Your daughter’s morning tantrum leaves you rushing out the door without breakfast.
10am stomach rumbles in the office have you reaching into the fish bowl of M&Ms and then a late meeting causes a trip to the vending machine.
Finally home, after laundry, homework and a phone call with your accountant, you realize that a box of mac&cheese and some frozen chicken fingers are gonna have to cut it for the day.
You know your day’s dietary choices are sub-par (and your waistline unfortunately agrees) but what are you going to do?! It’s not like tantrums, meetings and phone calls are going to disappear.
Two words: Meal Prep. Something that may seem intimidating as many traditionally correlate it with “bodybuilding” but is becoming increasingly popular with everyday Joes and Janes who are trying to merge their healthy and busy lives.
So what is it?
Essentially, it’s making healthy foods more readily available by a little planning and consolidation of kitchen time. Think cooking in “bulk” i.e. more than a singular meal at a time. How this shakes down is different for everyone. For some, preparing all meals for the week on Sunday is necessary. For others, they solely focus on dinner and choose two days (ex. Sunday and Wednesday) to get their fixins’ in order. Others? Simply prepare all snacks ahead of time to reduce that love hate relationship with the vending machine.
It comes down to one consistent message: purpose and mindfulness. That unplanned M&M grab can snowball into the careless selection of a cheesy noodle box. Rather than haphazard choices by default, food prep can make your dietary choices deliberate and effective.
Oh my, a whole week?! Where the HECK do I start?
Before we get our chicken cutlets in a bunch, take a deep breath and realize one thing: it takes time. Yes, that age old saying of all things healthy, it will take a bit of time to structure and implement the best food prep plan for YOU.
Mistakes will be made, fish will go stinky and rice will fall to the floor as you take on a new way of getting your nom noms in.
While it will take time to nail down your specific practices, there are many helpful food prep tips to get started. Let’s take a little lookski at them now.
Food Prep Tip #1
Start small eager beaver- if you simply launch into a grocery store with the ambitious idea of making a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners AND snacks at once, you can almost guarantee a mental breakdown on the menu.
So, we must ask an important question- what do you struggle with the most?
Maybe you sit down as a family every night for dinner but find that lunch is a patchwork quilt of Pringle stacks, cheese sticks and chicken patties.
Maybe you’re a dietary rockstar after your java sinks in but habitually miss breakfast.
Take a look at your current habits and pick the areas that need the most help.
And maybe it is EVERYTHING (we’ve all been there amigo) in which case, be sure to read on.
Food Prep Tip #2
Hit the books Wolfgang- and by books we mean the ol’ Google browser. Take an hour or two to search and select a few recipes to tackle.
A few meaning a FEW. With glorious titles, colorful pictures, 5-star reviews and increasing appetites, it’s easy to go to Iron Chef while looking at recipes. Pretty soon you’ll have an Emeril worthy notebook...with an overwhelmed headache to match.
Choose 2-3 items/recipes per meal type and then...walk...away. Skillets, sauces and shiny images will all be waiting for you next week.
Food Prep Tip #3
Make a list (and check it twice)- we’ve all been that inspired soul in Whole Foods. The Chicken Parm banner above the deli looks particularly inviting and we’ve hurriedly purchased cutlets and ziti and parmesean...only to get home and discover forgotten marinara sauce.
Oh Mama Mia.
And while it may seem like it’s enough to tote your recipes along, part of the grocery listing process is also consolidation of similar ingredients.
Print out recipes and look for repeating ingredients amongst them. Find out how much you’re really going to need (yes a little math mayyy be necessary) so you don’t purchase way too much or have the dreaded “we have to go back to the grocery store” experience.
While playing Santa with your list, use said consolidation and think…
Food Prep Tip #4
Two birds, one stone- take a look at that list and get your cranium ready for some practicality. Jot down what you’re able to chop, slice and cook together.
One recipe calls for ¼ cup chopped onions and another asks for a ½? Get ready to have your mind blown but...it’s easier to chop them at the same time! How frustrating is it to wash stinky onion fingers, wipe off that cutting board then realize your next recipe calls for, you guessed it, more of that yellow bulb?!
As you become a food prep pro and your kitchen churns out some repeating dishes, you’ll find that this process becomes a heckuva lot easier. While it may seem daunting to search, consolidate and use gulp, fractions, at first, the silver lining is not just reduced waistlines but reduced planning time as well.
Food Prep Tip #5
If at first you don’t succeed, chop chop again- there’s one thing almost ALWAYS guaranteed when you first unpack those grocery bags and lay out your purposeful produce on the kitchen counter.
You will be tempted to never do it again.
You’ll naturally underestimate the amount of time it will take to cook, overestimate the amount of tupperware containers you have and 100% forget why you bought those 2 zucchinis looking up at you.
You’ll probably have flour in your hair, carrot peels on the ground and a dog that definitely ate that rolling bulb of garlic.
It will be tempting to shut the oven door and call it quits.
But then, when your daughter throws a shoe the next morning as you’re rushing out the door, you grab a hard boiled egg and bag of raspberries.
And then, when your tummy rumbles and the office intern pours a fresh bag of M&Ms, you reach for ground turkey and whole wheat pasta.
And finally, when home at night, with the phone ringing and the dryer buzzing, you take some bowls and fill them with the tantalizing teriyaki chicken that has been gloriously slow cooking itself.
While it may seem like the initial hours to food prep are substantial, you’ll find that they pale in comparison to the freedom of time, flavor and satisfaction on the other side.
Chop chop friends, it’s time to turn your food prep power on.