A downfall for many of us is a lack of quick-and-simple healthy meals. When we’re on the go, we reach for what is easy – and what is easy is not usually healthy.
But a little bit of prep work and planning just one day per week can allow us to have healthier food at our fingertips. This article will give you a step-by-step approach to putting together healthy, high-nutrient meals that you can grab right out of the fridge all week long.
Give it a try this weekend and let me know how it goes. Post your thoughts and questions to the comments below.
The Five Meal Prep Guidelines
1. Invest in high-quality storage containers
The meals you make ahead of time are even easier to grab and go if they are already portioned out. Storage containers make portion control a cinch. I prefer glass containers with lids that snap on tightly. Plastic containers tend to warp over time, and many of them leak. No good!
2. Start with a base ingredient
Be sure to make something that will last all week. My go-to base ingredient is quinoa. Others could be brown rice, whole-grain pasta, or any other healthy carbohydrate you prefer. The first thing I do when prepping my weekly meals is set out five storage containers and place this base ingredient on the bottom. Wholesome carbs keep you feeling full longer. Be sure to include a base carb like this for every day you plan to exercise or be active. If you know you will be taking a rest day, it might be better to make your base a variety of lettuce or spinach to keep carbohydrates lower that day.
3. Pick a protein and season it sparingly
Flavor can be added later to add variety, but when preparing your protein for the week, keep it simple. Most often, my choice is chicken. Other easy possibilities include turkey, fish, or lean beef. Vegetarian options would be tempeh, tofu, or beans. When cooking your protein, make enough for all five servings. For me, this means about four large chicken breasts roasted in the oven. Chop and add to your storage containers.
4. Pick a vegetable
The steam-in-bag microwaveable vegetables in the freezer section are amazing for simplifying your week. Five minutes in the microwave and you can have fresh steamed broccoli or a bell pepper fajita vegetable mix. The steam-in-bag vegetables usually hold two to three servings of vegetables. To make enough, I steam two different bags: one of broccoli and one of peppers and onions. The vegetables in my meals are something I like to change up a bit. Separate the vegetables into your storage containers however you choose.
5. Pick a seasoning
Choose a couple of your favorites and vary them between containers. This is why I mentioned seasoning your protein sparingly. Many of us do not want to eat the exact same meal five days in a row, but you can trick your mind into thinking each meal is different by changing up the taste with spice, sauce, and seasoning.
Extra tip: Invest in some measuring cups and a food scale. Both are generally cheap and will help you keep track of exactly how much of each ingredient you are consuming.
My Favorite Quick-and-Simple Meal Variations
- Combination: Quinoa, chicken, broccoli
This combo can be seasoned with garlic powder and Greek yogurt to give the illusion of a creamy, fatty sauce. It could also be seasoned with a mix of soy sauce and sesame oil to give it the taste of Chinese takeout. My personal favorite seasoning for this combo is olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Parmesan cheese.
- Combination: Brown rice, steak, bell peppers and onions
This combo is my favorite with Tex-Mex flavors. You can season it with cumin, turmeric, and cayenne or simply sprinkle a store-bought taco mix over it. If you opt for the taco mix, add a little water before microwaving. A super healthful way to flavor this combo would be a scoop of guacamole. This combo can also hint at a Philly cheesesteak if you add some garlic powder and Gruyere cheese.
- Vegetarian Combination: Brown rice, stir-fry vegetables, eggs
I like to steam the vegetables lightly, then sauté them with at least one egg. Add soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and chili flakes. This makes a great stir-fry lunch. If you avoid eggs, try portabella mushrooms instead.
Take the Busy Out of Meal Prep
Making five meals in advance is extremely easy when you have a plan. This plan couldn’t be much simpler to follow, and it’s very versatile. An hour in the kitchen on Sunday night is all it will take to have five easy lunches waiting in your refrigerator for the busy week ahead.
More on meal planning:
- Eating Clean On the Go: It’s All in the Planning
- 3 Tools for a Week of Healthy Eating
- On-the-Go Mason Jar Meals for Busy Athletes
- New On Breaking Muscle Today
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.