Meal Prep in 4 Steps
When it comes to nourishing your body, having a plan can mean the difference between eating well and living on take-out.
It can make the difference between feeling comfortable in your clothing and feeling like nothing in your closet fits.
Finally, it can mean the difference between feeling healthy and vibrant and feeling lethargic and sluggish.
And believe it or not, it can be easier than you might think.
Use a meal planner (get yours here). Print multiple copies, so you have one for each week.
Creating a meal plan can seem like an unnecessary step, but it will save you frustration when you get home from a long day. And even more importantly, it can save your waistline.
When you find yourself hungry and without a plan, it can seem so much easier to go to order pizza or take-out. But, unfortunately, according to the US Department of Agriculture, eating dinner out adds an average of 144 calories, mainly from added sugars and fat. And don’t forget the salt.
All the extra salt, sugar, and fat can add up to extra pounds, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes, among other chronic systemic diseases.
And the truth is that by the time you think about eating dinner, you’ve already made a lot of decisions in your day: what to eat for breakfast, what shirt to wear, whether to have water or soda with your lunch, how to answer the emails in your inbox, and the list goes on.
All those decisions add up and can lead to decision fatigue, which can mean that your decision-making ability goes down. So, then instead of making a healthy choice, you end up ordering a super-sized version of grease and sugar and vowing you’ll eat healthier tomorrow.
Schedule a time each week to create your meal plan.
So, once you’ve decided to use a meal planner, commit to when you will create it. It might feel like an easy step to dismiss, but if you don’t pick a time to do this, it will more than likely keep getting pushed to “tomorrow” or “sometime.”
Sit down with your partner, your kids, or anyone else who will be part of your meals.
Then, ask yourself (and anyone else playing along with you) how you want to feel during the week. This question may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s essential to make a conscious decision. Do you want to feel energized, active, alert, focused, something else? Do you have a big meeting? Are you traveling or on vacation? Is there a holiday or party you’ll be attending? Take all of these things into consideration.
Check your pantry and your refrigerator. Are there any vegetables or other items that could go bad if you don’t use them? What else do you have? Grains? Beans? Spices?
Are you getting any ideas of meals you can make? If not, look at cookbooks and search for recipes on the internet. It can be as simple as typing in a couple of ingredients that you have and the word “recipe.”
Once you’ve got some ideas, start filling in spots on your meal planner. Don’t be afraid to duplicate meals. For simplicity’s sake, you might even choose to have the same meal for lunch and dinner. This can be a bonus because you only have to cook once for both meals.
Have fun with it! Add in special spots for date night or going out to dinner. Fort those days, check out the menu and make your decision before you’re at the restaurant. Put your choice on your meal planner. You’re more likely to make a better choice ahead of time than if you wait until you’re at the restaurant.
Once you have your meal plan created, it’s time to ensure you have everything you’ll need for the week.
Look at the recipes you’ve selected. Then, make a shopping list of any ingredients or other necessary items so that you won’t be scrambling at the last minute.
If several recipes use chopped onions, celery, and carrots, chop enough for all of them, and then put them in the refrigerator for when you’ll need them. Prepping your vegetables all at the same time can be a big time-saver when you’re cooking.
This is also a great time to prepare healthy snacks like chopped carrots, carrots, and hummus. Put them front and center in your refrigerator so you won’t miss them when you reach for a snack.
A slow cooker can be an excellent tool for making soups, stews, chili, and lots of other recipes such as lasagna. You can put all the ingredients in it first thing in the morning and let it cook all day. Another option is to let it cook overnight, so your food is ready in the morning if you want to pack it up and take it to work.
A pressure cooker is an alternative to a slow cooker. You can use it for cooking many of the same things as a slower cooker, and you can also use it to make rice, cook dry beans, or even make a chocolate cake.
Meal planning might take you a little longer when you first start, especially if you find yourself resisting the task. But, it gets quicker over time. And you can even save each version so you can see what you did in previous weeks. That way, you don’t always have to come up with something new to make.
Finally, remember that your meal plan is a guide; it’s not written in stone. If you decide to swap Tuesday’s chili with Thursday’s split pea soup, it’s ok. The primary thing is that you’ve created a road map of how you want to eat. It’s designed to keep you on track for those days when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed and more likely to default to a poorer choice.
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