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    Meal Planning and Prepping: A guide for healthy eating without wasting time in the kitchen

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    “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

    Meal planning is not just one of the most vital components to achieving a goal of health, it is so much more than that.  We plan things like what we are going to do on our next vacation, how we are going to spend that bonus from work, our retirements get planned (if you are responsible that is), we make plans with friends to go out for the evening.  Planning is part of life, so it should stand to reason that every household should be making a meal plan for the week.  Regardless of wanting to lose weight or get healthy, meal planning should be an integral part of our daily lives.  Just like brushing your teeth, checking email, and various other habits that are second nature, meal planning should become a weekly habit that you don’t even have to think of anymore…you just do it.

    How do you get to that point?  How do you follow through with a habit?  Most of all how do you make it a habit that sticks forever.  The key is to not overcomplicate things.  Easier said than done right?  In this world of Pinterest and an abundance of restaurants, flavors of food etc.… we are living in an over palatable world.  That just means that there is so much out there, the combinations of foods you can make is infinite.  This makes it very hard to eat healthy all the time.  Scroll down Pinterest for 20 seconds and you will be salivating for some baked goodies you never even knew existed until now.  I am not saying that you shouldn’t go on Pinterest, trust me I love Pinterest more than the next gal, but I do think scrolling Pinterest at 4:00 p.m. when you don’t have a plan in place for dinner, can be a huge problem.  Now you want all the yummy things you see on there!  Imagine this:  You already have a dinner plan in place…you did a bunch of work on the weekend before your busy week began.  You planned dinners in advance, you shopped, you chopped, you prepped, and now you just have to spend 20 minutes in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on your dinner.  Does that sound too good to be true?  It is completely possible.  So save your Pinterest scrolls for the next party you have to plan and read ahead to find out how you can set up your week for success!

    Make A Plan

    If you don’t already have a meal plan pre-figured out, you are going to get out your planner, calendar or just a notebook with plenty of space.  Look at what you have on your schedule for the week ahead.  What days do your kids have soccer practice, dance lessons, etc.?  What days do you have a long meeting in the late afternoon?  Will you be gone all day running errands on Thursday?  Take a good honest look at your week ahead, what days can you spend a longer time in the kitchen, what days are too rushed that running through the drive thru sounds like a better plan?  Besides fast food is rarely ever actually fast, sitting in a busy drive thru with other non-prepared folks will likely take over 30 minutes, plus by the time you get home your food is cold anyways…yuck!  Instead you could spend 20-30 minutes to finish making a meal you already prepared for.

    Here is an example of a work-week and how you could plan meals according to the day’s activities.

    MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday
    Dance classNothing plannedin the eveningMeeting, will be tired after easy meal neededDance class, soccer practiceNothing planned

    In the evening

    Crockpot

    Chicken Cacciatore

    Roasted asparagus, salad

    20 minutes to finish

     

    Marinated Steak Fajitas, sautéed bell peppers, easy guacamole

     

    30 Minutes to make

    Already made zoodles/meat sauce, roastedBrusselssprouts

     

     

    20 minutes to finish

    Crockpot

    Tri Tip, Sweet Potatoes, roasted broccoli/cauliflower

     

     

    20 minutes to finish

    Already made

    Shepherd’s pie,

    Easy salad, roasted Asparagus

     

    30-40 minutes to finish

    Now that you have a plan in place, get out your recipes and figure out at least 5 dinner recipes, (7 if you are feeling really ambitious), consider recipes that use similar items for example in the above sample I made chicken cacciatore on Monday, when I prepped this ahead of time, I made enough tomato sauce for both Monday and Wednesday’s meals.  I also like to choose up to 4 different vegetables not really anymore than that as over complicating your meal plans in the beginning can hinder you from doing this again.  Make it simple until you get the hang of this.  Yes, ideally you would have a large variety of vegetables and proteins, but eating a few instead of none (if you go through the drive-thru) is still better!  Besides once you have mastered meal prep like a pro, you can go all out and get fancy later on.  You will notice I planned asparagus on Monday and Friday, I spaced them far apart so I don’t feel like I am eating the same things over and over, but I am eating them twice because chopping asparagus all at once instead of several types of vegetables, is much much easier.

    If you are feeling overwhelmed with what recipes to plan, take a look at the recipes from the PS1000 website and other healthy cook books and yes even Pinterest.  There are some great healthy recipes on there, just be sure that the ingredients comply with the program you are following.  Once you have the recipes, determine the amount of servings you need to make.  For example, I have 5 people to feed in my house, and 3 of us will want leftovers for the following day.  One of these people is a man and one is a growing boy, so I will usually double a recipe.  For example, while making steak fajitas with flank steak or a lean cut of steak, I determine my protein serving which is about 4 oz. then I figure 6 oz. for my husband, and 2 oz. for each kid.  Now I double that for the leftovers.  I will need 32 oz. of the flank steak total (2 lbs.)  There will be more for leftovers than necessary, but that’s okay, my husband eats a larger lunch anyways and the boy that’s growing is always starving at lunch time too.  You don’t have to overthink it, but get the basic idea?

    I mostly am concerned about enough protein for everyone, less concerned about the exact amount of vegetables, I just double whatever the recipe called for so we have leftovers.

     Work The Plan

    Notice I have not listed any breakfasts, lunches or snacks on here?  I do actually plan ours out, but not very involved like dinner.  Dinner is the biggest obstacle to eating healthy for most people, due to the fact that by the end of the day our capacity to make decisions has left us exhausted, so when we have already made the decision earlier in the week, we need not think, just get in the kitchen and put the finishing touches on the meal.

    With that said, you could make a 3 choice breakfast plan, meaning you rotate 3 breakfasts throughout the week for example on days when you are busiest, a quick protein smoothie would be best, to switch it up throughout the week you could have some Greek yogurt with fruit.  More time on the weekends?  Make an egg frittata.  Lunches are pretty easy for the most part, as I mentioned earlier, leftovers will be your saving grace.  Leftovers are the unsung hero in our house.  They are already made, already portioned out, already healthy!  Enough said.  But maybe you do need to have some things that are easily accessible to make a no fuss lunch to take to work just in case there weren’t leftovers from the night before.  Usually I will prep about 1-2 pounds of protein like chicken breast or shrimp over the weekend and store it in the fridge to throw into an easy salad, with a side of balsamic vinaigrette.  I also eat this chicken mixed with some mustard and some sort of vegetable if I need a filling snack.

    Keys To Be Prepared For Breakfasts, Lunches and Snacks:

    • Breakfast:  Come up with 3-4 breakfast choices then figure out how many people you are feeding, multiply the amount of servings you will need of yogurt, protein powder, fruit etc.  Figure out the mornings you will rotate these.
    • Lunches:  Batch cook 1-2 pounds of protein (chicken, shrimp), have already washed lettuce on hand, already cut up vegetables, already prepared dressing ready to go in a pinch.  Remember first consider leftovers!  This is usually your best bet, it’s a time saving and money saving option.
    • Snacks:  Keep these simple, but always include protein!  Hard boiled eggs are my go to snack.  These are easy to make in advance.  Other great options are nuts, fruits, and cut up ready to go veggies!  Sugar snap peas are delicious too.

    Now That You Have This All Figured Out, Make That Grocery List!

    I really like breaking my list down into sections in the grocery store.  I spend a lot of time (like 30-40 min) making my list and checking it twice.  Being thorough is key to navigating the store with ease and avoiding the middle aisles of temptation…you know the one with the cereal and Oreos?

    Here is a little sample of what my list might look like: (keep in mind I buy far more than this weekly, I am feeding an army after all!)

    Produce

    • Fruit
    • 10 apple
    • 2 bunches bananas
    • large bag orange
    • 2 lime
    • 4 cups blueberries

     Vegetables

    • 5 avocados
    • 2 cups of baby carrots 1 small bag
    • 6 bell peppers 2 red and 4 green
    • 1.5 pound of Brussel sprouts, trimmed and quartered
    • 1 small butternut squash
    • 3 large parsnips
    • 7 sweet potatoes
    • 7 carrots
    • 1 medium head of cauliflower
    • 1 bunch of celery
    • 1 container of cherry or grape tomatoes
    • cilantro
    • 2 jalapeno
    • 1 cup of white mushrooms
    • 1 red onion
    • 1 large yellow onion
    • 3 large shallots
    • 2 heads of garlic
    • green onions
    • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped (may use 1 tbsp. dried)

     Protein

    • 8 oz. Halibut
    • 1 whole chicken (5-7 pounds)
    • 1 pound boneless/skinless chicken thighs
    • 2 pounds ground beef
    • 1 lb. lean ground turkey
    • High Quality Protein Powder (Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides is excellent)

     Dairy

    • 3 cups almond milk
    • 1 stick butter

     Shop With A Plan

    Now its time for you to go to the store!  Make sure you have eaten a protein packed meal or snack prior to shopping…you don’t want to make any bad choices in there after all!  You have your comprehensive list in hand whether on paper or on an app that you love.  Now shop with a purpose, stick to your list, don’t deviate, unless of course you know you need toilet paper, you just forgot to write it down.  Oreo’s you did not forget to write down so just don’t even.

    You should be in and out of the store in less than an hour.  Celebrate with a cup of coffee on your drive home.  Real coffee, not a double Frappuccino with extra whipped cream okay?  Now you are ready to take this all home and get to work!

     Ready, Set, Prep

    Yay you made a plan, you made a list, you shopped!  Now for the fun, and equally important step, the preparation for the week ahead.  Depending on how much time you have to devote to all of this on a weekend, or the need for doing so, do as little or as much as you desire.  I personally feel more prepared when everything is ready to go for the week, so I only spend 20-30 minutes the night of to finish the meal.  Maybe you don’t mind spending more time during the week to cook dinner, that’s fine, but I am sure there will be other things you would like to prep, like snacks, etc.  Figure out if you will fully prep or partially then get to it!

     Partial Prep

    • Hard Boiled Eggs
    • Rinse, chop, dice and slice vegetables such as onions, garlic, cucumbers, bell peppers, green onions, sweet potatoes, asparagus, broccoli and pretty much any vegetables that you will be using throughout the week.  Most vegetables will last for up to 7 days having been cut.  Some may get mushy the longer the go, for example cucumber gets a little mushy later in the week, so make sure to eat those early on.  You can also pre-package some veggies for snacks throughout the week.
    • Have nuts already pre-portioned into snack sized bags so you can grab and go!
    • Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette is easy to make ahead and use all week.

    Recipe

    • 1-part balsamic vinegar
    •   1-part olive oil
    •   salt and pepper
    •   1 tsp Dijon
    •  Any meats that need to be marinated could be placed in a large zippered bag with the marinade ingredients and refrigerated if planning to use within the next few days, or frozen if later on in the week.
    • Take advantage of convenience packaged things like sugar snap peas, already peeled garlic and hard boiled eggs that have been done for you (my personal favorite for busy weeks!)

    Full Prep

    1. I begin this with bulk prepping proteins.  In my sample week menu below I have two meals that include ground beef (zoodles and meat sauce and shepherd’s pie) and both are similar flavor profiles, so I can use the same basic ingredients and then season them separately once they are portioned into their own containers.  I browned about 3 pounds of meat at once, portioned half and half then added sage to the one that will be for shepherd’s pie on Friday.

     

    MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday
    Dance classNothing plannedMeeting, will be tired after easy meal neededDance class, soccer practiceNothing planned
    Crockpot

    Chicken Cacciatore

    Roasted asparagus, salad

    20 minutes to finish

     

    Marinated Steak Fajitas, sautéed bell peppers, easy guacamole

     

    30 Minutes to make

    Already made zoodles/meat sauce, roastedBrusselssprouts

     

     

    20 minutes to finish

    Crockpot

    Tri Tip, Sweet Potatoes, roasted broccoli/cauliflower

     

     

    20 minutes to finish

    Already made

    Shepherd’s pie,

    Easy salad, roasted Asparagus

     

    30-40 minutes to finish

    2.  While the meat was browning, I used that time and I got to making my cauliflower mash for on top of the shepherd’s pie.  Once that was made I placed it in a separate container, I will spread that on when I actually assemble it and make it the day of.

    3.Earlier in the day I started the crockpot with about a pound of chicken breasts and some chicken stock and set it to cook in four hours on high.  After it was done I shredded it, to be used in salads for lunches and other snack options when leftovers are not possible that day.

    4.I also made some tomato sauce while meat was still browning, but I doubled the batch for the chicken cacciatore as well as the zoodles and meat sauce.

    5.While my sauce was simmering, I worked on chopping and or slicing several onions, some red, mostly yellow.

    6. I moved onto bagging 3 meals in marinades:  The tri tip, in a simple balsamic marinade, the chicken half of the tomato sauce and the flank steak in a marinade of balsamic, lime, orange and garlic.

    7.After all of that I went ahead and sliced up asparagus into pieces, broccoli into bite-sized pieces, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and sweet potatoes.  I made zoodles for the night I have them.  I won’t have to get the spiralizer out again!

    8.The finishing touches were a bottle of vinaigrette and rinsing and packaging easy snacks like cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots etc.

    The prepping portion of this menu took me 2 ½ hours on a Sunday.  The cool thing is you can enlist the help of others in your house to help with chopping, etc. and this will cut your time down even further.  So prior to this it probably took you approximately 7 hours a week to get a dinner on the table (whether that was in the kitchen or the drive-thru line), not to mention the countless trips to the store to get various things you were missing.  So even if you just saved 2-3 hours this week due to having a proper plan in place, that is worth it right?

    Revel In Your Planned Glory

    Now with all that free time you can spend less time stressing out about getting a healthy meal on the table EVERY night.  You already did all the work, now sit back, relax and eat good food!

    Some things you may want to consider to help with a bulk prep like this are:

    • Chef’s Knife (of course)
    • Calendar, planner or really awesome app for planning your weekly meals
    • Spiralizer
    • Food processor
    • Several tight sealing containers of varying sizes, including casserole sized ones.

    *I use the Glass Lock brand which you can find on Amazon.

    • Ziploc bags of varying sizes for marinating meat, storing washed lettuce, packing small snacks and etc.
    • I am Jessica Romeo, Nutritionist/Chef and Owner of eatwelloutsidethebox.com. I am also a military wife and mother to 3 adventurous and active kids. As a Chef and Nutritionist with a degree in Culinary Arts and a B.S. in Nutrition Science, creating and cooking healthy and delicious food is my primary passion, followed by a love for fitness. When I am not spending time with my family outside being active, or in the kitchen cooking, you can find me in a spinning class or in the weight room.

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