Is it just me, or does life seem busier than ever? The start of fall means the start of a new routine, whether it’s back to school or back to the barre after summer vacation.
With a tighter schedule, it’s easy to let healthy eating habits fall to the wayside. Let’s be honest, it’s a whole lot easier to heat up a frozen pizza than to cook a healthy, homemade meal. But eating healthy doesn’t have to be difficult when your schedule is tight. The key? You must plan in advance.
The biggest time saver for me and my clients is devoting an afternoon each week to meal prep. Having my ingredients prepped and ready to go has completely streamlined the work week. Meal prep has even become a relaxing part of my Sunday afternoon – I just turn on some music (or trashy reality TV!) and get cooking!
What I prep each week varies depending on the weekly menu, but these five things are the biggest time savers. If you’re just getting started with weekend meal prep, these would be the perfect place to start!
- Prep vegetables – When I cook, cleaning and cutting vegetables takes the biggest chunk of time. Some vegetables, like tomatoes, delicate greens and eggplant, should be chopped right before using to prevent wilting, browning or loss of flavor. However the following vegetables can easily be washed, chopped and stored in airtight containers for up to a week.
- Brussels sprouts
- Squash (winter and summer)
- Cook grains and beans – I can’t tell you how many 9 pm dinners I’ve eaten simply because I make the rookie mistake of cooking dry beans on a weeknight. Having a batch of cooked beans and whole grains on hand makes it easy to throw together a quick weeknight meal, like chili or vegetable fried brown rice.
- Make soup, stew or chili – Make a big batch of soup, stew or chili each weekend to have on hand as a quick lunch or dinner. I like to double up the recipe and freeze a portion for later, perfect for those weekends you’re out of town and aren’t able to meal prep.
- Prepare a grab and go breakfast – Breakfast is easy to skip on days you may have hit the snooze button a few too many times. Plan to have a nutritious, grab and go breakfast on hand, especially if you’re not a morning person. Some of my favorites are overnight oats in a mason jar, mini vegetable frittatas and slow cooker oatmeal. For those of you who start your day with a smoothie, freeze your favorite smoothie ingredients together in individual containers. I even include chia seeds, nuts, oats and yogurt. In the morning, pop it into a blender, add your choice of liquid and blend.
- Don’t forget snacks – There are very few healthy and convenient snack options out there, so I like to make my own. Usually it’s a quick homemade bean dip to pair with raw veggies, energy bites or little baggies of trail mix. If you’re someone who struggles with mindless snacking, it would be a smart idea to proportion your snacks on the weekend too.
All of these things can be done in less than four hours. While that is a decent chunk of time, I’d estimate it saves at least twice that during the week. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be a hassle with weekend meal prep!
Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE is a private practice dietitian and food blogger at www.anavocadoaday.blogspot.com. She offers nutrition coaching nationwide via telephone and Skype.