I can’t stress to my clients enough the importance of being prepared. When you are prepared you can make a better decision. It takes the guess work out of what to make and takes you out of situations where you are stuck and are forced to make a bad decision.
Even if you can’t prepare your whole meal ahead of time, I think it can still be extremely helpful to at least do what we call, “meat” prepping. Preparing your meats in advance allows you to take away the most time consuming part of the meal. Dinner on a week night should not take you more than 20-30 minutes,unless you are someone with a more flexible schedule who can balance cooking dinner on a regular basis. I recommend spending the bulk of your work on the weekend. After grocery shopping, it should only take you 1-3 hours to clean, cut, and cook. For some people, breaking apart the cooking into a Sunday and Wednesday night can better maintain freshness of meals but still create some ease during the week.
Think about what you have going on that week. Do you need to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day? Think about events you have going on that week or potential nights you may be eating out where you can save yourself time and wasted food. Don’t cook food for nights you won’t be home. Consider weekend dining out, lunches with co-workers, birthday dinners, days you can work from home, etc.
Rather than cook separate meals for each night think about ways you can repurpose your ingredients. For example: If I buy ground turkey I can use that to make taco meat, meatballs, burgers, meatloaf, etc… Maybe you use half of the meat to make one thing and half to make another. Maybe you want to eat the same thing for dinner for 3 days but include different side dishes. You could create turkey burgers on a bun, over rice, and one night in a wrap or on a salad? Can you make a larger pot of rice and use it in 2-3 meals? These are all things to consider that may be specific to your tastes/preferences.
One of the main things to remember when prepping meals is to create a balanced meal. We need a carb, protein, and a vegetable at each meal (vegetable can be omitted from breakfast). It is important to remember that portions will vary slightly per person and based on their specific health goals (weight maintenance, weight loss, weight gain, etc.). A rough guideline to follow is one fist of carb, one palm of protein, and 1-2 fists of vegetables (non-starchy). This combination creates a balanced meal that will stick with you for hours and not leave you counting down the minutes until your next meal. Think of it like this- Protein takes longer to digest, carbs give us our energy, and vegetables add fiber and bulk to our meals.
When you are ready to start- make a list of all the ingredients you will need for the week. Make sure to check what you already have before heading off to the store. Buying in bulk can be a great way to allow you to prep for future weeks. Also- think of emergency foods that can save you when you don’t have a chance to prep. Some examples- some pre-made low-fat chicken salad, turkey breast, tuna, low-fat cheese, etc.
When utilizing the freezer to freeze meals for a later time, make sure to either cook in smaller portions or freeze in individual portions to prevent having to thaw the whole dish for only one meal. For example, make meatloaf into small muffin tins so they are pre portioned and ready to go. Or if making a large meatloaf, cut into slices and freeze individually. The freezer can also be beneficial even if you don’t plan to freeze ahead. Sometimes, last minute plans come up and we don’t get to eat the lunches or dinners we prepared for a day or two. Why not freeze the meal to utilize in the next few weeks or save for the next emergency.
If prepping the whole meal has you feeling a little skeptical of the process, try at least cutting up your vegetables, marinating your meats, and pre-portioning your ingredients. Then you can utilize time in the morning to throw all ingredients in the crock pot or when you get home you are not measuring out individual ingredients- they are ready to throw in your pot or pan to cook.
I hope these tips have given you the basics to get started. Follow these ideas so you can cook once or twice and eat well all week!
Allison Wade MS RD LDN