This is a guest blog post by Staci Shacter MS RD LDN, author of The Meat & Potatoes of a Healthy Meal Plan…no bun intended. Using a “real food first” philosophy, Staci specializes in digestive issues, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disease, and other inflammatory conditions. If you would like to work directly with Staci, Staci can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, via her website stacisplate.com, or on Instagram @stacisplate.
When it comes to eating healthier, we all know what we should be doing. Eating more fruits and vegetables, limiting processed foods loaded with flour and sugar…it’s not rocket science. So why are we still choosing a box of mac and cheese over a beautiful plate of roasted veggies, chicken, and sweet potato? Because mac and cheese is EASY!
But the truth is, healthy eating can be easy, too. You just need the right strategies. As a Dietician, I've learned how to make healthy eating simple, convenient, delicious, and eventually, effortless, so let’s break down my five favorite meal prep hacks so you can too.
In this article, you will learn hacks that:
- #1 Maximize Meal Prep Efficiency
- #2 Keep Breakfast Simple
- #3 Help You Fall in Love with Leftovers
- #4 Make One Dish Multiple Ways
- #5 Identify Healthy Convenience Foods
- How to Make Healthy Eating Automatic
#1 Maximize Meal Prep Efficiency
If you’re short on time, meal prep is a great option for keeping your nutrition on point. Meal prep is exactly what it sounds like: preparing your meals in advance so all that’s required at mealtime is to heat and eat.
Prep Two Meals at the Same Time
Meal prep can be as simple as cooking two things at the same time. For example, if your Tuesday recipe calls for roasted spaghetti squash, roast it on Monday while you’re preparing that night’s dinner. By doing so, you’ll shave 30 minutes or so off the next night’s meal. Consider doubling up your meal prep anytime you plan on cooking something that will take up to an hour to cook.
Get a Head Start on Prep
Another time-saving technique is to chop vegetables or cook part of a recipe ahead of time. Make this meal prep a part of your weekly routine by prepping right when you get home from the grocery store.
Crock-Pot Freezer Meal
These are a great entry point for those looking to maximize their meal prep. There’s no cooking required on the prep day so crock-pot freezer meals allow you to prep a lot of meals in very little time. Here’s how it works:
- Every 2-4 weeks, dedicate a day to prep 2-4 multi-serving crock-pot meals.
- For each recipe, prep the ingredients, but instead of putting them in the crock-pot to cook, put them in a freezer-safe bag and freeze.
- The night before you need a meal, remove one meal from the freezer and let it thaw overnight.
- The next morning, put all the ingredients in your crock-pot and proceed with the recipe’s cooking instructions. Dinner will be ready when you get home!
- Depending on how many recipes you prep, you could wind up with 16+ meals. As an added bonus, you can even portion out and freeze the cooked leftovers for a future meal you simply have to defrost and reheat!
There are thousands of free freezer meal plans available online, but how do you know if it’s healthy? Look for recipes and shopping lists free of flour, sugar and focuses on whole foods.Learn more!
#2 Keep Breakfast Simple
You don’t have to set your alarm clock an hour earlier in order to get a nutrient dense breakfast in. Try one of these healthy breakfast ideas that can be made in minutes.
A smoothie is a fast way to get a variety of nutrients in a single delicious and convenient drink. Simply, throw organic ingredients like frozen berries, leafy greens, avocado, almond milk, protein powder in a blender and blend for a few minutes until combined. Try this Green Breakfast Smoothie with Collagen Peptides and Organic Whey Protein!
You can simplify breakfast even further with a quick protein shake that can be prepared in less than 30 seconds. All you have to do is add a scoop of Organic Whey or Plant Protein and 2 tbsp of MCT Creamer to 12oz of almond milk, shake, and go. For an extra boost of nutrition, try adding a scoop of organic fruit and/or vegetable powder.
Another easy breakfast option is butter coffee. If you already start your morning with coffee, just add one tablespoon of MCT Oil, one tablespoon of grass-fed butter, a scoop of Collagen Peptides, and blend to combine. These key ingredients will boost your energy, mental clarity, and focus, and keep you feeling full until lunch. Don’t do dairy? Try this Dairy Free Keto Bullet Coffee with MCT Oil and Collagen Peptides that has all the benefits of butter coffee without any milk or milk by-products added.
Though yogurt is a classic breakfast staple, not all yogurt is created equal. Many yogurts – especially “fat-free” yogurts - have been stripped of their healthy fats and loaded with sugar, which will tank your energy and leave you hungry an hour later.
Upgrade your yogurt quality by looking for organic, full fat, grass-fed yogurts. If you tolerate dairy, try organic grass-fed plain Greek yogurt. If you have a dairy allergy, try So Delicious Unsweetened coconut milk yogurt or Kite Hill unsweetened almond milk yogurt. Add almonds and berries to these yogurts to increase the protein and provide fiber and phytonutrients.
#3 Fall in Love with Leftovers
One of the easiest meal prep strategies you can implement is to make an extra serving for dinner and eat it for lunch the next day. It doesn’t take any extra time to cook a second cup of quinoa, roast an extra bag of frozen veggies, or bake another piece of chicken. Think of how much time and energy you’re saving!
#4 Make One Dish Multiple Ways
Instead of making a different starch each day, consider only making one starch for the week and add different flavor profiles each day. Here’s how it’s done:
- DAY 1: Make a big pot of quinoa and serve a portion with a little olive oil and sea salt.
- DAY 2: Reheat a portion of leftover quinoa and make it fried rice style by adding scrambled egg, frozen peas and carrots, tamari or coconut aminos, and some garlic and onion (fresh or dried).
- DAY 3: reheat the remaining quinoa with some diced sundried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and fresh or dried basil.
This strategy can be applied to any type of food – protein, vegetables, grains, etc. It only takes 10 minutes to add additional ingredients and reheat!
#5 Choose Healthy Convenience Foods
With the huge rise in demand, grocery stores are now carrying a wide variety of healthy convenience foods.
Healthy Frozen Meals
Frozen meals (aka “TV dinners”) are generally regarded as unhealthy, but Walmart Neighborhood Market and many Walmart supercenters are now selling real food frozen meals from brands like Tastefully Plated Paleo and Beetnik Paleo. These convenient, healthy options can be heated in a microwave or oven and served within minutes. (Just remember, never put plastic in the microwave.)
Frozen vegetables are totally underrated! They can sometimes be higher in nutrients than fresh produce (depending on just how fresh that produce is). They also add a level of convenience because most frozen vegetables are pre-chopped. For an easy no-prep no-cleanup side, roast frozen veggies on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Health food stores and many grocery stores are now selling spiralized vegetables in the produce section. No cutting, no washing, and they cook super fast! For a quick meal, try zucchini noodles sautéed with pesto and fresh-diced tomato. You can also buy riced cauliflower (fresh or frozen). Just lightly steam, then sauté with some olive oil or ghee, garlic powder, a dash of hot sauce, pink salt, and nutritional yeast.
Make Healthy Eating Automatic
Healthy eating isn’t just about a new diet, it’s about creating a lifestyle – a new way of doing things that are automatic.
You don’t have to use every meal prep hack recommended above. Experiment to pinpoint the strategies that compliment your schedule, that result in great tasting food, and that you enjoy (or at least don’t hate) doing because when you find pleasure in the process, building a long-lasting habit becomes that much easier.
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