In theory, meal prep is a great idea; make a week’s worth of healthy food in just a few hours, and have all your cooking done for the week! In reality, it doesn’t always turn out that well; soggy vegetables by day 3, bland brown rice, eating the same meal 5 days in a row, endless plastic containers to wash, and the urge to hit up your favourite burger place on your way home.
However, not doing any meal prep can be just as bad, causing you to buy a lunch or dinner almost every day, eating unhealthy, and then feeling terrible and not reaching your health goals.
Here are a few ways to be sure you have healthy food available all week, in an easier, tastier way than traditional meal prep:
Each Sunday (or whenever your weekend falls), make a large pot of soup, stew, or even a casserole. These are meals that reheat well, and even get better after a couple of days as the flavours meld. Always start with a heavy base of vegetables like onion, celery, and carrot, and let your creativity lead the way. Canned tomatoes, lentils, beans, potatoes, rice, and any vegetable you like work perfectly in soup, and are all affordable, healthy, easy to store options. If you want to add meat, you can use chicken, turkey, or beef – diced, shredded, ground, or even make into meatball! Use a vegetable, chicken, or beef stock, and any herbs or spices you like.
Soup is often intimidating for those who haven’t cooked it, but following a simple recipe will show you how easy it can be. This soup should last you 3-4 days for lunch, and is great for a quick dinner when you’re in a pinch.
Ideally, you’re eating a healthy dinner each night while working on your health goals, so why not put that healthy food to good use? Leftovers for lunch can be perfect the way they are (a little plate of chicken, sweet potatoes, and green beans), or can be re-purposed into a different dish (put the chicken on a salad with the warm sweet potatoes). Having last night’s dinner for lunch is a great way to make sure you’re only eating the same meal twice, not 5 days in a row. For some reason, we often forget to prepare a little extra food at dinner and actually pack the leftovers for lunch. Make a point to make enough, and then utilize the food more!
Prep a Protein
Meat is often the most daunting and time-consuming part of a meal to cook, so if you only do it once or twice a week it can take a lot of pressure off. Cook up a whole chicken on Sunday to eat off of for a few days; use the thighs for a dinner, the breasts for salads at lunch, and the drumsticks for another dinner. When it’s gone, toss the bones in a pot with salt, onion, and celery and simmer for anywhere from 2-12 hours to make stock!
Don’t want to cook a whole chicken? Pick any kind of easy to cook meat you prefer, like chicken meatballs, steak (great for salads), or shredded slow-cooker chicken. Enjoy over the next couple of days with whatever veggie and starch you choose – or add it to the soup you made on Sunday! If you tolerate eggs well (many people do not), make a few hard-boiled eggs for snacks, breakfasts, or salad toppers through the week.
When it comes to meal prep, the most important thing is making sure you have the right ingredients on hand, and that you make a point of preparing those ingredients. Keep staples like beans, lentils, rice, potatoes, canned tomatoes, and broth in your house (or truck) and then purchase fresh items each week. Get cooking, get creative, and enjoy!