By Christine Hronec
You want to be healthy, you want to be about your goals, but for the love of God you need this to be EASY. Your life is complicated and enough and you have zero aspirations to become Martha Stewart. If this is you, you are in luck because meal prep can be way easier than those with all the time in the world on their hands make it look. Whether you don’t particularly have a flair or interest for cooking, don’t have the time, or just don’t have the money to get extravagant with your meal prep this is the best approach for you.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t have quality enjoyable meals, it just means that the approaches you will use will require minimal “hands on” cooking to streamline preparation efforts and utilize techniques that save the most time and money. “Hands on” cooking typically means more food handling, more ingredients, a lot of ingredients (some of which may be more challenging to source all from the same grocery store) and extra prep steps that can actually be skipped altogether. Minimized Preparation Efforts- Here are a few examples of what minimal hands on cooking looks like:
1. Simplify Meat- Seasoned ground meats vs. Meatballs/Patties
2. Pre-cooked Meat- Pre-cooked Grocery Store Rotisserie Chicken vs. Home cooked oven roasters
3. Slow Cooking- Crock Pot Meals vs. Skillet Meals
4. Lunch Meat- Pre-cooked deli meats vs. Oven roasted meats (i.e. chicken, turkey, beef)
5. Shakes- Meal replacer shakes vs. Home cooked sit down breakfasts
6. Plan Smoothies- Prep smoothie ingredients in zip lock baggies to allow them to be easily dumped into a blender.
7. One Step Carbs- Rice cooked in bulk in a rice cooker vs. chopping and peeling and roasting sweet potatoes
8. Choose Fruit Wisely- Ready to eat fruit (i.e. whole apples, whole bananas) vs. Prep Intensive Fruit (i.e. cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon)
9. Make Ahead Oats- Overnight oats vs. Cooked oats
10. Salads- High Protein Salads vs. a Protein + Oven Roasted Veggies
11. Wraps- High Protein Wraps vs. a Protein + skillet prepped or oven prepped carbs/veggies
12. Egg Whites- Purchase cartons of liquid egg whites as opposed to whole eggs. For recipes that call for egg whites, you will experience less “steps” by pouring liquid egg whites as opposed to cracking several eggs, separating the yolks from the whites.
13. Don’t bother peeling produce- Sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, apples, and beets all roast up amazing with the skin on. The same goes for cucumbers, kiwi, eggplant, grapes, peaches, nectarines, ginger, acorn squash, and delicate squash. Leaving the skin includes more antioxidants and nutrients.
14. Hard Boiling Eggs in the Oven- using a muffin tin you can fit a dozen eggs in 30 minutes vs. boiling in a pot.
15. Break Your Breakfast Routine- Don’t be afraid to have leftover “dinnerfood” for an easy microwavable breakfast. Breakfast doesn’t have to be “conventional.” I’ve grown up having rice and eggs or some other form of protein my entire life. There is no rule that says breakfast needs to be pancakes and cereal, it can be whatever you want it to be.
16. Skip a Snack- While there are benefits to eating 6 meals a day (3 meals, 2 snacks and a post-workout), it is okay to skip a snack or two and make the meals larger to simplify meal prep. Your meal prep doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s, as long as it works for your lifestyle and goals; that is all that matters.
17. Skip”Dinner”- On days where I am just too tired to cook, or just need something simple for dinner, I got for a smoothie with the proper amount of protein from my protein powder and the balance of my carb and fat macros from fruit and almond or coconut milk. Occasionally I will add crushed to thicken up these smoothies and eat it with a spoon.
18. Order Chinese Take-out- What? Takeout? Yes, when I’m in a bind, I will order a few servings of steamed chicken and mixed vegetables with white or brown rice. You can also get steamed shrimp and a variety of different veggies (all you have to do is ask and you can get broccoli, ). You can get this meal at ANY Chinese restaurant in America, just ask for the sauce on the side (I don’t use the sauce). I add a small amount of soy sauce or coconut aminos to flavor the food along with either sriracha or hot oil sauce. However this has gotten me through rough spots where I had a lot of work and zero time to cook, but needed healthy food to keep me energized.
19. Find a Recipe you LOVE- I get in these moods where I’m all about a certain recipe one week and so excited about it that I can eat it over and over again. One week I’m excited about a crockpot bolognese meat sauce served over spaghetti squash or noodles, the next week I’m all about beef carnitas, then next I’m all about cilantro-lime crock pot chicken and rice. Mixing up your weekly featured recipe and making sure it’s a recipe you are truly excited to eat can make repeating meals for convenience much more enjoyable.
20. No-Chop Veggies- When selecting your veggies, some will be easier to meal prep than others required virtually no chopping or prepping before cooking.
▪ Spinach/Kale/Arugula- Can be easily steamed or sauteed with the carb of your choice (i.e. rice or sweet potatoes), can be added to wraps, salads, omelets, tacos, fajitas, and sandwiches.
▪ String beans/Asparagus- that can be easily steamed, oven roasted, or lightly sauteed.
▪ Peas/Snow Peas- An easy add-in to a stir-fry or skillet when simple veggies are needed to complete a meal.
21. Have a “Back-Up” Meal- Every household needs a go-to back up meal. For me, it’s a veggie fried rice. I typically scramble in egg whites for my protein source and whatever veggies I have on hand. It tastes amazing and I literally always have the ingredients needed to pull it off at any point. It can get fancier depending on what type of meat you have on hand and it great for turning leftover rice, meat, eggs and veggies into an amazing family friendly dish.