I don’t know about you but during the work week, and especially while working from home, my favorite meals are those that I can whip up in ten minutes or less. When I don’t take the time to plan out some healthy snack and meal ideas for the week, this results in me grabbing unhealthy, processed foods throughout the day or opting to order in from a restaurant, which can become a costly expense pretty quickly. If this sounds similar to your routine, I have a solution that will help you eat healthier, save time in the kitchen, and decrease food expenses – that solution is meal prepping!
What is Meal Prepping?
Meal prepping is most often associated with people who are on hardcore diets that consist of strictly lean meats and veggies. However, I’m proposing that meal prepping doesn’t have to be associated with a diet at all, and instead can be used as a tool to improve your nutrition (and spending) habits without any rules!
So let me define what I mean by “meal prepping:” meal prepping is taking the time to plan out what foods and ingredients you will have available in your home for the week ahead. Once you’ve selected those items and shopped for them, you then partially or completely prepare those foods for the week – this could mean pre-portioning ingredients, cutting up fruits or veggies, marinating meats, or completely cooking and storing meals and snacks.
If you do decide to completely cook and package all your meals and snacks for the week then of course you will be spending more time in the kitchen while meal prepping. However, that will translate to spending very little to no time cooking throughout your week! Whereas if you opt to partially prepare some food items, then that will mean you will reduce but not eliminate your food preparation time during the week, which is also a win!
Best Meal Prep Containers
Before I get into some easy meal prep ideas, let’s discuss what you’ll need to invest in before you make your next grocery list. To start, you’ll need some food prepping containers. Here are my top five favorite meal prep containers and how I used them:
These one compartment glass containers are perfect for storing washed and chopped (if necessary) fruits and vegetables, such as berries, carrots, green beans, or cucumbers. These food items can be eaten on their own as a snack or can be added to any meal conveniently. Having fresh produce on-hand and visible when you open your fridge will be a visual reminder to include more fresh, unprocessed foods into your diet.
Rubbermaid Leak-Proof Brilliance Food Storage Set | 9.6 Cup Plastic Containers with Lids | Microwave and Dishwasher Safe, 2-Pack: $21.99
These Rubbermaid single compartment glass tupperware containers are great for larger food items that have been fully prepped. For instance, if you cooked some chicken breasts or made a pasta dish for the week, it could easily fit into these larger containers. That way all you have to do is plate the dish and add any toppings or sides you want. These containers also stack very nicely to keep your fridge organized and decluttered.
These are great containers to promote more balanced meals. I will go over what makes up a balanced meal in detail below but these sectioned containers can help guide this process. If you use the different compartments for different food items, you are not only increasing the variety of nutrients you consume, but you are also less likely to overindulge on one food item. This can help to reduce cravings, increase satiety, and support a more nutrient-dense diet. Even if you don’t decide to pre-cook your meals, you can still use these partitioned containers to store uncooked snacks and meals, such as: almonds, berries, and cheese slices.
Mason Jars – 32 oz, Pack of 4: $25.99
Mason jars can be used to store premade oatmeal (also called overnight oats), pre-portioned smoothie ingredients, or fully prepped and portioned salads. All you have to do is open your fridge, and a healthy, delicious meal is ready to be eaten (or drinken) right out of the jar. They are also great for monitoring your water intake. Generally, you should aim to drink at least four jars of water per day to stay adequately hydrated!
These are a must! I linked the bundle package, which comes with a half-gallon (64. 2oz) bag, two sandwich size (15oz) bags, and one snack size (9. 9oz) bag so you can use them for different purposes. Not only do these reusable food bags come in various sizes but they can also be used for a multitude of food storage and cooking purposes. They are safe for the freezer, microwave, oven (up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit), and even boiling water (you can use them for Sous Vide cooking). This means you can use the bags to portion and store uncooked or cooked food items to keep them fresh longer, or use them to marinade and cook foods with less mess and cleanup. They are also dishwasher safe!
Now that you’ve got all the gear, let’s get into some easy meal prep ideas!
How To Eat Healthy & My Favorite Meals
With the goal of trying to make healthier food choices in mind, it’s important to understand what constitutes a healthy meal or snack. As I mentioned earlier, the most basic way to build a healthy meal is to ensure that it is balanced. This means you’ll want most of your meals and snacks to include:
- Complex carbs (fruits, vegetables, or whole grains)
- Healthy fats (i.e. avocados, nuts, nut butter)
- Lean protein (i.e. chicken, salmon, grass-fed beef, eggs).
Here are the exact guidelines provided by the United States Department of Agriculture:
Here are some easy breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal prep ideas for you to try out:
Breakfast: Protein Overnight Oats With Fresh Berries
- Rolled oats: I like to use rolled oats rather than quick oats because it makes for a better consistency. I like Bob’s Red Mill Organic Regular Rolled Oats or the same brand gluten-free version.
- Milk: You can use any kind of milk but since I’m lactose intolerant, I usually opt for oat milk or almond milk.
- Protein powder: The addition of protein powder will help to make this a balanced meal. It will keep you satiated longer and mitigate the spike in blood sugar levels that eating a primarily carbohydrate-filled meal produces. I love the PEScience Select Vegan Peanut Butter Protein Powder, which is packed with 20g of protein per serving and has a naturally sweet, peanut butter flavor. If I use this, I do not add nut butter or any additional sweeteners. If you prefer protein without any flavor or sweetness, I love the Great Lakes Gelatin, Collagen Hydrolysate, Unflavored Beef Protein.
- Mixed berries: You can choose any berries you’d like to add as a topping. My personal favorite is a blend of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries!
- Nut butter (optional): Any nut butter of your choice will do! However, try to avoid nut butters with hydrogenated oils, excessive sodium (more than 100 mg), palm oils, or added sugar. I like these Justin’s Classic Peanut Butter Squeeze Packs because they are pre-portioned so I’m not tempted to add an extra spoonful!
- Added sweetener (optional): You can add in some natural sweetener if you opted for a non-sweetened protein powder and like your oatmeal on the sweeter side. You can use stevia, monk fruit, or pure maple syrup.
Meal Prep Instructions:
- Pour 1 cup of oats into a mason jar.
- Then add 1 cup of the milk of your choice. (Note: if you want it more runny add more milk; if you like your oats more chunky, add slightly less milk)
- Scoop in 1 serving of the protein powder of your choice.
- If you opted to add in additional sweetener, add in 1 serving size.
- Mix all ingredients together to ensure sure protein powder is evenly distributed and that all oats are wet with milk.
- Close your mason jar tightly and keep it in the fridge for at least 3 hours. However, it’s best to let it sit overnight (hence the name!).
- When you’re ready to enjoy the overnight oats, add on your toppings – scoop in some mixed berries and a serving of nut butter if you’d like and enjoy straight from the jar!
Overnight oats typically stay good in the fridge for up to 5 days so you can prep this quick and healthy breakfast for your whole work week!
Lunch: Buddha Bowl
- Mixed greens salad blend: I like to get a variety pack of pre-chopped and washed lettuce/greens (i.e. mix of kale, spinach, romaine, cabbage, etc.) in order to enhance the nutrient density of my salads and bowls by gaining the nutrition benefits that different types of greens offer. These are all great options: Organic Girl Protein Greens, Trader Joe’s Broccoli & Kale Slaw, or O Organics Super Greens.
- Brown rice: I usually opt for the microwavable kind to make the prep even quicker. These Minsley brown rice cups are a great option, or if you’re wanting to add in some different kinds of whole grains to the mix these Seeds of Change brown rice and quinoa pouches are a great as well!
- Carrots: I usually use baby carrot sticks but pre-shredded carrots are nice to save some prep time.
- Persian cucumbers: you can also use regular cucumber if you prefer, but I find that persian cucumbers are consistently more crunchy, which adds a nice texture to the bowl.
- Your choice of protein: some of my favorites include: organic chicken breast (cooked and seasoned to your liking), grilled blackened salmon, canned tuna, and/or hummus.
- Salted and roasted sunflower seeds
- Queso fresco (optional): This Cacique brand one is my absolute favorite!
- Everything But the Bagel Seasoning (optional but WORTH THE PURCHASE): you can find it at Trader Joes and other select grocery stories, or purchase it online here.
- Olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Meal Prep & Cooking Instructions:
- Pour the entirety of the salad/veggie mix into one of your larger food storage containers.
- Chop up the carrots and persian cucumbers into quarter-inch cubes and add to your salad mix.
(Keep this mixture stored in your fridge to have on hand to make buddha bowls or other bowls and salads throughout your week!)
- Prepare your protein of choice. If you make extras, you can store the leftovers in one of your meal prep containers to be able to easily add protein to any of your meals throughout the week.
- Heat up the brown rice (or brown rice and quinoa mix).
- While the rice is cooking, slice an avocado in half and cut one half into cubes. Save the other half for another meal for some added healthy fat (Tip: you can store the avocado in one of the stasher bags to make it last longer!)
- Transfer ~1 cup of the chopped and combined veggie mix you prepared into the bowl you will be eating from.
- Add in one serving of the cooked brown rice (read nutrition label to determine what a serving is) to the bowl. Save any extra rice in one of your meal prep containers to use for another meal for added complex carbs.
- Add in one serving of the protein of your choice to the bowl. If it’s chicken or salmon, it’s usually one breast or one fillet, respectively. If it’s hummus, it’s usually 2 tablespoons. For canned tuna, check the nutrition label on the can to determine what a single serving is.
- Add in the cubed ½ avocado to the bowl.
- Sprinkle the top of the bowl with some roasted and salted sunflower seeds.
- If you eat dairy and like queso fresco, add approximately 2 tablespoons of queso fresco crumbles on top.
- Add Everything But the Bagel Seasoning to taste.
- Lightly dress the bowl with olive oil and vinegar.
- Stir the bowl to mix ingredients and enjoy!
As you can see, a lot of these ingredients can be stored and saved to be used for more meals throughout the week! This Buddha Bowl is packed with whole, nutrient dense ingredients to support lasting energy and fullness throughout your day. Of course, if you prep more of the items in surplus so that you have leftovers, you will significantly cut down the time you have to spend in the kitchen during the week. Having extras of any of the ingredients included in the Buddha Bowl prepped and stored in your fridge will increase your chances of you making healthier food choices throughout your week and may decrease the frequency of opting to eat out or order in if your fridge is fully stocked.
Dinner: Lean Turkey Tacos
- Whole grain or gluten free tortillas: I love Siete tortillas because they have a bunch of plant-based, gluten-free options like tortillas made with Cassava flour, chickpea flour, and almond flour. Siete tortillas are made with minimal ingredients, have no preservatives, and no added sugar. If you aren’t gluten-free, these whole grain La Tortilla Factory tortillas are a great option!
- Lean organic ground turkey: lean turkey is a great source of protein with minimal to no saturated or trans fat (too much of these kinds of fats is not great for heart health). If you don’t eat meat, beans are another great source of protein, which will be used in these tacos as well so you will still have a balanced meal without using turkey.
- Taco seasoning: You can use any taco seasoning you prefer or that’s available at your local grocery store or online. I love this taco seasoning from Trader Joes!
- Cabbage: I like to get pre-chopped cabbage or coleslaw mix from the store to save time I would have to spend chopping.
- Salsa: I love Pace Chunky Salsa or getting pre-made fresh pico de gallo from my local grocery store.
- Canned, unsalted black beans: Bush’s Best Black Beans and Amy’s Vegetarian Organic Refried Beans are my two favorites.
- Queso fresco: Again, the Cacique brand one is my favorite.
- Cilantro (optional)
Meal Prep & Cooking Instructions:
- Cook your lean ground turkey in a pan over medium heat with one packet of taco seasoning, stirring frequently until fully cooked. Store and save surplus turkey in one of your meal prep containers to use for a lean protein option throughout your week.
- While your turkey is cooking, pour the black beans into a pot and begin heating over medium heat. Stir occasionally until cooked. Store any leftover beans into one of your storage containers to be able to easily add some protein to your meals throughout the week.
- Heat up tortilla(s) on a pan over low to medium heat until some browning begins (approximately 1 minute on each side).
- Slice your avocado in half. With one half, slice the avocado long-ways into thin slices (approximately 6-8 slices total). Save and store the other half for later in one of your stasher bags.
- Cut your lime into quarters. One quarter will be used per taco. Save any leftover quarters in a stasher bag for later use.
- Rinse and dry the cilantro. Only chop the amount you are going to use to garnish your tacos with (if you choose to). Save and store the rest of the washed and unused cilantro in a stasher bag.
- Start to assemble your taco(s) using approximately 2-3 tablespoons of turkey, 1 tablespoon of black beans (2 or 3 if you don’t eat meat), ¼ cup of cabbage, 3-4 slices of avocado per taco, and a tablespoon of salsa.
- Top off your tacos with a sprinkle of queso fresco crumbles, a squeeze of lime, and a pinch of cilantro.
Again, the ingredients used for this meal are all high quality, nutritious food items. Therefore, all of the leftovers you have from prepping this meal can be used to make more tacos throughout the week or can be easily added to other meals to help you achieve a more balanced diet.
Weekly Meal Prep Checklist
I put together this checklist to simplify the process of meal prepping and to help you integrate this new healthy habit into your life with greater ease.
I hope this article not only helped give you a better understanding of how to meal prep, but also showed you that making healthful nutrition choices is really about knowing what comprises a healthy meal and then taking the time to prepare it for yourself. Unlike diets, where nutrition becomes over-complicated and certain food groups are nebulously labeled “good” or “bad,” meal prepping offers a long-term, more simplistic and intuitive solution to healthy eating.