Healthy eating made easier with meal prepping 101
Have you ever been crunched for time after work and decided to pick up fast food at the nearest drive-thru for dinner? Of course you have and so has everybody else. Rushing around picking up kids after school, attending their sports and school activities, or making it on time to an evening club meeting, leaves little time to fix healthy, nourishing meals for your family. This is where meal prepping can come to your rescue. It can be a literal lifesaver for still making a healthy home-cooked meal but without the hassle of having no time to do so.
What is meal prepping?
Meal prepping or simply “meal prep” is a popular cooking trend that can save time and money while improving your nutritional health. Just like it sounds, meal prepping means preparing food days in advance to help reduce eating out throughout the week and instead, enjoying a tasty home-cooked meal more often.
Meal prepping involves making a larger batch of a recipe and pre-portioning the meals into grab-and-go containers. When stored in the refrigerator or freezer this makes for quick, ready-prepared meals to use later on in the week. This is ideal for time-starved families who want a healthy, home-cooked alternative to fast food, take-out, and even the popular meal kits delivered to your home. After a while, eating too many take-out pizzas and tacos eventually gets old.
What are the benefits of meal prepping?
According to a 2016 ReportLinker survey, 98% of Americans prefer cooking at home. This came as somewhat of a surprise as restaurants, fast food and even grocery stores all offer convenient prepared meals. But there are two driving reasons why Americans long for a meal cooked at home – they are inexpensive and healthier.
By designating a day of the week to meal prep – usually a weekend or whatever day you have some free time – can significantly reduce food costs. Buying in bulk and taking advantage of grocery sales, all adds up to less money spent on expensive restaurant or prepackaged meals while you save money on an inexpensive homemade meal.
One in five Americans say they prefer cooking at home as it gives them more control over what they eat. Meal planning which is a core part of meal prepping, has always been shown to be associated with a healthier diet, more variety of food eaten, and reduced chance of being overweight. These were the exact findings from a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition.
Making meal prepping happen
Meal prepping doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be used for just one meal each day of the week – typically dinner – or all three meals of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
To get started on with meal prepping success, here are some tips giving ideas and solutions for making the weekly task of meal prepping more manageable:
· Choose a day of the week to meal prep – Whether a weekend or middle-of-the-week day, plan one day a week to prep and cook meals when you have more time to optimize success. Once you’ve decided on meals to make for the week, create a shopping list to buy your food supplies.
· Choose easy recipes – It’s best to start off with familiar and easy-to-make recipes with healthful ingredients you already have on hand. When planning meals, balance them with providing food sources of healthy protein (fish, lean beef, poultry, or beans), carbohydrates (brown rice, vegetables, fruits, whole grains), and fat (avocadoes, walnuts, olives) to help satisfy hunger while maximizing nutrition.
· Encourages eating more vegetables and salads – Eating enough vegetables is a key component of a healthy diet. Up to 90 percent of Americans do not eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables, according to the 2015-2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines. A major part of meal prep is to make sure you organize your time so you can prep salads and cooked vegetable dishes to include with lunches and dinners throughout the week. Take advantage of cooking some extra veggies for a couple of days later or prepping salads and their toppings such as cherry tomatoes, sliced carrots or cucumbers, ahead of time so they are ready on the day you need them.
· Use functional containers - Essential success for meal prepping is proper containers for storing food. Containers that stack easily in the fridge and are microwave, freezer, dishwasher safe, and BPA-free, will come in handy when preparing batches of food for the week.
· Utilize your chopping/cooking skills – One secret of mastering meal prepping is to prep basic components of most meals. For example, prepping veggies for snacking or for a weeknight stir-fry, cooking hard-boiled eggs, chopping lettuce for salads, or slicing roasted chicken for sandwiches or cooking large batches of quinoa or brown rice and then freezing pre-portioned amounts in storage bags, are great ways to get a healthy meal on the table in no time.