Meal Prepping Tips & Tools for Busy People
August 2023 Issue
by Alexandra Hursey
Truth or Myth?
Meal prep doesn't have to be stressful or time consuming.
Truth! When approached correctly,
with simple methods and planning, meal prepping reduces stress and saves time and money.
As a weight loss and lifestyle coach, I help busy men and women find that elusive balance in their life so they can reach their goals in a way that is not only sustainable but also actually fits their schedule, preferences, and lifestyle. As a full-time mommy, wife, dental hygienist, and entrepreneur, I'm never really off the clock. Something always needs to be done, and I'm often working from sunrise to sunset. Sound familiar? I couldn't get half the things on my to-do list accomplished without proper sleep, nutritionally dense meals and a little bit of movement each day. As a fellow busy woman, you can probably relate to the rat race and recognize that a healthy lifestyle plays a huge part in your success.
Meal Prepping for the Week
Meal planning is a lifesaver when it comes to living a healthy, albeit busy, life. When you prepare meals, snacks, and food items for the week ahead, the week is less hectic and allows better focus on work or everyday life. I've found that prepping breakfast and snacks along with recipe ingredients for the work week saves me a ton of time. And best of all, you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to get it done. The simple staples listed below will help you cook delicious food you love and get it all whipped up in a hurry.
Benefits of Meal Prepping
1) Saves Money. You don't need to worry about spending all your money on takeout, or stopping after work to grab something, when you have food at home.
2) Reduces Food Waste. One of the best parts of meal prep/planning is being able to have a dual purpose for ingredients. Learning to make meals that use the same ingredients for multiple recipes helps cut down on food waste because you know exactly what's in the fridge and its intended use.
3) Saves Time. Saving time is often just as important as saving money! Making meals in bulk is a huge time saver and will keep you feeling satisfied and energized so you can focus on doing what you do best: kicking booty at work!
4) Reduces Stress. Trust me when I say from experience that having all your breakfasts and lunches ready at the beginning of the week is a lifesaver and allows you to free up mental space and energy during the day so you can focus on getting things done. No last minute scrambling to get dinner on the table, either.
What is ingredient prepping?
Ingredient prepping has changed the meal prep game for me. It has become one of my favorite hacks to save time in the kitchen during the week! It’s not exactly like meal prepping, which is cooking entire main dishes and sides to serve during the next few days—it’s just prepping the components. Like chopping vegetables, prepping protein, and cooking grains.
Why prep ingredients ahead of time?
1) It’s easier than full-scale meal prepping. If the thought of completely preparing multiple meals in one day exhausts you, then just prep the ingredients.
2) It makes dinnertime prep quicker and easier. Batch chopping vegetables is much more efficient than the cumulative time it takes to chop things before each meal.
3) You’ll make healthier meal choices. Pulling out your cutting board and chopping a bunch of stuff can be a big hurdle when trying to eat more healthily. If everything is prepped ahead of time, that hurdle disappears. Especially when trying to find something quick for lunch or a snack!
3) Reduces food waste. Most of the time ingredient prepping reduces food waste because if it’s prepped it’s more likely to get used. However, chopped vegetables spoil more quickly, so don’t get overambitious in your prep. (I’ve done this a few times. Oops!)
What are the best foods to prep ahead of time?
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of things that are good for prepping ahead of time, it is a highlight of my go-to items.
FRUITS: My favorite prep for the whole family! We all know it’s easy to grab chips or a snack bar when we are hungry, so I wanted to create that same experience with fresh whole foods like fruit. My family loves fruit, but washing, peeling or chopping detours us from choosing it. Each week I wash my fruit and berries in a bowl of water with one or two tablespoons of white vinegar, dry it on a kitchen cloth and store in easy to access Tupperware for grab-n-go ease!
VEGETABLES: These simple tips for meal prepping veggies will help get healthy dinners on the table in no time. Pretty much any vegetable that won’t start browning a few minutes after you cut it is fair game. I like to prep both raw and cooked vegetables for the week.
- Throw a bunch of veggies on a sheet pan, toss in oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast. Tip: Try to put vegetables that have similar cooking times on the same sheet (i.e.broccoli is going to roast in half the time as chopped potatoes so they would go on separate sheets). I suggest Googling the cook times of each vegetable before starting.
- For raw veggies: Strive to have the classic snacking veggies (broccoli, carrot sticks, celery, snap peas) clean and ready to eat.
PROTEIN: Prepped protein is a lifesaver!
> Bulk batches of shredded or grilled chicken, beef, and pork. (Don’t cook fish ahead of time.) You could even throw some raw meat in a marinade so it’s ready to cook later.
> Hard-boiled eggs
> Bulk batches of beans and lentils (if you make yours from scratch).
Cooking a batch of rice or other grain helps to easily round out a meal. I generally prep jasmine or wild rice.
What my weekly meal prep routine looks like:
It’s no secret that I love my Sunday meal prep! It really is the number one way I’m able to stay on track with my eating, and it also starts my week off with a healthy, fresh mind set. Having all my meals planned out and my fridge deliciously stocked also makes me look forward to my workouts for that week! Remember if you “fail to plan, you plan to fail!”
To make things easier:
I prep my breakfasts, snacks, produce, and 1-2 ingredients (usually an extra grain and protein source) on Sundays, and the rest of the week I make dinner as usual each night. Honestly, I prefer this (if I have the time) because dinner always tastes ten times better freshly cooked! You can still plan your dinners out and purchase all your weekly ingredients on Sunday—one grocery trip a week is a huge time saver. Remember, everyone is different and has a varying schedule, so sit down, think about your week, and do what works for YOU!
My keys to success:
• Plan meals out the week before. I choose about 4-5 dinners to cook for the week, this allows some nights to be designated for leftovers, winging it, and eating out. I also pick 1-2 breakfast items to prep for the weekdays. (We usually cook a full sit down breakfast on the weekends.)
• Make a grocery list. I include everything I need for my planned meals. Then, I add weekly staples and snack ideas to list.
• Shop, organize and execute. Once you’ve grocery shopped, it’s time to unpack, organize and put your groceries away.
- Place fruit in its bath to soak in batches, then move to a drying mat.
- While soaking the fruit, I start with any crock pot meal prep that needs to be done.
- Tackle the chopping, considering cook times. Start with your longest cooking veggies first. Line all your pans with parchment paper and place your veggies in the oven to roast.
- Meanwhile, cook your stove items like hard-boiled eggs, quinoa or even chicken.
- Then take a breath and consider some fun treats for the week like baking muffins or pancake bites.
- Last, but not least, I prep my easy breakfast items like overnight oats or chia pudding where all the ingredients are basically dumped into a jar and go right in the fridge.
Don’t worry if this takes you longer to do the first few times.
It takes me 1-2 hours once the grocery shopping is done. You’ll develop a routine as the weeks go by and this will all become second nature to you. The first time I meal prepped, it literally felt like I had been cooking ALL day long, but the end result made me feel SO incredibly accomplished and really excited to start the week!
Most importantly, it is absolutely okay to start small!
Pick one thing to start prepping and leave everything else exactly the same. For example, start washing your fruits and vegetables for easy grab-n-go snacking. As you get a handle on that, add in a breakfast or lunch item the next week, and continue to build on it. Your meal plan is meant to help you stay organized and take a look at your week at a glance, not to rigidly lock you in. Ultimately, your goal is to make meal prepping helpful, and finding a way to make it an enjoyable routine that you can actually stick to.
Alexandra Hursey is a weight loss and lifestyle coach who helps busy people find balance and reach their goals in a sustainable way that fits their schedule, preferences, and lifestyle. If you would like help getting started on your journey, please visit Livingbalancedllc.com for free easy balanced meal ideas, to schedule a discovery call, or for more resources like this. You can also follow Alexandra on social media at @Alexandra_Hursey.