Healthy meal prep is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and I'm so excited to share today's post with you!
I'm sure you know this already, but it's worth repeating: eating food that has been prepared at home is far healthier and less expensive than dining out or relying on take-out.In fact, studies have shown that people who eat homemade food tend to eat less sugar, salt, and refined fat than people who routinely eat restaurant or take-out meals.
The fact that you're reading this post tells me that you're definitely interested in getting healthier, homemade meals on the table more consistently.
I mean, we all want to live a healthier lifestyle, right?
And we know that making healthy food at home would help us with our wellness goals such as maintaining a healthy weight, feeling better, and navigating health issues such as autoimmune disorders, digestive issues, joint pain, and other conditions in the body.
However… in spite of our best intentions, there's a gap between our desire for a healthier lifestyle and actually getting healthy meals in our regular rotation. We tell ourselves it's a lack of time — and that can be part of it — but there's something else at play, too.
So what can help us bridge that gap?
You guessed it: a healthy meal prep plan!
How to get healthier meals on the table more consistently
Here's the secret: making healthy food at home becomes much easier when we have a solid meal plan and prep strategy.
But when we don’t have a healthy meal prep plan, we struggle with knowing what to buy at the grocery store.
We intend to make quick and easy meals, but then we’re too tired to cook at the end of the day.
Or, maybe we love the idea of meal prep, but we don’t want to eat the same redundant meals all week.
Or, we don’t buy the right ingredients, so the thought of eating a boring salad with store-bought dressing doesn’t work because all we want to do at that point is get pizza.
Sometimes, even if just thinking about meal planning and prep, makes us feel overwhelmed. And that’s not good.
So what’s the key to healthy meal success?
Having a healthy meal prep plan — which means setting aside an hour or two on the weekend for shopping and meal prep. Simple!
Now, before you tell me you don’t have an extra hour or two on the weekend for that sort of thing, hear me out. I promise: making time for your healthy meal prep on the weekend is totally worth it — and you’ll get much more out of it than a Saturday night Netflix binge.
Today’s post is all about how to be so efficient with your meal planning and prep that it actually saves you time (and money) when it comes to getting meals together during busy mornings or weeknights.
A simple but powerful meal planning and prep strategy
I think of the meal plan as the What and Why.
Here’s what I mean. When you sit down to do some quick meal planning, you’re deciding what to eat for the week, and why. For example, maybe you’ll only be home for dinner a couple nights that week because you have evening engagements. Or maybe you’re traveling for work, so you’ll only need to shop for food for a few days.
The healthy meal prep plan is the How. This is how you’ll actually make those midweek meals happen — by prepping the ingredients, and maybe even doing some cooking, on the weekend.
For the best results, I recommend setting aside a few minutes on Thursday or Friday to look at the week ahead and write down which meals you’ll be preparing at home. Then, spend a few more minutes making your shopping list, and plan to shop on the weekend.
Now, you’ll need to have a plan for how you’ll prep the food you just bought.
This step is just as important as making the meal plan and shopping list, but most people stop with the shopping list.
Without a prep plan, the ingredients sit idly by in the fridge — un-rinsed, un-chopped and unloved. Failing to prep your ingredients means it'll take longer to make meals during the week. And when meals take longer to make —especially when people are tired after a long day at work — the meals don’t get made. That’s when we pull out our phone and get on Postmates or Grubhub.
And then guess what happens? All that beautiful, aspirational food we bought over the weekend sits in the fridge until we have to throw it out at the end of the week.
That’s why it’s so important to have a good, basic plan that covers the week’s meal planning, shopping, and prep.
But what if you don’t have a plan?
I’ve got you covered with a free Healthy Meal Prep Guide you can download and print. More on that later on in today's post.
How I came up with my healthy meal prep strategy
I’ve guinea-pigged many meal prep strategies over the years, with varying levels of success.
There’s the batch cooking method where you make most of your dinners for the entire month in one Sunday. It’s great for people who love 8-hour sessions in the kitchen, don’t mind living off freezer meals, and are good at sticking to the plan all month. I found all of this to be pretty challenging, though. So I moved on to other approaches.
I’ve also tried making most of the week’s dinners (or lunches) on Sunday. This is most of what you see on Instagram or Pinterest, where people have all of their lunches and dinners lined up in tupperware containers like DIY Lean Cuisines. This can work well for some people. But I don’t really like eating the same thing five days in a row. Two days in a row? Yes, please! Because I know I don’t have to cook from scratch at least one day. However, my max on the same meal is two days, maybe three.
So throughout the years, I came up with my own hybrid plan for healthy meal prep.
Here's how it works: I spend an hour on Saturday to shop, and an hour on Sunday to prep and cook.
During the week, I’m either enjoying meals I made on Sunday (Veggie Packed Chili), or I’m cooking something using the ingredients that are already rinsed, chopped, and ready to go in the fridge (Quinoa and Black Bean Salad).
Using prepped ingredients cuts down on weeknight cooking time dramatically — I can often get dinner on the table in 15 or 20 minutes. Which takes less time (and money) than it does to get take-out or wait for Caviar to deliver. And it’s much healthier, of course!
Step-by-step healthy meal planning and prep
To recap, here’s the plan for getting healthy meals on the table throughout the busy week:
- Thursday or Friday: Make up a quick meal plan for the week ahead. Write down when you’ll be making meals at home, and when you’ll be dining out. For example, maybe you have a couple of client lunches for the week, so you’ll only need to bring your lunch twice. And knowing that you have some evening commitments, you’ll only need to make dinner three times for the week.
- Thursday or Friday: make your shopping list.
- Saturday: Set aside about an hour for grocery shopping.
- Sunday: Spend about an hour in the kitchen rinsing and chopping veggies, making a batch of brown rice or quinoa, and whipping up a salad dressing.
- Monday – Friday: Enjoy any dishes you cooked on Sunday (i.e, Tortilla Soup) throughout the week. Also, use the prepped ingredients to assemble yummy salads, or cut down the cooking time on dishes such as stir-fries.
- Wednesday: Make a quick grocery run if you need to replenish fresh greens, berries, etc.
Bonus healthy meal prep tips
Before you get started, please keep these bonus tips in mind…
Be realistic: We don’t need to eat homemade food 100% to be healthy. The point is to make healthy, homemade food our default setting — in other words, 75-80% of the time. Sometimes, dining out is necessary (client lunches and dinners, etc.). And it can also be super fun (meeting up with friends, date night, vacation, etc.). So don’t worry about making all of your meals at home. Just choose a goal that sound realistic — maybe that means 2 lunches and 2 dinners a week — and build from there.
Buy prepped ingredients if you need to: Washed salad greens, chopped squash, peeled garlic, chopped onions, etc. can really speed up your meal prep during the week. Yes, these ingredients are more expensive, but sometimes they’re totally worth it, such as when you have a busy Sunday and don’t have enough time to prep everything. Prepped ingredients are also relatively inexpensive if you compare the store-bought ingredients to a meal out. Even with prepped squash or salad greens, a dinner for a family of four will still be far less than the $50-100 you might spend at a restaurant. And, again — much healthier!
Freebie: Get the Healthy Meal Prep Guide
I know carving out 1-2 hours during your weekend might seem challenging at first.
I get it. Life is busy, and weekends can be extraordinarily busy if you've been sucked into the youth sports vortex.
However, if you make the time for your meal prep, you won't regret it. Especially when you realize it takes you only 15 minutes to make dinner during the week, instead of the usual 30-60.
Here's even more good news: I created a new freebie for you! It's my downloadable and totally printable Healthy Meal Prep Guide.
Inside, you'll find more details about my approach, as well as:
- Shopping and meal prep strategies.
- A blank meal planning template.
- Sample meal plans.
- Downloadable and printable shopping list.
- Weekend prep session checklist.
Ready to download the guide?
I hope today's post and freebie help you get healthier meals on the table more regularly. If you have any questions along the way, please post a comment over on Instagram.