often and maximize family time. I spend a couple of hours on Sunday making as many meals as possible. I prepare snacks, vegetables for the kids’ lunches, and salads for myself. I usually double two different dinner recipes so I have a couple of dinners to freeze in disposable aluminum pans for another week, plus one to serve later that same week. After a few weeks, I have a freezer full of meals for the times when I just can’t meal prep. I thaw meals in the fridge overnight and pop one in the oven when I get home from work!”

-Tami Fleming, Ringgold, GA


 

Natalie Feher from North Chattanooga“As a mother of three young kids, meal prep helps  keep me on track. At the beginning of each week, I buy lean, organic meat (turkey, chicken, fish), vegetables, fruit, good fat (avocado, peanut butter), and a healthy carbohydrate (sweet potatoes, quinoa, rice). I marinate the protein and chop up the vegetables and fruit ahead of time to make meal preparation much faster. I also try to make meals simple – for example, I’ll bake chicken tenderloins in the oven seasoned with salt and pepper, and then use the chicken in salads, wraps, or a main dish throughout the week.”

-Natalie Feher, North Chattanooga
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