I often hear people say they don’t like to meal prep because they run out of ideas or get sick of eating the same thing over and over throughout the week. It’s so easy to fall into the habit of buying and making the same foods every day. You’ve probably seen the Instagram pictures displaying identical containers of plain chicken, brown rice and broccoli. This doesn’t have to be your reality. There are so many other options and eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring! Eating a variety of food ensures you are getting all the nutrients you need, so start mixing it up.
Where do you start? Your instinct might be to make one recipe at a time (make the chicken, then the vegetables, then the rice). This can be way too time consuming. However, it is possible to make a variety of meals that are hassle free with minimal clean up in just an hour or two. How? Utilize multiple areas of your kitchen at a time. I almost always have something cooking in the oven because I don’t have to pay attention to it. You can throw everything on one sheet pan or separate it out. Toss your veggies in the same seasonings or give different flavors by placing in separate tin foil wraps on the same pan. You can also do this with meats by cooking them all together or creating little tin foil boats with separate ingredients. While that is cooking, I will make a grain option or two to pair with my vegetable and protein source, or throw a few side salads or a side dish together. Once everything is cooked, I divvy up the different items into Tupperware and toss in the fridge.
Tip: For added variety, mix up the seasonings you use. Most of the time I just add the basics when initially cooking (salt, pepper, oil, garlic, etc.) and wait until the day of to add the spice or flavor that sounds good that day. The same dish of chicken, quinoa/couscous and veggies can be spicy one day and savory the next!
Here are examples to start substituting:
GRAINS (instead of always using rice)
- Many varieties (red, white, black – or find a mixture)
- Good source of protein (12g/ 0.5 cup uncooked) and fiber, manganese, magnesium, iron. It also a complete protein, meaning it has all nine essential amino acids (amino acids our body cannot synthesize itself and are needed in the diet)
- Cooks quickly and is versatile, great substitute for rice – Try in stuffed peppers
- Gluten free
- Good source of protein (11g/ 0.5 cup uncooked) and fiber, calcium and selenium
- Easy prep and can be used like pasta or rice
- Used in soups, meat and vegetable mixtures, or as a side dish. I like to mix couscous and quinoa together to get a variety of consistency and flavor
- Easy to digest and full of protein (14g/ 0.5 cup uncooked), fiber, iron and B vitamins
- Great in salads (Salmon, tomato, arugula salad)
- Pair with black beans and roasted vegetables, or put in soups
- Whole grain that is high in soluble fiber, protein, iron, copper, selenium, zinc and B vitamins
- Great in curry recipes, vegetable stir fry, soups and stews
- Can also try as an oatmeal alternative or use barley flour in baked goods
Tip: I create a little boat out of tin foil and place the chicken, pork, fish, etc. in a vinaigrette or other marinade to keep in moisture and flavor! You can do this with other protein sources as well, plus it keeps the flavors separate.
- Chicken – try marinating in Italian dressing or balsamic vinegar & oil
- Lean cuts of beef
- Salmon, tilapia, shrimp or any whitefish – roast with lemon!
- Pork tenderloin – try with soy sauce, olive oil and a little brown sugar
- Ground beef, turkey, chicken – great to throw in with sautéed vegetables and rice or put on a salad
- Beans (black, kidney, garbanzo, pinto, etc.) & lentils (green, brown, red)
- Beans and lentils paired with grains such as rice, barley, farro, etc. make a complete protein!
There are many ways to cook vegetables to bring out different flavor profiles (sauté, steam, roast, etc). I typically roast in the oven (with a little olive oil, salt and pepper – sometimes garlic powder) because this takes the least effort and they can all be thrown on the same sheet pan for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees and will cook pretty evenly. Eat a variety of colors for more nutrients!
- Sliced bell peppers (red, yellow, green, orange)
- Brussel sprouts (my favorite is to toss in olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper)
- Zucchini (try with a little spice by adding cayenne pepper)
- Green beans (try with garlic powder)
- Sweet potato (can go sweet or spicy by adding cinnamon or cayenne pepper)
- Red skin potato (toss in olive oil with rosemary!)
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A few easy side dishes that are very easy to prepare and can be grabbed as snacks or to pair with meal!
- Carrot, radish, cherry tomato and cilantro tossed in olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper
- Kale, broccoli, cabbage tossed in red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper
- I also tend to make 3-4 side salads at a time so I only have to cut up vegetables once. My go to is romaine lettuce, bell peppers, red onion, cucumber and cherry tomatoes
VARYING YOUR SEASONINGS
The best way to keep your dishes from getting boring. Here are a few of my favorites. Check out more here!
- Paprika: Can be smoky, hot-spicy, sweet, or bitter and popular in tomato-based sauces and egg recipes. Made from dried chili or bell peppers.
- Cayenne pepper: Add to any dish for some spice! Used frequently in Cajun and Indian recipes; the foundation of many hot sauces.
- Chili powder: Typically in Southwestern or Mexican dishes. Made from dried chili peppers, sometimes with additional spices.
- Oregano: Commonly used in Italian-American cuisine, but also in Mediterranean, and South American cooking. Has a warm and slightly bitter taste.
- Cumin: Smoky, nutty, earthy. Add to stews, soups, chili, and South Asian cuisine. I always add to ground beef, chicken or turkey.
- Crushed red pepper: Use to spice up pasta, stir-fries and pizza.
- Cajun: Mix of black pepper, red pepper, garlic, paprika and dried herbs. I add to shrimp, potato and vegetable mixtures or pasta dishes.
- Garlic and onion powder: I add both to most of my roasted vegetables!
Tip: Avoid using seasonings that also contain salt. Buy garlic powder instead of garlic salt. You can add you’re own salt to taste after, but these non-salt seasonings can be used at liberty, guilt-free!
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Meal prepping doesn’t have to be a big ordeal. You don’t need to make every single meal you need for the week, start with the meal you hate making the most. Are you always running late in the morning and have to stop for breakfast? Make a few healthy breakfast burritos and throw them in the freezer. Never feel like making dinner after a long day at work? Make 3-4 dinners a week for your meal prep. Even the littlest bit of meal prep will make a big difference in your overall health (and budget!). Do whatever you can and feel good about that.
Happy meal prepping!
- Hilarie ❤