Do you enjoy a homemade lunch or dinner, but don’t have the time or energy to cook so you end up grabbing unhealthy fast food?
Meal prepping could be a great answer for you. Meal prepping means making food ahead of time in batches, portioning it into individual servings, and storing in the refrigerator or freezer so they’re ready to grab and go.
Meal prepping can save you time, money and calories versus eating fast food or restaurant take-out. And because you have control over the ingredients and amounts used, it’s generally a much healthier choice. Plus, it can help your food dollars go a lot further.
I started meal prepping after I began my healthy living and weight loss journey. Used to be, I’d grab fast food for lunch, or to feed my family I’d hit up a drive-thru for a bucket of fried chicken or other unhealthy food on the way home from work. But I got to the point that I didn’t want greasy, unhealthy, over-priced fast food for me or my family anymore. However, as a busy working mom, I didn’t have endless hours to spend in the kitchen.
So, I developed a system that worked for me. Sundays became my usual meal-prepping day. That’s when I set aside a little bit of time to make ahead healthy meals for lunches and dinners for the hectic week ahead.
It’s a misconception that cooking and meal planning have to be time-consuming or complicated. You don’t have to be a chef, or have a lot of extra time, to make a good home-cooked meal. I favor simple recipes and time-saving techniques such as using a slow-cooker. The secret is to make food in larger batches ahead of time, so that you have meals at the ready after long days.
As a health coach, this is something that I advise clients to do and I help them come up with a strategy that works for them. Many of my clients make a big batch of two or three delicious meals that can feed them for the rest of the week. Every meal you eat that’s homemade and prepared nutritiously is better than consuming fried fast food. It’s so much better for you. When making your grocery list, look for lean proteins, fresh fruit, fresh veggies (but canned and frozen work too!), whole grains like brown rice, and all the other healthy eating staples.
If you don’t want to cook, then something as simple as adding pre-cooked grilled chicken and a big container of salad to your shopping list works great as a healthy meal prep. Check the pre-made section of the grocery store for these items. To save time in the mornings, I’ll divide the salad into individual Ziploc bags and portion the chicken into bags ahead of time. Then I can just grab a bag of each to take for lunch. When you’re short on time, it’s an easy way to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Keep it simple and batch cook
I don’t make unique dishes for each day. Rather, I make enough of one thing to have the same meal for 3 to 4 days. I like to make two different meals so that I have both lunches and dinner covered for the entire week. For example, last week I made baked chicken and sides (recipe follows) and a slow-cooker pot roast with vegetables. I cooked once, and this fed us for almost the whole week.
When you’re busy with work or other commitments, there’s nothing better than knowing you have a ready-made hot lunch or dinner to come home to. It eliminates the need to pull in a drive-thru.
Try prepping this easy, nutritious meal
I’ve created the following three recipes so that you can make and bake it all at once, using all the racks in your oven. If your oven is smaller, make the chicken first and then the vegetables after. As an alternative, instead of roasting the mixed vegetables, you could prepare it on the stove top according to the package directions, or use canned, if preferred.
With these recipes, you can easily prep several lunch or dinner meals in under 10 minutes, not including baking time.
For less than the cost of one restaurant entrée, here I made four days’ worth of home-cooked lunches or dinners. In addition to saving money, mine was prepared in a healthier way with fewer calories and less fat and sodium than most restaurant portions.
The following baked chicken meal contains protein, vitamins and minerals. Add a fruit and you’ve got a wonderfully well-balanced meal to help you power through the day with good nutrition. And good news: it’s an easy recipe that takes almost no time to prep.
Honey baked chicken recipe
- Bone-in chicken thighs (or chicken breast or any cut of your choice)
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/3 cup soy sauce or soy-free substitute
- Kosher salt or regular salt
- Freshly ground pepper or regular pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Place the chicken on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. If using foil, spray with non-stick spray.
- In a small bowl, use a spoon to thoroughly mix equal parts of honey and soy sauce. Alternatively, you could use a soy-free substitute such as Coconut Aminos or Ocean’s Halo No-Soy Soy Free Sauce.
- Use a basting brush or spoon to cover the top and sides of the chicken with the honey-soy mixture.
- Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. I like to use kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, but ordinary salt and pepper will also do.
- Bake for 40 minutes for bone-in, or 20 minutes for boneless, or until done. Chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees as measured by a meat thermometer.
Roasted baby potatoes recipe
- 5 lb. bag of baby red or yellow potatoes (or try sweet potatoes for something different)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- Wash potatoes. Leave skins on.
- Cut baby potatoes in half or quarters. All pieces should be similar in size.
- Place in baking dish.
- Combine olive oil, parsley, salt, paprika and pepper in a cup or small bowl. Brush mixture on the potatoes. Lightly stir.
- Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until tender and lightly browned.
Roasted vegetables recipe
- 2 12-oz. packages of California blend frozen vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and carrots)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- In a large mixing bowl, add the olive oil, salt and pepper and mix well.
- Add frozen vegetables (no need to thaw) and stir to coat well.
- Spread vegetables out evenly on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
- Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until vegetables are done and turning brown on top, stirring/turning vegetables over halfway through baking. Near the end of cooking, if the vegetables need more browning, move to the top rack.
Putting it all together
Now that your meals are cooked, it’s time to portion and assemble into ready-to-grab containers.
I’m a believer in using what you have. If you’re like most of us, you probably have various food storage containers stashed in a kitchen cabinet. If not, meal prep containers are readily available at most discount stores, grocery stores, and online. Wrapping your portions in aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or placing in Ziploc bags works well, too.
Let food cool, then portion out a meal’s worth of the chicken, potatoes and vegetables and refrigerate or freeze until needed. Now, all you have to do is grab one when you need a lunch for work or a ready-made dinner at home.
Most cooked food can be refrigerated safely for 3 to 4 days. Consult this chart for food safety storage guidelines.
Interested in more healthy meal prep recipes?
Here are some of my other family-favorite recipes that work great for meal prepping lunch or dinner:
- Carolina pulled pork
- Slow cooker pot roast with vegetables
- 3 healthy, easy and delicious classic soup recipes
- Classic macaroni and cheese
- High protein pasta with sauce
- Chicken pot pie
- Turkey meatballs
Hungry yet? Let’s get cooking!
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