Meal Planning Success Tips

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:

  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • 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?

Foods to Support Immunity & Stress Relief

As we’ve seen over these past several weeks, people are flocking to the grocery store to stock up on supplies for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing social distancing policies. Toilet paper and sanitizer are obviously at the tops of people’s lists, but have you considered the food you’re buying? In times like this, the inclination is often highly-processed foods with a long shelf life, but these aren’t the best options for supporting your immune system and mitigating the effects of stress on your body. 

We’re here to discuss some of the food items that you may want to consider purchasing during this time of crisis, rather than just bread, milk, eggs, and pasta. Obviously these items may vary depending on any dietary needs or restrictions, but hopefully it will give you some ideas for foods that can really support the health of you and your family.

But first, let’s give you some general information about what makes the following foods so beneficial.  

The Power of Plants

When it comes to the best foods to be eating right now, plants are where it’s at. Fruits and veggies are loaded with beneficial compounds called phytonutrients, which act as antioxidants and support healthy body function, including immunity. Phytonutrients are what give the produce its bright colors, so the more different colors you eat, the greater variety of phytonutrients you’re consuming.

Low Stress Foods

We are currently under a tremendous amount of stress, which means that our bodies are experiencing very high levels of the stress hormone cortisol consistently. Cortisol is not only the stress hormone, but is also involved in a wide range of other processes such as the body’s inflammatory response, blood sugar regulation, sleep cycles, blood pressure, and memory function. Because of its involvement in these other processes, having it chronically sitting at high levels can have far-reaching health impacts.

Eating a lot of processed foods, sugar, alcohol, and simple carbohydrates can exacerbate the effects of stress by triggering cortisol responses in our body. Eating mostly low-stress foods, such as fresh produce, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates (ie whole and minimally processed foods) can help mitigate those effects and won’t have the same dramatic impacts on cortisol levels.

What’s on Our Grocery List

Frozen Fruits

Frozen fruits and veggies are nearly identical nutritionally to fresh ones.  Some frozen fruits that we recommend are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and mangos. You can get big packages of these pre-frozen fruits, which will keep for about 6-9 months. Be sure to check the expiration dates on the packages you are buying, though. You can also freeze sliced bananas for use in smoothies. Simply cut it into slices and store in a sealed container. 

Ideas for use: 

  • Smoothies are a great way to make sure you’re eating enough fruits and veggies. Here are a couple of our favorite recipes:
    • 1 cup mixed berries, 1/2 frozen banana, 1 handful baby spinach, 1 cup frozen cauliflower rice. Add water and blend to desired consistency.
    • 1/2 cup frozen mango, 1/2 frozen banana, 1/2 cup old fashioned oats, 1/2 cup frozen cauliflower rice, unsweetened almond milk. Blend to desired consistency.
  • Use as a topping for overnight oats or cooked oats.

Frozen Vegetables

As with fruits, frozen vegetables will keep for a long time and pack a nutritional punch. Some frozen vegetables that we recommend you pick up are cauliflower (florets or riced), peas, broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, and spinach. Again, keep an eye on expiration dates, but pre-frozen veggies are expected to keep for 8-10 months.

Ideas for use:

  • Add frozen cauliflower to your smoothies
  • Cauliflower rice & quinoa tacos – use the cauliflower-quinoa mixture in place of meat
  • Toss frozen bell peppers into a fry pan and cook to add them to an omelette.

Potatoes

Need a break from all the frozen veggies? Potatoes have got your back. They can be kept raw for up to 2-3 months in the proper conditions. They are also one of the most versatile vegetables, and have several different variations, so you never get sick of them! (At least, we never do.)

Ideas for use:

  • Sweet potato toasts with almond butter and cinnamon
  • Roasted sweet potato with over-easy eggs
  • Sweet potato mash with shredded coconut and maple syrup
  • Make your own veggie burger – it’s surprisingly simple: just cook the potatoes until soft, then toss them into a food processor with some seasoning and other veggies. Form them into patties and cook!

Dried or Canned Beans

Dried and canned legumes are also a great option for long-term storage. Dried beans are good for up to 2-3 years if stored properly. And canned beans can last 3-5 years. Just be sure to look for BPA-free cans when you’re shopping. These foods are a good source or fiber and protein. 

Ideas for use:

  • Rice & beans
  • Soups
  • Black bean dip

Nuts

Nuts are a great source of healthy fats and protein, and properly stored will keep for 6 months or longer. These make a great snack and can be used in meals as well.

Oats

Another great source of energy and fiber that can be kept dried for a significantly long period, oats are a versatile option that can be stored dry for up to 2 years.

Ideas for use:

  • Overnight or hot oats
  • Process in a food processor to use as flour in muffins
  • Make-your-own crazy granola recipe
  • Toss them in the blender with your smoothie ingredients to make a thicker, more satisfying smoothie

Quinoa

Quinoa is another nutritious food that you should stock up on. Unlike other plants, quinoa is a complete protein. It’s also a great source of fiber. Quinoa is simple to prepare and can take on almost any flavor profile. Dried quinoa can keep for 2-3 years when stored properly.

Ideas for use:

  • Sweet quinoa breakfast porridge
  • Quinoa pizza crust
  • Quinoa pilaf

Heartier Fruits and Veggies

You should also consider picking up some produce with a slightly longer shelf-life than less hearty options. For example, cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) can keep for a good chunk of time stored properly in the refrigerator. Citrus fruits and apples also tend to keep longer than fruits like bananas and berries, so those are options to consider as well.

 

It is a stressful and unprecedented situation that we have all been thrown into. While most of what is going on is far out of our control, we do get some say in the matter of our health and the way eat is a fantastic starting point. Try to remain calm and take precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe.  

 

*Please keep in mind that the time periods suggested to keep these items are general and you should always follow the product’s specific expiration dates*