Meal Prep 101: strategies for having healthy food available when you need it.
If healthy food is around you and convenient, you’re more likely to eat it. If you have a trusted system for making healthy food available, you don’t have to decide to eat well… you just show up and do it.
Enter the “food ritual”.
No, this ritual doesn’t include lamb’s blood or any special Kool Aid.
It just means you set aside a bit of time to prepare some healthy food in advance so that it’s ready, available, and convenient when you need it.
Option 1: The Sunday Ritual
You don’t have to do this on Sunday, of course. You can choose any day you like.
It’s just that Sunday is often a time when people are more free, more relaxed, and more able to devote time to this type of task. And it’s a time when we’re usually thinking ahead to the upcoming week.
Whatever day you choose, set aside 2-3 hours once a week to do the following.
- Look ahead to your upcoming schedule and see what’s happening. What nutrition challenges or opportunities might pop up? Where might you need some special preparation in advance? What are the quiet and busy times? Etc.
- Come up with a general menu for at least the next few days. It doesn’t have to be anything in-depth. Just get a basic sense of the food you might need to have on hand for the week ahead.
- Build your shopping list from your menu. This will help you be as effective and efficient as possible when you hit the grocery store, and you’ll be less tempted to buy random (and non-goal-supporting) things.
- Hit the grocery store. Stock up on what you need for the week. Consider grabbing a few extra “just in case” emergency items as well, such as deli meat or frozen vegetables, or other easily-stored healthy options that you can use in a pinch.
- Once you’re back home, start prepping and cooking. Whip up a batch of lean protein — for example, by grilling or roasting several chicken breasts/thighs at once. Try some one-pot meals that can be easily cooked in a slow cooker, then divided into containers to be frozen or refrigerated, such as soups, stews, etc. Wash and chop veggies.
Some people choose to prepare most of their meals for the week on Sundays.
Others prefer to figure out which meals will be easy to cook “in the moment” and save them for later, and only pre-prep meals for super busy times (such as lunches at work or dinner after a late meeting).
Do what works best for you, and your schedule.
Option 2: The Daily Ritual
You can combine the Sunday Ritual with the Daily Ritual — for example, by preparing the labor-intensive staples such as lean protein on Sunday, and then adding some quick-prep items (such as veggies) every day.
It often takes about as much time to prepare a few items as it does to prepare one.
For example, it’s nearly as fast to chop 3 zucchini as it is to chop 1, or to scramble 6 eggs instead of 2. During the Daily Ritual, you can prep a few extra items to have on hand for later in the day, or the following day.
Try a Morning Ritual where you use some of our time-saving strategies to whip up a healthy breakfast or lunch:
- Egg “batter”: Whiz up some eggs in a blender (with some veggies if you like); keep the mixture in a jar in the fridge for up to a few days. Pour and cook as needed.
- No-sog salad: Take a large jar and pour salad dressing into the bottom. Then add veggies, top with greens, and make sure the jar stays refrigerated and upright throughout the day. When you’re ready to eat it, shake it up and pour it into a bowl (or heck, eat it right out of the jar!).
Or try a Dinner Ritual where you simply make extra portions and save the rest for tomorrow.
Again, it doesn’t take much more time to prepare a few extra things, so cook in bulk where possible.
The bottom line: Do what works best for you — your life and your goals.
You can mix and match all of these food ritual options, in any way that works for you. Anticipate, plan, strategize. Have fun!