By Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC
How do you stay successful with maintaining a healthy diet?
Four words: Meal Prep and Planning
Without this you will be floundering around the kitchen staring at your empty refrigerator and will want to hightail it to the local eatery to grab some grub. Now I’m not saying eating out is completely out of the question, but if you are eating out more than two times a week that is a problem. This is because we have no idea how our food is being prepared.
The Challenge when Dining Out
Aside from the obvious sugars found in soft drinks, juices, and other beverages, many restaurants have hidden sugars in their sauces, dressings, and dishes.
Processed refined sodium is found not only in packaged foods, but abundant in dine out restaurants. This is not good for your health and can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
Enriched flours and refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, donuts, cakes, cookies, pastries) can also be found in restaurant dishes. These foods are highly addictive and consumption can lead to various health conditions.
Often times restaurants cook with highly refined oils. They may use high fructose corn syrup, margarine or too much butter.
Sugars, trans fats, and over processed oils are added to the food without our knowledge. Consuming these things can wreak havoc on our body by kicking inflammation into overdrive.
Portion Distortion – Portions are out of control. You go to dinner and wind up getting something that is two to three times larger than a healthy serving.
The Strain On Your Wallet – Constantly dining out not only puts a strain on your health but also hurts your wallet. Eating out five days a week can add up even with the lunch specials.
Meal Planning: How to Get Started
Meal prepping can be a challenge, but using this simple 6 step process you will learn how to make it a pain-free experience. These tips will make your life in the kitchen a breeze and give you the power to rock your meals!
STEP 1: Clean Out Your Pantry
Throw out all the junk in your refrigerator, pantry and cabinets. Want to succeed in eating healthy? Dump those processed foods with added sugars, preservatives, and sodium.
STEP 2: Get Some Kitchen Gadgets
Just like other areas in our lives technology and gadgets will help you excel in the kitchen. This is a list of my must have kitchen tools.
- Glass or Tupperware Containers – Prepped food needs a place to be put in the fridge. So if you do not have any containers to hold food then you need to get some pronto. They come in various sizes for bigger food items to smaller items. If you prefer plastic containers make sure they are BPA free and are dishwasher safe for easy clean up.
- Colander – These come in plastic and metal varieties. You can get them at the supermarket, Target, or even Amazon. This is great to wash and rinse your produce prior to prepping.
- Vegetable Peeler – A vegetable peeler comes in handy for veggies whose skin you do not want to eat. This can include cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, beets, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and eggplant to name a few.
- Spice Grinder – Do you hate having to chop up spices and herbs like cilantro, parsley, and rosemary? This nifty gadget takes all the work out of trying to carefully separate the leaves from the stems.
- Sturdy Knives – A sturdy and sharp set of stainless steel knives is a kitchen MUST. Some can be a little pricey so if you don’t want to break the bank invest in 1 or 2 QUALITY knives, such as one of these.
- For my garlic lovers!
- Garlic Press – If you are like me and hate cutting up garlic because you’re afraid you’re gonna chop off your hand, then this gadget is the best thing ever.
- Garlic Peeler – If you prefer to chop your garlic or the recipe calls for a whole clove, you will need to peel it first. Peeling garlic can be cumbersome and time consuming to peel even just two or three cloves of garlic. One way to avoid wasting time is with a garlic peeler or to purchase peeled garlic cloves in the supermarket as we often do, like the ones here from Trader Joe’s.
- Crockpot – If you do not have a crockpot you are missing out. This is perhaps the most convenient tool for easy meal prep. All you need to do is dump your ingredients into a heated ceramic dish and set it to cook! They are inexpensive and you can find them online at or in-store at retailers. I have the 6 quart size one but you can also buy a smaller 4 quart size best for 1-2 people.
- Spiralizer – This latest “it” tool makes boring vegetables spiralized and fun to eat. You can get something small like the Veggetti, however, this is not a strong gadget and can only spiralize soft veggies like cucumbers, squash, or zucchini. If you are looking to make carrot, beet, or butternut squash noodles you are better off with a professional spiralizer.
- Food Processor – This handy machine take your veggies and makes them easy to eat by chopping, shredding, and grinding them. Use it for salads, salsas, or sauces. They come in all shapes and sizes so if you are looking for something smaller you can find your perfect fit.
- Blender – A blender is a great tool for making everything from green smoothies and protein shakes to soups and stews. The Vitamix is a coveted appliance but if you are not willing to shell out the cash (the cheapest model is $430) there are some other highly rated blenders that will accommodate your cooking styles. I have the Mini Magic Bullet and it has been helping me in the kitchen for the past three years. It does everything from make almond flour and cashew cream to my immunity smoothies and costs just $30. If you want the regular size Magic Bullet that will run you about $80, while the Magic Bullet Nutribullet Pro 900 Blender/Mixer is $92. Ninja has also come out with a smaller version for smoothies and crushing nuts called the Nutri Ninja Pro (BL456) which runs about $60 and the Ninja Professional Blender is in the middle at $106. Hand mixers or blenders are also a popular item to use if you want to blend while cooking. These are pretty inexpensive and can be found online or in most retailers. One brand I like is the Kitchen Aid Emersion Blender this is a great tool and it comes in any color you can think of.
- Food Processor Blender Combo – Are you lacking kitchen space? A food processor blender combo packs a punch with two appliances in one.
STEP 3: WRITE OUT A SHOPPING LIST BASED ON YOUR MEAL PLAN
To make meal planning as painless as possible let’s start with one week at a time. This will consist of 7 days of meals and snacks: 21 meals and 7 snacks. Below are some meal ideas.
- Breakfast: Egg Scramble with Arugula and onions
- Lunch: Tuna Fish with avocado, onions, and extra virgin olive oil
- Snack: Pumpkin seeds with unsweetened cacoa nibs, blueberries
- Dinner: Zucchini Cashew Lasagna
- Breakfast: Protein Carrot Banana Muffins (use Almond Flour to make paleo)
- Lunch: Portobello mushroom burger with broccoli rice
- Snack: Kefir with coconut flakes, sunflower seeds, and berries
- Dinner: Lettuce Wrapped Chicken Tacos with cilantro avocado
- Breakfast: Almond butter protein shake (almond butter, coconut flakes, frozen blueberries, cacoa powder)
- Lunch: Cauliflower veggie fried rice
- Snack: hard boiled eggs with avocado
- Dinner: Arugula and Grass Fed Steak salad with grapefruit dressing
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with Berries and plain grass fed kefir or yogurt
- Lunch: Chickpea veggie patties (chickpeas, cumin, egg or chia seed egg, parsley)
- Snack: Almond butter with celery, carrot, and zucchini sticks
- Dinner: Veggie Turkey Meat Loaf
- Breakfast: Protein banana pancakes
- Lunch: Crockpot grass fed beef chili
- Snack: Baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon
- Dinner: Veggie Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (carrots, peppers, greens
- Breakfast: Green Protein Smoothie (Kale, Arugula, Hemp Protein Powder, Lemon, Green Apple)
- Lunch: Baked Veggie Tuna Quinoa Casserole
- Snack: Unprocessed turkey bacon wrapped Brussels sprouts
- Dinner: Crockpot baked chicken with seasoned veggies
- Breakfast: Veggie Quiche (4 Eggs, 1 onion diced, parsley, broccoli, bell peppers or veggie of choice)
- Lunch: Garlic stuffed roasted eggplant
- Snack: Zucchini cashew cheese pizza
- Dinner: Turkey Stuffed Peppers with Carrots, Onions and Farro
STEP 4: GO SHOP FOR YOUR FOOD
The internet has made our lives so much easier especially with food shopping. More and more stores are offering grocery pick up and delivery options which helps you save time in today’s busy lifestyle.
Now you don’t even have to leave your house to buy groceries. So if you are like my boyfriend and hate the food store you can still get what you need without even leaving the house! Just do a Google search to see if your preferred store has online shopping.
If you are on the East Coast some of my favorite places to shop are Thrive Market, Wegmans, FreshDirect, Vitacost, and Shoprite. All of these are either online retailers or offer grocery delivery services. Some have a fee but isn’t it worth it if you are pressed for time and want to eat healthy?
If you wind up physically going to the food store, the key to stay on the perimeter. You want to steer clear of the packaged foods. Here is a sample of some foods to purchase to help with meal prep.
- Vegetables – cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, kale, arugula, spring mix, avocados, red cabbage, eggplant, asparagus, sweet potatoes, yellow onions, broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke, Swiss chard, acorn squash, beets, bok choy, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash,celery, collards, endive, fennel, green beans, kale, leeks, lettuce/mixed greens, portobello mushrooms, okra, onions, parsnips, radishes, rutabagas, snow peas, sugar snap peas, spaghetti squash, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnips
- Herbs/Spices – Parsley, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, garlic, ginger
- Grains/Beans – Quinoa, farro, lentils, chickpeas, steel cut oatmeal
- Dairy – pasture raised eggs, grass fed organic kefir, organic grass fed plain yogurt or plain goats milk yogurt, grass fed butter
- Meat/Fish – organic turkey, organic chicken breast, ground chicken/turkey, uncured turkey bacon, lean grass fed beef, grass fed lamb, organic wild salmon fresh or in a can, pole line caught tuna fish, sardines
- Fruit – Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, apples, pears, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit (if not in season you can buy frozen)
- Pantry – almonds, pistachios, pecans, almond butter, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cold pressed organic extra virgin olive oil, organic apple cider vinegar, chia seeds, unsweetened cacao powder or nibs, raw honey, organic hemp seeds or hemp powder, brazil nuts, organic unrefined extra virgin coconut oil, steel cut oats, oat groats, tomato puree, almond flour, organic unsweetened coconut flakes, cannellini beans
If you plan your trip carefully and have a detailed shopping list you will be able to get in and out of the store in a reasonable amount of time pending those pesky checkout lines.
So make your list and go get your food!
STEP 5: START PREPPING
Once you get home don’t just throw all your food in the fridge. Be proactive and take an extra hour or two to prep your veggies and meats for the week.
Often the best thing to do is take a day to do all your meal prep and cooking for the week. This way when you come home starving from a long day all you have to do is reheat the meal and it is ready to eat without any thought or effort. It may take a few hours but what you do today will save you time tomorrow and the rest of the week!
Here is a sample of what you can do to prep vegetables.
- Carrots – wash, dry, and take half shred in the food processor then take the other half make into noodles
- Zucchini – take 2 medium zucchini peel and process into noodles. 2 medium
- Broccoli – chop up and blend in the food processor to make rice and store
- Cauliflower – blend to a rice like consistency in the food processor heat with water until soft
- Cabbage – shred in the food processor and store
- Peppers – wash, dry, de-seed, and cut into pieces. If they are for stuffed peppers chop off the top and scoop out the insides so there is a hallow place to put the stuffing
- Green Beans – wash, dry, snap off the ends and store
- Cucumbers – peel, de-seed, and chop into pieces and store
- Sweet Potatoes – peel and cut into pieces or peel and make noodles
- Butternut Squash – peel, scoop out the seeds, chop into pieces and store
- Celery wash, dry, and chop off the ends. Cut into small pieces and store
- Eggplant peel the eggplant, cut a hole for the garlic to be placed in, and bake or if peel and cut into pieces and store
- Asparagus – wash, dry, and cut off the ends, and store
- Beets – wash, dry, cut off the stems, peel, and store
- Portobello mushrooms wash, dry, season, and store
STEP 6: GET COOKING
Now that you have your gadgets and food prepped all that is left to do is cook. You can use the above meal plan as a guide.
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