Healthy eating can sometimes be seen as something that only people who are highly motivated and are willing to spend tons of time on their meal prep. However, healthy eating can become an easy choice with a bit of planning. My—and my family’s—secret to eating healthy isn’t the fact that I’m a registered dietitian. The trick is that I make time (a bit, not a ton!) every week to meal prep. In fact, during those weeks that I don’t get around to meal prepping, it becomes challenging to eat balanced wholesome meals. During non-meal prep weeks, we are more likely to eat out and also end up eating fewer veggies because they're not ready to grab during a busy day. I believe in a balanced approach when it comes to a healthy lifestyle, where all foods can be enjoyed (some in more moderation than others). Meal prepping allows us to eat healthy most of the time and also plan out when we want to eat out, have dinner with family on the weekends, etc.
If you're on Instagram, you may think of meal prep as beautiful pictures of meticulously-portioned out meals. While that may work for some people, when you have a family, are super busy, or just want to limit the amount of time you spend prepping, meal prep looks a little different.
I cook for myself, my husband, my 3-year-old, and my 9-month-old. Meal prepping for a family can feel overwhelming but in the long run it actually makes healthy eating throughout the week a lot easier.
When I’m thinking about meal prep, I actually don’t start with choosing recipes. I start by thinking about my main concerns about prep: That I don’t want it to suck up all my free time, that I don’t want to get bored with what I made halfway through the week, or that the food won’t taste fresh. The cornerstone of my meal prep planning is based on making it logistically simple and not too time-consuming and based on prepping in way that will mean delicious food all week long. The most important thing is food that tastes good, whether we are eating the meals on the first day or finishing up meals a few days later.
Here are my tips for making that happen.
1. Don’t grocery shop AND prep on the same day.
I try not to do everything in one day because otherwise it can get very tiring and overwhelming. I do my groceries on Saturday and my major meal prep on Sunday. I may cook a few extra things mid-week if we're running low on food.
2. Make different recipes using the same ingredients.
This will help you save money and also decrease food waste since you are using up all your food. You will notice I used peppers and mushrooms in the egg muffins but also roasted them and then cut up peppers to have raw as well.
3. Plan your menu so that your whole family eats everything or at least most of it.
Take into consideration likes and dislikes, but don't get too wound up in trying to please everyone. Sooner or later, they'll get the hang of eating what is made for them rather than feeling like you have to cater to every single family member. I have implemented this since my oldest daughter started eating solids and it has made life a lot easier. I made sauteed green beans and at first my 3-year-old refused to eat them but after seeing all of us—including my 9-month-old—eating them, she finally agreed to try them. To her surprise, she enjoyed green beans too.
4. Store dishes separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
It seems like it’ll be easier and quicker to just throw aluminum foil on the pot or over the pan. But investing in and using airtight containers will prevent your food from going bad and help it taste fresher for longer.
5. Reheat food on the stovetop rather than in the microwave.
While this adds a few extra minutes, I find that even if the food is a few days old, it tastes a lot fresher when heated in a pan on the stove top.
6. Choose recipes that allow you to cook multiple dishes at once.
For instance, bake sweet potato wedges at the same time as roasted veggies and spicy salmon.
7. Line all baking trays with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
This will help minimize clean up.
And now, my go-to meal prep recipes for a week's worth of meals.
You'll notice that my meals are made up of protein, complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and healthy fats, and my snacks are made up a complex carb and either a protein or a fat. This is how I make sure we're eating balanced, satisfying all week long.
- Egg muffins
- Tandoori chicken
- Spicy salmon
- Sweet potato wedges
- Roasted veggies
- Sliced veggies
While this can seem like an overwhelming list of recipes to make in one day, the order in which you prepare the food can save you time and make meal prepping easier. Here is what I do:
- Marinate tandoori chicken, place in refrigerator.
- Line baking trays with aluminum foil and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Chop up all veggies (for roasted veggies, cut up veggies, and egg muffins) and sweet potatoes.
- Bake roasted veggies, sweet potato wedges, and egg muffins. While in oven, cook quinoa on stove top.
- Bake tandoori chicken and spicy salmon.
- Let cool, store in separate airtight containers.
Making two recipes under each category for lunch/dinner allows me to change up what we eat at each meal. Here are three sample meals:
- Spicy salmon with quinoa topped with roasted veggies and cherry tomatoes
- Tandoori chicken, salad greens topped with roasted veggies, and balsamic dressing, and sweet potato wedges
- Tandoori chicken pieces, red pepper and cucumber slices, and sweet potato wedges
In addition to cooking these dishes, I also buy ingredients that allow me to prepare extra meals and snacks without too much prep work, including:
- Pre-washed salad greens for meals
- In-season fruit (peaches and strawberries this week)
- Unsalted nuts (almonds this week)
- Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese for snack and/or breakfast
Here are the recipes for everything in this week of meal prep.
Makes: 12 egg muffins
1 pepper, diced
1 cup mushrooms, diced
12 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients. Pour 1/4 cup of the mixture into silicone muffin liners (I recommend silicone for easier clean up). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until egg muffins puff up. Remove and let cool before storing in airtight container.
Makes: 4 chicken breasts
1 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp tandoori masala
4 chicken breasts
In a large resealable bag, mix together all marinade ingredients. Add chicken breast and massage the bag from outside, ensuring all chicken portions are coated. Marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight in the fridge. When ready to cook, heat skillet to medium-high heat with a drizzle of olive oil. Cook for 5-7 minutes on both sides until fully cooked.
Makes: 8 fillets
8 salmon fillets
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with olive oil. Place fillets on baking sheet and squeeze lemon juice over fillets. In a small bowl, mix together garam masala, red chili flakes, and salt. Sprinkle spice mix over salmon fillets. Bake in oven for 16-18 minutes until salmon fillets are flakey when pierced with a fork.
Sweet Potato Wedges
Makes: 6 servings
3 sweet potatoes, cut into wedges
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with olive oil. Place sweet potato wedges in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 35-40 minutes until sweet potato wedges are slightly browned.
Cook quinoa according to package directions.
Makes: 4-6 servings
1 yellow pepper, chopped
6 small Indian eggplants, chopped
4 oz mushrooms, chopped
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Greek seasoning
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with olive oil. Place veggies in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 30-35 minutes until veggies are slightly browned.