Meal Prep Hacks to Start the Year Off Right

Dec 31, 2019

Meal prep can seem more intimidating than it really needs to be. Remember that because none of us are exactly alike, "meal prep” will not look exactly the same. Depending on your goals, nutrition needs, food preferences, and situation, the process might take longer for you than your neighbor. It could cost more, or less; taste exotic, or familiar; fit in a lunch box, or a duffel bag. What factors could give meal prep so much variety? Well, are you cooking for one or two adults? And/or plus kids? Also - is there a meal pattern or lifestyle you’re following, like Keto, Paleo, Mediterranean, None of the Above…. Do you work out twice a day, or live a more sedentary lifestyle? Those variables alone drastically change what meal prep could look like. But don’t get overwhelmed. 

Here are a couple key starting points to make meal prep successful:
Where are you now?

New year, new you, right? If you haven’t heard it before, let me tell you now - if you try to overhaul all your habits at once, you will most likely fail.  If you haven’t grocery shopped in months and expect to now make literally all your meals at home… that simply will not happen.

Make reasonable, realistic goals. Leave room for variety, enjoyment, shaking things up. If you currently eat lunch out five days a week, set your goal to bring lunch one, two or three days per week at first. Personally - I love the gyro truck that sets up on Mondays outside my office, so I prep four lunches. Typically, I take lunch on Monday anyway in case I feel like saving “food truck day” for later. This option makes it so I don’t feel like I’m missing out or being too strict.

Plan ahead 
These habits need to be applicable to *YOUR* real life, so it’s important to be prepared, and to not give yourself FOMO. Karen’s birthday lunch on Tuesday? Happy hour on Wednesday? Boss' retirement party on Friday? FIT. THEM. IN. Don’t deprive yourself of a social life. If there’s a fitness, weight loss, or vanity goal you’re serious about, then you have to figure out how to manage a social life without losing sight of these goals.


Start where you need it the most 
Don’t upset your favorite routines first. If you love to spoon up some Cheerios in the morning, but also eat lunch out every single day… focus on lunch first. Once you’re satisfied with your lunch meal-prep goal, switch the focus to breakfast.

Set yourself up for success

  • Make sure you have enough Tupperware!
  • Stock your pantry with spices, oils, and staples like nuts, beans, grains, stock, etc. 
  • Build a support system: Tell friends, family, and co-workers about your goals. They’ll likely be supportive, and maybe someone wants to be an accountability buddy or share recipes!
  • Think logistics… Because I ride a bike to work, it’s too risky traveling with soups, so I stick to safer meals like stir fries, salads, and such to carry in my backpack. 
Meal Prep Article 1
Getting Started with Meal Prepping

Write out your week:

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Breakfast

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch

 

Taco Truck Tuesday

 

 

 

Dinner

 

 

HH with friends  

 

Date night

 

If there are work meetings that revolve around meals, or you know there will be a meal offered at a conference, etc, plug those things in. This will show you how many meals you need to plan for.

What would you like to eat?

Think about how to maximize time by making meals simultaneously. Choose recipes that involve using the oven, stove, crockpot, etc, and/or ones that don’t need much cooking at all. If you’re a meat eater - rotisserie chickens can be a time saver, too; just peel the meat off and use where needed. I use rotisserie chicken carcasses to make my own stock, which I keep in the freezer for use in soups and stews.

Note: If you don’t like to eat the same thing every day, think about how to prepare several ingredients to create different meals. An interesting technique I’ve seen is the “food group” technique. Prepare a protein (or two) like chicken or pork, a pot of beans, a grain or two (quinoa, rice), some vegetables, grab some fruit, and maybe some cheese or yogurt. Use these ingredients to make a salad for one day, a sandwich or wrap for another, a grain bowl, etc to vary up your meals to avoid boredom. 

Here’s an example of a week in my meal prep life… Keep in mind that I’m single, have no allergies, and don’t mind eating the same thing every day for a week:

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Breakfast

Breakfast Casserole

Breakfast Casserole 

Breakfast Casserole 

Breakfast Casserole 

Breakfast Casserole 

Lunch

Cashew chicken w/ broccoli

Taco Truck Tuesday

Cashew chicken w/ broccoli

Cashew chicken w/ broccoli

Cashew chicken w/ broccoli

Dinner

White bean and kale soup w/ chicken sausage

White bean and kale soup w/ chicken sausage

HH with friends  

White bean and kale soup w/ chicken sausage

Date night

 

Make a grocery list

Separate your list into categories to make your shopping trip faster. These categories can include produce, dairy, meat/eggs, pantry, frozen, etc. Make a mark next to items that are on sale, or for which you have coupons. Cross out items which you already have in your pantry or freezer. 

Produce

1 Bunch kale

2 Yellow onions

1 Red onion

1 Cucumber 

2 Red bell peppers

5 oz salad greens

1 Pint cherry tomatoes

1 Head garlic

1 lb broccoli

5 Apples 

1 Bunch green onion

 

Pantry

7 cups white beans

48oz Chicken Stock

Brown rice

Cashews

Tamari / soy sauce 

Toasted Sesame Oil

Olive oil

 

 

Meat / Eggs

1 Dozen eggs

1 Rotisserie chicken

12oz Chicken sausage

 

Dairy

1 pint whole milk

Feta cheese

 

Frozen

Hashbrowns

Bakery

1/2 loaf Sourdough bread

 

Get shopping

It’s a good idea to eat before you go shopping to decrease the chance of impulse purchases. Stick to your list, try not to meander aimlessly around the store.

Prep your veggies 

chop what needs to be chopped, mince what needs to be minced, and place your prepped items in bowls, in containers for the fridge, or in piles on your cutting board. 

Get cooking! 
  • If something is going in the oven, prep that first. That way you can focus on a new task while the oven is at work. For instance, I would pull together the breakfast casserole while the oven is pre-heating, then the casserole goes in for about 25 minutes. 

  • Once the oven is occupied, put the stove to work! Here, I would start the rice, then sauté the vegetables and pull the meat off the chicken. Then, I would toss the chicken with the vegetables, and layer in containers over rice, sprinkle with cashews and chives to finish. To keep condensation from accumulating inside of containers, let meals cool to room temp before covering and storing in the fridge. By now the breakfast casserole should be ready to come out of the oven, so I’d set that out the way to cool. 
  • While these items are cooling, I would start the chicken sausage for the stew. As that’s heating through, I would blend the beans and chicken stock. Once the onions are tossed in and stirred, there’s 10 minutes of time during which I can tidy. After the soup has been portioned into containers, I would allow it to cool while stashing everything else in the fridge and tidying as needed. 
Organize the fridge
  • Sometime I keep things to be eaten at home in the baking dish, cover with foil, and portion out as needed. But anything that's traveling is portioned into tupperware. You might want to pre-potion everything into individual containers. Any extra servings can be eaten over the weekend or stashed in the freezer to save for later.
  • Gather meals and snacks that are traveling with you the next day into a lunchbox of your choosing so it’s there to grab and go.
  • Place breakfast, lunch, and dinner containers together respectively, and stash any spare items (fruit, cheese, extra veggies or salad fixings, etc) in the produce drawers.  

Note: Use any free time to wash dishes, put things in the dishwasher, wipe down counters, etc. Cleaning and tidying as you go instead of waiting till the very end will lead to extra minutes shaved off meal prep time. 

kale and white bean soup
Meal Prep Recipe: Kale and White Bean Soup with Chicken Sausage 

Makes 4-6 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 64 ounces chicken broth, divided
  • 1 - 12 ounce package chicken sausage (flavor of choice)
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 7 cups cooked white beans, divided
  • 1 bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped

Instructions:

  1. Heat 1/4 cup broth in a large pot over medium heat. 
  2. Add sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and sausage is just browned, about 10 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, put 3 cups beans and 2 cups broth into a blender and purée until smooth; set aside
  4. Add onions, salt and pepper to pot; cook, stirring often, until onions are softened, about 10 minutes more. (Add a generous splash of broth to the pot if onions begin to stick.)
  5. Add remaining broth to sausage mixture in pot and bring to a boil, scrape up any browned bits. 
  6. Add kale, reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until wilted and softened, about 5 minutes. 
  7. Uncover, add remaining 4 cups beans, bean purée, salt and pepper and simmer until hot throughout, about 5 minutes more.
  8. Garnish with crushed red pepper flakes, feta, red onion, croutons, and/or serve with toasted sourdough (all optional).

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