Mastering Meal Prep

by Rachel Stuck, RDN & Nicole Parolisi

Most people know what a balanced meal looks like, but the struggles arise when it comes time to prepare or better yet be prepared.  

If you’ve mastered meal prep, even just for one day, you know how beneficial it is, and if you haven’t, it isn’t hard to imagine how helpful it can be. Having healthy meals on hand will help you stay on track and save time during a busy work week. All it takes is a little effort, a few time-saving tips, and a plan. 

Meal prep is of course all about planning, but it doesn’t have to be so complex. Setting aside just one hour to cook at home can make a big difference in the choices you make throughout the week. Meal prep can happen at all times of the week by taking advantage of extra minutes in the evening. Simple efforts to utilize a warm oven or chop a few extra servings of vegetables goes a long way! Below you’ll find tips to help you master meal prep without spending countless hours in the kitchen.

Small changes to your mealtime routine can make a big impact on the health of your meals and eating habits.

Tip #1: Make your Mornings EGGcellent

Starting your day right is always a good move. Fuel up with protein, vegetables, and healthy fat to ensure mental clarity first thing in the morning. Eggs paired with vegetables are a nutrient-dense addition to breakfast that can be prepared in a variety of ways.

Hard-boiled eggs, breakfast wraps, and premade omelet cups are a simple addition to your daily eating plan and are a breeze to prepare. Consider adding one of the following egg-cellent breakfast choices to your breakfast routine.

  1. Hard boiled egg recipe:
  2. Place egg(s) in a deep pot and add enough cold water to cover eggs with about 1 inch of water. Cover pot with lid. Heat water over medium heat until water boils. Boil for 6-7 minutes to fully cook the yolk or boil for 4 minutes for soft boiled eggs. Finally, using a slotted spoon, remove eggs from hot water and place in a large bowl of ice water and let cool for at least 5 minutes. Store in fridge for up to one week.

    Pair hard-boiled eggs with a piece of sprouted grain bread, spinach, and mashed avocado or eat chilled with a piece of fruit and a small handful of almonds.

  3. Check out our Omelet Cups Recipe here.
  4. Breakfast wrap recommendations:
  5. Eggs, spinach, onions, ½ teaspoon pesto, and ¼ avocado

    Eggs, red pepper, kale, feta, and kalamata olives

    Eggs, 3 ounces turkey sausage, red pepper, and broccoli

    Eggs, asparagus, spinach, and tomatoes

Tip #2: Transform your Leftovers for Lunch

Leftovers are a great addition when prepping meals. Extra servings of protein, vegetables, and starches make it easy to create wraps, salads, and power bowls that taste great, keep you feeling satisfied, and save time and money. Don’t over complicate your lunch menu by coming up with 5 separate recipes for each day of the week, instead think about the foods that you are preparing for dinner and get creative with simple sides, sauces, and additions you can add. Consider adding leftover chicken and roasted vegetables to a wrap with avocado or over a bed of greens with a squeeze of lemon and dash of olive oil.

Leftover vegetables and meat can also be added to omelets, stir-fries, and soups to help save on prep time. Keep simple, yet flavorful additions on hand like pesto, dijon mustard, nuts, seeds, salsa, dried cranberries, and citrus like lemons and limes for a low-calorie flavor addition.

Tip #3: Get Resourceful

Dust off your crockpot, stock up on marinades, and clear out the leftovers in your freezer. Meal prep doesn’t have to be complicated, instead consider starting with recipes that you know you like and have already mastered or look in your pantry for whole grains, spices, and sauces you already have on hand. Then, build your shopping list around the meal components you already have. Below are a few ways to simplify meal prep and utilize pantry staples.

  • Add roasted chicken breast and sauteed vegetables, like carrots, celery, onions, peppers, and sweet potatoes to canned soup instead of making a full batch of soup from scratch.
  • Saute onions with a can of chickpeas and a can of diced tomatoes for a chunky chickpea ragu. Then serve over a protein of choice and steamed broccoli and top with shredded parmesan cheese.
  • Add frozen spinach and a tablespoon of pesto to 4 cups of grains or whole grain pasta for extra nutrients and flavor.
  • Cook one cup of store-bought salsa, one cup of water and two tablespoons taco seasoning with four chicken breast in a crockpot for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low for Mexican-style pulled chicken.
  • Saute one pound cubed chicken with frozen stir fry mix and top with 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Top with hot sauce of choice and chopped peanuts.

Tip #4: Embrace (Healthy) Convenience Foods

The grocery store is full of convenience foods that aren’t full of added sugar, salt, and fat. Skip frozen dinners and add foods to your shopping list that cut down on prep time without sacrificing flavor and freshness. There is no shame in buying pre-chopped vegetables or salad kits if you know it will assist you in adding extra vegetables to your meals. Canned beans and tomatoes are an easy addition to soups, stir-fries and grain bowls, and you don’t have to worry about them spoiling. It is also a good idea to keep a few bags of frozen fruits and vegetables on hand like broccoli, green beans, spinach, berries, and tart cherries. Frozen vegetables can easily be added to smoothies and stir-fries or quickly steamed for a simple low carb side.

Tip #5: Keep Healthy Swaps on Hand

Once you’ve got your menu planned for the week, consider swapping ingredients for a healthier alternative. Simple swaps can add additional nutrients or protein to your meal or even reduce the amount of sugar, fat, or sodium included in the original recipe. Below is a list of healthy swaps to consider:

  • Low-fat Greek yogurt over sour cream
  • Sweet potatoes over white potatoes
  • Brown rice over white rice
  • Chickpea pasta over wheat pasta
  • Turkey sausage over hot dogs
  • Romaine lettuce over iceberg
  • Natural peanut butter over high-sugar peanut butter
  • Avocado over mayo
  • Ground oats over breadcrumbs
  • Exchange applesauce for butter or oil in baked goods

For more free, gut-healthy tips, tricks, and recipes go to our Program Toolkit, check out our snacking article, Facebook page, and Instagram.

Did you know that Ixcela members also have access to a Recipe Library that allows them to search recipes by gut health category and macronutrients? Find out more about being an Ixcela member.

About the Author

Photo: Rachel Stuck, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Rachel Stuck has a background in culinary arts and nutrition counseling. Rachel takes a positive approach to nutrition: she avoids recommending restrictive diets and instead focuses on helping people choose foods that promote health and well-being. She is passionate about empowering and assisting Ixcela members as they develop their unique, gut-healthy lifestyles.

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Interested in learning more about Ixcela? Check out Ixcela’s microbiome test, personalized nutrition and fitness plans, and other tools to help you optimize your health.