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Meal prepping can be a game-changer for those who want to eat healthy, save money, and save time. However, it can be overwhelming to get started, especially if you need help figuring out where to begin. Here are 8 tips for easy meal prep that will make it easier and more enjoyable.
What is Meal Prepping?
Before diving into meal-prepping tips, let's define what it is. Meal prepping is making meals or ingredients in advance, usually for the week ahead. This can include cooking and portioning meals, chopping vegetables, and prepping snacks.
Meal prepping is meant to make healthy eating more convenient and less time-consuming. Meal prepping can be a game-changer in achieving your health and plant-based goals. So by planning your meals, you can ensure that you have plant-based, healthy, and delicious options throughout the week.
Tip 1: Plan your meals
The first step to successful meal prepping is to plan your meals. Before you start planning your meals, setting a goal is essential. Do you want to lose weight, build muscle, or eat healthier? Your goal will help you determine what types of meals to include in your plan. Then take some time at the beginning of each week to decide what meals or recipes you want. This will help you make a grocery list and ensure you have all the necessary ingredients. When planning your meals, think about what you want to eat, what you have time to prepare, and what ingredients you have.
Tip 2: Pick the right containers
By choosing the right containers for meal prep, you can ensure that your prepped meals stay fresh, organized, and easy to reheat. You want containers that are durable, airtight, leak-proof, and microwave-safe.
Airtight Containers - Airtight containers are essential for keeping your prepped meals fresh. Look for containers with a tight-fitting lid that seals securely. This will help prevent moisture and air from getting in, which can cause your food to spoil more quickly.
Choose Containers with Dividers - Containers with dividers can help keep your meals organized and prevent different foods from mixing. This is especially helpful if you're prepping meals with multiple components, such as a salad with dressing on the side.
Consider Glass Containers - Glass containers are a great option for meal prep, as they are durable, easy to clean, and microwave-safe. They also don't absorb odors or flavors from your food, so that you can use them for various meals.
Choose the Right Size - When choosing containers for meal prep, consider the size of your meals and the amount of food you'll store. Choose large enough containers to hold all your food but not so large that there is a lot of space. This will help prevent your food from shifting and getting soggy.
Check for Microwave-Safe Containers - If you plan to reheat your prepped meals in the microwave, ensure your containers are microwave-safe. Look for containers that are labeled as microwave-safe or that are made of glass or microwave-safe plastic.
Freezer-Safe Containers - It's important to have freezer-safe containers to store your food in. This will allow you to keep your food longer without spoiling. Make sure your containers are airtight and labeled with the date and contents.
Tip 3: Cooking in Bulk
Cooking in bulk is a great way to save time and money. When meal prepping, making a large batch of a recipe and portioning it out for the week ahead makes eating plant-based consistently easier. You can cook a protein, such as smoked tofu or lupini seitan, and use it in multiple meals throughout the week. You can also choose a hearty soup like One Pot Vegan Minestrone or Healthy Vegan Broccoli Cheese Soup.
Use a Slow Cooker or Pressure Cooker - A slow or pressure cooker can be great for cooking in bulk. These appliances are designed to cook large amounts of food simultaneously, requiring minimal effort. Plus, they can be left unattended while you do other things. My favorite pressure cooker is this Instant Pot. Some ideas on how to use your pressure cooker for plant-based meal prep are:
- Lentil soup: Lentils cook quickly in a pressure cooker and make a hearty, protein-packed soup. Add vegetables like carrots, onions, and celery, and season with spices like cumin and paprika. Try this Cuban-Inspired Vegan Lentil Soup or Healthy Red Lentil Soup for delicious meal additions.
- Chickpea curry: Pressure-cook chickpeas, tomatoes, and onions with curry powder, garam masala, and other spices for a flavorful and satisfying vegan curry.
- Ratatouille: This classic French dish is a great way to use up a variety of vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers. Pressure cooking the veggies makes the dish come together quickly and intensifies the flavors.
- Mushroom risotto: You can make a creamy, rich risotto with mushrooms, arborio rice, and vegetable broth in your pressure cooker. Add some nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan for a cheesy flavor.
- Mashed sweet potatoes: Cook sweet potatoes in a pressure cooker and mash them with plant-based milk and seasonings like cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple syrup for a sweet and savory side dish.
Tip 4: Prep Vegetables in Advance
Chopping vegetables can be time-consuming, but it's integral to meal prepping.
To save time, clean and chop vegetables in advance and store them in the refrigerator. This will make throwing together a quick salad or stir-fry during the week easier.
I like to do this when I come home from the store because the likelihood of me doing it after they are snuggled in the fridge is highly unlikely. Here are some other tips.
Wash and Dry Your Vegetables - The first step in prepping vegetables in advance is to wash and dry them. Use a colander to rinse your vegetables under cool water. Then, dry them thoroughly with a clean towel or paper towel. This will help remove dirt or debris and ensure your vegetables are clean and fresh.
Cut Your Vegetables into Uniform Pieces - Cutting and slicing vegetables into uniform pieces is important when prepping vegetables in advance. This will help them cook evenly and make them easier to store. Use a sharp knife, vegetable chopper, or mandoline to cut your vegetables into the desired size and shape. I've had a great mandoline for years, which has never dulled. You can still find it on Amazon.
Blanching Your Vegetables - Blanching is a great way to preserve your vegetables' color, quality, and texture. To blanch your vegetables, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and then add your vegetables. Cook them for a few minutes, then transfer them to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Drain them thoroughly and then store them in airtight containers.
Freeze Your Vegetables - Another option, if you want to keep your vegetables for a more extended period, is to freeze them. Blanch your vegetables first, and then transfer them to freezer-safe containers. Label your containers with the date and contents, then freeze them for up to six months.
Tip 5: Don't Forget Snacks
Snacks are an important part of meal prepping, especially if you get hungry between meals. Prepping snacks in advance will ensure you have healthy options on hand when hunger strikes.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables - Fresh fruits and vegetables are an excellent choice for healthy snacks. You can prepare them in advance by washing, cutting, and storing them in portion-controlled containers. Some great options include carrot sticks, celery, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, grapes, strawberries, and blueberries.
Nuts and Seeds - Nuts and seeds are packed with healthy fats, protein, and fiber, making them a great snack choice. You can portion them into snack-size bags or containers for easy grab-and-go snacking. Some good options include almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.
Vegan Yogurt - Vegan yogurt is a good source of protein and calcium and can be a filling snack option. You can portion it into individual containers and add toppings such as fresh fruit, nuts, or maple syrup for extra flavor.
Hummus and Veggies - Hummus is a delicious and healthy dip that pairs well with fresh vegetables such as carrot sticks, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. You can portion hummus into small containers and pack them with pre-cut veggies for a satisfying snack.
Homemade Granola Bars - Homemade granola bars are a great option for those who prefer a sweet snack. You can make them in advance and store them in an airtight container for up to a week.
Tip 6: Use Your Freezer
Your freezer can be a lifesaver when it comes to meal prepping. Freeze meals and ingredients you won't use immediately to prevent waste. Consider freezing prepped vegetables, cooked grains, or pre-made sauces to save time later. Your freezer can also be a great place to store healthy snacks for later use.
Consider freezing homemade energy balls, muffins, or protein bars for a quick and easy snack. You can also freeze your prepped ingredients for smoothies separately in freezer zip-lock bags or containers, then add them to the blender with your liquid of choice when you're ready to make your smoothie. Remember to use freezer-friendly containers to ensure freshness and no freezer burn.
Tip 7: Keep it Simple
Meal prepping doesn't have to be complicated. Keep it simple by choosing easy recipes and prepping ingredients for multiple meals, making meal prep much more manageable. You don't need to have a different meal every day of the week. Instead, focus on prepping key ingredients you can mix and match throughout the week and vary with the season. Leave the elaborate, gourmet meals for weekends, days off, or eating out.
Tip 8: Make it a Habit
Finally, make meal prepping a habit. Set aside a specific day and time for meal prep and treat it like a necessary appointment that you can't miss. Instead of diving into meal prepping for an entire week, consider starting small and preparing just a few meals. Both of these things will help you get into the habit of meal-prepping without feeling overwhelmed. Once you feel comfortable, gradually increase the number of meals you prep each week. Focus on simple, healthy meals that you enjoy.
Meal prepping can be a great way to eat healthy, save money, and save time. By planning your meals, using the right containers, cooking in bulk, prepping vegetables in advance, not forgetting snacks, using your freezer, keeping it simple, and making it a habit, you can make meal prepping a regular part of your routine. The more you do it, the easier it will become. And remember, meal prepping doesn't have to be perfect. Do what works for you and your lifestyle. Nothing says you have to be perfect. Remember, "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence." - Vince Lombardi