Meal Prep: A Healthy Eating Strategy
With an ever growing and hectic schedule, these meal preps can be a great strategy to not only save you time and money but to help keep you on a health eating track. But meal prepping can take a lot of time and effort. Is it worth doing?
Some benefits to meal preps:
Can ultimately save you time in the long run
Can help save you money
Can help you improve your health
Can reduce stress as you avoid last minute decisions about what to eat, or rushed preparation
Prepping for Meal Prep
If you would like to try meal prepping on your own here are a few tips on getting started:
Figure out what types of foods and favorite meals you like to eat.
Start a monthly calendar or spreadsheet to record your meal ideas, favorite recipe sites, and food shopping lists.
Consider specific meals or foods for different days of the week.
Start small: Aim to create enough dinners for 2-3 days of the week.
2. Once you start to get a sense of what kind of meals you prefer and your meals become more familiar and consistent, keep an eye out for sales and coupons to save even more time and money( i.e. pasta, rice, and other whole grains, lentils, beans (canned or dried), jarred sauces, healthy oils, and spices).
3. A neat trick to follow on your cooking days is to focus first on foods that take the longest to cook (i.e. proteins like chicken and fish; whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and farro; dried beans and legumes; and, roasted vegetables).
4. Once you start getting into a groove you’ll learn to be more efficient with your time. For instance consider chopping vegetables and fresh fruit, or wash and dry salad greens for later in the week, while food is baking or cooking on the stovetop.
5. When you find a recipe you love, consider making extra portions for another day or two of meals, or to freeze for a different week. Remember to date and label what goes in the freezer so you keep track of what you make and know when something must be eaten before it goes to waste.
6. When you’re prepping your lunches, get a head-start and use individual meal containers. On prep day, divide cooked food into these individual containers and you’re good to go!
Last but not least: Storage
This is both an art and a science. Refrigeration and freezing are an important step to successful meal planning.
When it comes to freezing, some foods work better than others. For instance if you’re going freeze cooked meals, it’s usually recommended to use airtight containers. For food such as salad greens, tomatoes, or watermelon, which have a high moisture content, it’s not recommended to freeze because this type of food tends to become mushy and not very tasty. To learn how to blanch vegetables before freezing go here.
We would like to thank Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for providing the following recommended times for various cooked foods that offer the best flavors, maximum nutrients, and food safety.
Refrigeration at 40°F or lower 1-2 days: Cooked ground poultry or ground beef
3-4 days: Cooked whole meats, fish and poultry; soups and stews
5 days: Cooked beans; hummus
1 week: Hard boiled eggs; chopped vegetables if stored in air-tight container
2 weeks: Soft cheese, opened
5-6 weeks: Hard cheese, opened
Freezing at 0°F or lower 2-3 months: Soups and stews; cooked beans
3-6 months: Cooked or ground meat and poultry
6-8 months: Berries and chopped fruit (banana, apples, pears, plums, mango) stored in a freezer bag
8-12 months: Vegetables, if blanched first for about 3-5 minutes (depending on the vegetable)