The following article was written by Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek RD, LD.
I used to operate under the false assumption that meal prepping meant preparing a bunch of meals in advance. This belief came from following some of the top meal prep pros on Pinterest and Instagram, who showcase their skills with perfectly staged photos of magazine-ready meals, labeled and ready for refrigeration. Come mealtime, they pick a meal to pop in the oven and voila, dinner is served in less than 30 minutes!
Being a pretty organized person, I decided to give meal prepping a shot. My first attempt involved spending an entire Sunday in the kitchen chopping, boiling, roasting and “Crockpotting.” My excitement quickly turned to exhaustion, and I gave up after only one week. Sure, I had five complete meals, but who wants to spend their “day of rest” in the kitchen? Not me!
Then I thought, what if I planned just one meal a week? Surely, I could handle that. And you know what? It worked! I felt such a sense of accomplishment that after a while I was motivated to add a second meal to the mix.
Are you inspired to meal prep but don’t know where to begin? Here are five steps to turn a once dreaded task, into a doable and enjoyable one.
Step 1: Know the Components of a Balanced Meal
Building satisfying and nourishing meals requires an understanding of how to balance your blood sugar. To prevent blood sugar spikes, start by filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and leafy greens. Next, reserve a quarter for wholesome protein. Finally, add a starchy vegetable, whole grain or fruit to the remaining quarter of your plate.
A simple example of a blood sugar-balancing meal is a generous serving of Grilled Vegetables with Tahini Dressing, two Grilled Salmon Skewers, and a scoop or two of Curried Quinoa Salad with Radishes.
Step 2: Search for Recipe Inspiration
Resurrect tried-and-true family favorite recipes or get fresh new ideas from heinens.com, Pinterest, magazines or cookbooks! I recommend beginning with just one recipe until you get the hang of it. Then add another one if you’d like.
Step 3: Map Your Meals for the Week
Write your plan in a notebook, calendar or Google Doc for easy accessibility on your phone.
Start with one recipe and double it so that you’ll have enough for two meals– one to enjoy now and the other later in the week. Once you get the hang of it, add another recipe and double it. Now you have four meals! Recipes like vegetable or lentil soup can easily be doubled or tripled to freeze for later. Just be sure to date and label the containers so you know what’s inside.
For my fifth meal I like to serve oversized salads. Dinner salads are super versatile and can be thrown together in a flash. For inspiration, follow my tutorial on How to Build a Better Salad.
Meal six is a “clean up the kitchen” creation, where I use stray ingredients I have on-hand. Sometimes it’s a veggie omelet with avocado toast, and other times it may be a can of Amy’s Organic soup, raw veggies and Mary’s Gone Crackers topped with Miyoko’s plant-based cheese.
My seventh meal is reserved for restaurant dining or carry-out. Heinen’s has an incredible selection of delicious, restaurant-quality prepared items that range from main dishes to sides and appetizers.
Step 4: Choose a Day to Shop and Meal Prep
Pick a day to shop for ingredients and do some light prep work. Consider your weekly routine and plug these in on the least hectic days. For example, I shop on Saturday and meal prep on Sundays.
Step 5: Dedicate One Hour per Week to Meal Prep
Here’s where the rubber meets the road! Spend no more than one-to-two hours on your meal prep day to:
- Wash, peel and chop vegetables for salads or roasting
- Prepare sauces, marinades and dressings
- Marinate meats
- Boil quinoa, lentils, brown rice, pasta or eggs
- Roast vegetables
- Bake chicken
- Assemble and prepare easy Crockpot meals (i.e. chili, soups, casseroles)
Though you may be envious of today’s meal prep masters, beware of falling into what I call “meal prep paralysis.” In other words, if you can’t do it like the pros, you don’t do it at all. Allow yourself to be inspired by them and then adapt their process to fit your life. One perfectly prepped meal may be all it takes to awaken your inner chef.