Tips for Meal Prep Success
When clients are ready to commit to a healthier diet, but face barriers to healthy eating like time, convenience, and temptations, meal prepping might be a good option. Although the grocery store is full of frozen and ready-to-make meal options, they aren’t the healthiest or the tastiest. This article shares all the best tricks and tips for meal prep to help get your clients started creating their own healthy weekly meals.
Time-saving Tips to Reduce Prep Time
The practice of meal-prepping saves time and supports healthy diet changes. But it is difficult for most people to understand that spending a few hours at the beginning of the week to prepare healthy dishes will save them time during the week. Your clients will want all the short-cuts, so here are a few tips for meal prep to share when they ask you, “What are the top five food prep tips to save time?”
1. Plan Ahead.
First things first, set up a routine. Pick a day and time to plan a menu, another day to do the shopping, and another to do the meal prep. Put it in the calendar and set a reminder.
Next, gather the recipes together. If your client is following a specific diet, they can find recipes online or purchase a cookbook. There are meal-planning services, such as eMeals, they can subscribe to and receive a weekly menu and grocery list via email.
Pro tip: Match ingredients between recipes to save money and reduce prep time.
From the menu, create a grocery list. Save time by categorizing this list by department. For example, deli, dairy, produce, meat/seafood, frozen foods, etc.
Staples are ingredients used in multiple recipes. These carbohydrates and fats have a good shelf-life, so keep them on hand for cooking:
- Olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil
- Broth or stock
- Spices and flavorings
When it comes time to shop, get as many ingredients as possible in bulk. The local farmers market is a low-cost alternative to bigger chain grocers. Wholesalers like CostCo, Sams, and BJs are the next best option.
Keep the fridge stocked with eggs, too. Hard-boiled eggs make great protein-rich snacks and baked egg muffins are a healthy on-the-go breakfast.
Finally, stock up on frozen foods like vegetables, chicken breasts, fish, and grains.
2. Organize your kitchen.
- If the kitchen is disorganized, it could easily take another hour to get things ready. Here are some things to consider:
- In addition to the dining table and counter-tops, consider getting a folding table for extra space.
- Gather the meal storage containers. All the rage right now are Mason jars for everything from overnight oats to salads and soups! If purchasing new containers, purchase the same brand. Don’t mix and match or it’ll be extra work searching for the right lids and trying to get everything to stack in the fridge. Zip-lock bags are versatile and have varying capacities for cooking large or small meals. Or consider using more earth-conscious products. New to the market and voted most innovative product is the Zip Toppie.
- Gather measuring cups and spoons, knives, and cutting boards. When cooking several different dishes, use a separate cutting board and knives for meat and fresh produce.
- Store pantry staples in easy-to-dispense containers. Pouring rice from a bag is more difficult and messier than scooping from a cannister. Purchasing containers to store staples also keeps the pantry more organized.
- Lastly, stock up on baking sheets.
3. Purchase Pre-Cut Produce.
This tip doesn’t save money, but when it comes to eating a balanced diet, the more color the better and if a client doesn’t have to chop, dice, slice, or grate the ingredients, they’ll be more likely to include them in meals.
Pre-cut fruits and vegetables also come in pre-packaged individual serving sizes for extra convenience.
4. Batch Cooking.
Rice, quinoa, lentils, and oats can be cooked in large batches and frozen in individual serving sizes to pair with meals. Bone broth, soups and stews, sauces, and marinades can also be cooked in large batches and frozen in ice cube trays. This makes it convenient to use whatever broth, sauce, or marinade sounds good as a quick flavoring option for a fresh-cooked meal.
Fresh vegetables can be roasted in batches for make-ahead meals. Vegetables that roast well include: carrots, asparagus, onions, potatoes, beets, winter squash, and other root vegetables. Bonus: roasted veggies generally reheat well and maintain great flavor.
Rather than purchasing pre-cooked chicken; boil, grill, or bake fresh chicken. This tip saves money and helps to control what’s inside the chicken breast.
And don’t forget about the go-to high-protein snack, hard-boiled eggs. Cook a dozen at a time to last through the week.
5. Shop Online.
A top time-saving tip is to shop online. With new technology like ClickList and Instacart, it is easy to shop online and pick-up groceries at the store or have them delivered. Shop from the grocery list online, double-checking the pantry to make sure not to purchase ingredients that are already stocked.
This is a convenient option if it’s available locally and helps avoid temptations in the check-out line (well, hello there, York Peppermint patty).
Healthy Hacks for Meal Prepping
Clients may have objections and questions about meal planning and prepping.
“Do you eat the same thing every day?”
“Why should I meal prep?”
It’s easy to overcome these objections and help clients get on track to getting dinner on the table in record time.
Spice it up.
If clients are afraid they’ll have to eat the same bland lunch every day, introduce them to the world of spice! As we mentioned in our recent article, “8 Simple Ways to Eat a Balanced Diet”, the more satisfying a meal is, the more likely your client is to stick with their new healthier diet.
Use Caribbean Jerk seasoning to spice up fish and rice. Add some pineapple and cilantro for extra flavor and color. Suddenly, the boring lunchroom is transformed into a tropical beach.
Craving pasta? Cook quinoa with Italian seasoning and top with a pre-cooked chicken breast to curb cravings and increase healthy, lean protein intake.
Roasted veggies sprinkled with Southwest seasoning are a great topping for grilled chicken breast. Add half an avocado with a sprinkle of lime juice for a well-balanced, nutritious, satisfying meal.
In addition, some spices have documented health benefits! Ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon have been found (in some cases) to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness and garlic has been found to reduce blood pressure and oxidative radicals (1).
Track Macros for Faster Results.
If a client’s goals are to improve body composition or performance, then tracking macros is a must.
- To build muscle: 30-40% carbs, 25-35% protein, 15-25% fats
- For fat loss: 10-30% carbs, 40-50% protein, 30-40% fats
- To maintain body composition: 30-50% carbs, 25-35% protein, 25-35% fats
There are several apps available to partner meal prep with food logging for even greater success. When a client finds a favorite meal, they simply input the ingredients and hit “save”. Next time they food prep, they can go back to the saved meals and create their grocery list.
Whole Foods are the Best Snacks.
If time is an issue, stick with whole foods for quick snacks. Fresh fruits and vegetables combined with nuts and seeds are healthier than dried fruit “trail” mixes and will keep clients fuller longer.
How to Get Started
The toughest obstacle for most people to overcome is mindset. Help client’s see this as a “get to” opportunity for improved health and increased energy, rather than a “have to” chore for weight loss. Remind them that two hours spent prepping will free them up during the week and prepare them for when life gets in the way of their goals. Like when the meeting runs over and dinner gets pushed back to 8:00pm. It will be much healthier and satisfying to pull out a frozen meal and reheat it than to pull through the fast food lane.
Let clients start small by prepping just one meal for the week. Maybe they run to the vending machine every day for a snack. They can make a meal plan for healthy snacks. If breakfast is usually a donut and coffee, then prepping some healthy egg muffins or frozen smoothie ingredients could be their first step.
There are several methods of food prep for clients to try out. Encourage them to try them all and see which one fits better into their lifestyle.
The make-ahead method includes batch cooking healthy dishes and portioning them out into containers or Zip-lock bags. These meals are cooked in one day and ready to reheat and eat for the rest of the week. If your client isn’t a fan of leftovers, they probably won’t like this method of meal planning.
As in the make-ahead method, all the chopping, cooking, and pre-portioning of meals is completed in a couple hours. The added step is freezing them. This is a nice option for big families or people who enjoy a lot of variety in their menu. These meals last longer, but be careful to choose the right recipes. Some meals just don’t freeze well.
This method is a good option for clients who enjoy cooking but would rather not spend 20-30 minutes prepping for each meal. On meal prep day they chop all the produce, pre-portion the raw meats and uncooked grains, package them and stick it all in the fridge. The bummer with this option is that fresh produce can go bad if it sits for too long.
If your clients want a template for meal plan success, this is it. Be encouraging and supportive of clients who are just getting started. It might even help to have a salad-in-a-jar party for your clients to learn more and have fun.
Adams, Casey. "Hearty nutraceuticals: a comprehensive review of the research behind scores of nutraceutical ingredients that help keep a heart healthy and happy." Nutraceuticals World, Apr. 2008, p. 36+. General OneFile, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A178616868/ITOF?u=lirn86548&sid=ITOF&xid=27335658. Accessed 9 Jan. 2019.