Planning and preparing meals is a huge time and money saver. Plus, it can help us crush our health and fitness goals. But it can also be overwhelming and quickly lead to burnout. This year, we’re going to work smarter, not harder and nail this meal prep habit! Let’s start with what’s in and what’s out.
Out: Slaving for hours in the kitchen on a weekend preparing every meal for the entire week.
In: Starting small.
Making meal planning a habit is no different than making any other positive change in your life; begin with small, attainable habits and build on them.
Start by assessing your week:
When do you need to get the kids places after school?
Will there be some late nights at work?
Is getting a protein rich breakfast a challenge?
Make prepping those meals the priority.
Out: Winging it.
In: Making a plan.
Gone are the days of heading to the grocery store without a list, a plan of what we’ll eat for the week, or food in our bellies! This year, we will make a meal plan for the week and build a thoughtful grocery list. We will be sure to have a snack before venturing out to buy only what we need. The same goes for the actual prep part of meal prep. Block time each week to prepare and process your food. Be consistent and make it non-negotiable.
Don’t: Make food you should eat but don’t really like.
Do: Find healthy recipes you will enjoy but allow for some fun foods, too.
If you pack a lunch of chicken, broccoli and rice, but the chicken is dry and unseasoned and you really don’t love broccoli, that lunch is going to end up in the garbage. And you in the drive-thru.
Make food you’ll enjoy. Your prepped meals should consist of mostly whole, unprocessed foods like lean meats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, and legumes. Be sure to prepare them with good seasonings so you enjoy them. Include small treats in your meals like a mini candy bar. When we eat fun foods on occasion and don’t try to completely cut them out, we’re less likely to overindulge in them. Pro tip: dry chicken breasts and steamed veggies with brown rice are out. This year we’re doing well seasoned, tender chicken thighs and roasted veggies and potatoes.
Out: Complicated recipes with weird ingredients and hundreds of steps.
In: Basic batch cooking and convenience foods.
I love a challenging recipe when I have the time and energy to enjoy the process of chopping, sauteing, and braising. When meal prepping, though, choose quick and painless as possible.
A crockpot or pressure cooker is a meal-prepper’s best pal. Make an easy, healthy soup with canned veggies and beans and choice of protein or toss in a pork roast and a packet of fajita seasoning to add to salads and tacos all week. Don’t shy away from canned or frozen veggies. These are huge time savers and nutritionally, just as good as fresh. Ready-to-go proteins like nitrate-free lunch meats and seasoned and cooked proteins from the refrigerated or frozen section can be lifesavers.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the need to cut corners. Perfect is the enemy of done. Remember, not everyone’s meal planning and preparation processes look the same. Having the wisdom to know when you need to scale back and improve efficiency can help you stick to your goals long term. Before you know it, you’ll be a meal prep master!
By Abby McCoid, CEO and owner of Beo Strength and Fitness, home of CrossFit Beo and Beo Nutrition. She has been a strength and conditioning and nutrition coach for more than 6 years. She and her coaching staff at Beo help people achieve optimal health and wellness and achieve their performance and aesthetic goals through physical training, nutrition education and implementation of sustainable, healthy habits.
Crockpot Salsa Chicken recipe
- 1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
- 1 tsp. salt
- 16 oz. jar chunky salsa
- 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 15 oz. canned corn or 2 cups frozen corn
- One envelope of taco seasoning or make your own: 1 tbl. chili powder, 1 ½ tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, ½ tsp. ground paprika, ¼ tsp. garlic powder, ¼ tsp. onion powder, ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes and ¼ tsp. dried oregano
- Cilantro, avocado, low fat cheddar, sour cream or plain yogurt- optional toppings
- Place chicken evenly in the bottom of slow cooker. Sprinkle with salt.
- Pour salsa over the top of chicken. Sprinkle with taco seasoning. Add black beans and corn. Stir until everything is combined and chicken is well coated.
- Cook on low for 5-6 hours. Remove the lid and shred the chicken with two forks, then mix.
- Serve in taco shells, tortillas, over rice or cauliflower rice and top with your favorite toppings. Enjoy!