Meal planning and prep is an important pillar of healthy eating because it gives you complete control over the ingredients and portions that you and your family eat. In fact, research has shown that eating home cooked meals frequently is associated with healthier diet quality. That’s not to say that meal planning and prepping is easy. It takes time, thought, and energy. So how can you make meal prepping work for you? First off, there’s no wrong way to meal prep. Here are some meal planning success tips to get you started:
Meal Prep Success Tips
Work with your schedule
Some people like to do a lot of meal prep all in one day. Others will split it up over 2-3 days during the week. Another way to do it, is to cook larger meals and save leftovers for a couple days (helloooo crock pots and one-pan meals!). Look at your schedule but also consider your energy and stress levels as well when deciding which system works best for you. Create your schedule around that.
Plan before you shop
Your meal prep plan needs to take into consideration not just your time, but also your budget and your inventory. Planning before you shop will cut your time in the grocery store and also allow you to modify your plan if you discover you need to purchase too many items for certain recipes. You also will have the opportunity to modify recipes by planning ahead as well.
Try to reuse ingredients
It will save you time and money if you are able to use the same ingredients in several different dishes. For example, you could use quinoa to make a batch of stuffed peppers, a quinoa salad side dish, and vegetarian taco filling. Just make a large pot of quinoa at the beginning of the week and then work it into those dishes. Likewise, see if you can find ways to repurpose your leftovers into new meals. For example, leftover chicken can be used to make chicken fajitas, leftover salmon can be made into salmon burgers – you get the idea.
Use your freezer
Some foods freeze better than others and taking advantage of that can save you time and money. Some ingredients that freeze well are:
- Fruits such as peeled bananas, chunked mangos, and berries
- Raw or blanched vegetables such as peppers, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and kale
- Cooked vegetables such as sweet potato and squash (stock up on these when they’re in season and cheap, roast them up, then freeze them)
- Firm tofu
- Raw meats
Some prepared foods that also freeze well:
- Stir fry
- Cauliflower fried rice
- Pasta dishes
- Black bean burritos
Spice it up!
Don’t be afraid of flavor. Spices and herbs are your best friend when cooking healthy foods. They allow you to reuse the same ingredients in many different ways. If you are uncomfortable improvising with your flavors, follow recipes. Tired of the same old grilled chicken breast? Try adding garlic and paprika for Mexican-style or go with lemon and rosemary. You can play around with different combinations once you get comfortable with the flavors that you enjoy.
Get your family/friends involved
Cooking together is a good time to connect and it’s a great learning experience for kids! Research has shown that if you encourage your kids to meal prepare throughout their young adult life, they are more likely to eat healthier later and are less likely to develop picky eating habits.
Only prepare foods that you enjoy eating
You may feel really motivated to cook only quinoa and asparagus for your lunch the next day, because you think that will be the healthiest. But if you don’t actually like quinoa and asparagus, you probably won’t end up eating it later. What’s the point of forcing yourself to eat things that you don’t find tasty? Food can be delicious and healthy; you sometimes just have to be creative. This is why when you work with Well & Simple, we offer thousands of new recipes that are easy to prepare yourself, and are tailored according to your taste preference.
Theme nights make things easier
These can be fun and give the whole family something to look forward to, as well as take away some of the thought you have to put into a meal. Some examples of fun theme days are:
- Meatless Monday
- Taco Tuesday
- Fishy Friday
Plan the dine out days
Meal planning also means planning nights when you don’t have to cook! If you know you will end up dining out once a week, you may as well put it on the schedule so you can always stick to your plan, and avoid wasting extra ingredients.
There are many other perks to cooking your own food besides it being healthier. It can be less expensive, and can be even tastier than takeout. It’s also a fun opportunity to teach your kids an important life skill, or just to spend time together on a busy work day. Following these meal planning success tips will help you get on your way.
Our intern, Nicki, actually conducted her senior thesis research on meal prep amongst college students and found that they eat more fruits and vegetables if they prep their own meals as well. So there you have it: meal prep is an important and even college students are getting in on it!
How about you? Do you meal prep regularly? What does it look like in your house?