One of the biggest challenges many people face when trying to eat a more nutritious diet is time. Not enough time to grocery shop, not enough time to make three meals a day, not enough time to pack meals for work or school ahead of time. Trust me, I get it. Life is busy, and sometimes the last thing you want to do is take valuable time out of your day to make a meal.
What if I told you that meal prepping could cut this time in half, or even less? Or that making simple, nutritious meals doesn’t have to be as complicated as everyone makes it seem?
Meal prepping can save you a lot of time. And money. I’m sure we’ve all heard it one hundred time, but that’s because it’s actually true. Meal prep helps to set you up for an easy and seamless week. Instead of spending half an hour, three times a day, preparing every meal, you can dedicate a couple hours once a week to making nutritious and delicious food.
There’s varying methods to meal prep, from prepping entire meals to simply different ingredients for the week ahead. I prefer the latter.
Prepping entire meals for me often leaves me feeling dissatisfied because I’m eating repetitive meals. When I prep simple ingredients instead, I’m able to decide what I feel like making on any given day. Instead of having the entire meal prep, most of the ingredients are prepped instead.
I will admit that his method doesn’t save as much time as having meals completely prepared, but I think that the pros out weight the cons. Simple meals can still be thrown together within minutes, and I get to honour my cravings and what my body wants on any given day.
When I meal prep, I try to think of five main categories; grains, legumes/protein, sauces, vegetables and snacks.
Grains can be the most time consuming part of making meals. Because of this, I prefer to cook large batches of grains for the week ahead. My personal favourites are brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat.
Soaking grains and legumes ahead of time can be beneficial for digestion, improves absorption of nutrients. Soaked and sprouted grains can allow our body to more readily access the nutrients.
To soak grains or legumes, add them to a large bowl and fill with cool water. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice and let soak for 8-24 hours before cooking. When you’re ready to cook, simply cook as per the package instructions. Keep in mind that cooking time is often less when you’ve soaked grains and legumes ahead of time.
Planning a protein source before the busyness of the week begins ensures that you’re getting good quality protein sources throughout the week. Chickpeas, lentils and tofu are my preferred sources of plant-based protein, but any legume, tofu, tempeh, or seitan will work.
Like grains, legumes benefit from being soaked before cook to allow for optimal nutrient absorption. If you don’t have enough time to cook chickpeas or beans, lentils cook much faster. If you’re really in a pinch, canned beans, peas and lentils are a great alternative to dry. Just make sure that you’re rinsing them very well from the can before using them.
My favourite way to cook chickpeas is to drain and rinse from the can, then toss with garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika and a pinch of salt. Roast at 450 degrees farenheit for 25-30 minutes, until crispy. These can then be used as salad toppers, in nourish bowls, or even as a snack on their own!
Black beans can be mashed to make black bean burgers that can be stored in the fridge. My personal favourite recipe is by Minimalist Baker!
If cooking tofu, try dicing it into cubes and tossing with 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika and a pinch of salt. Bake at 450 degrees F for 25-30 minutes until crisp on the edges. This can even be done at the same time as chickpeas!
Lentils can be boiled as per the package instructions, and used in salads, nourish bowls, curry, stir fries, and soups.
Having sauces prepped can elevate a meal from meh to incredible. Some sauces are simpler than others. Things like apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, lemon juice, and a little olive oil can act as a super simple dressing to any salad or nourish bowl. Simply combine ingredients into a small mason jar, top with a lid and shake until combined.
For more sauce inspiration, check out think blog post here.
Meal prepping vegetables can provide that extra motivation to add them to meals and snacks. If you see veggies all prepped and ready to go, you’re more likely to grab for them. Chopping a bunch of veggies at once means that you’ll save extra time cleaning the cutting board afterwards. This sounds like a win-win situation to me. Here are some of my favourite veggies to prep:
- Onions: Sautéed onion and garlic seem to be the base of most cooked meals. To save time, try chopping a few onions at the beginning of the week and keep in an air tight container. I wouldn’t recommend doing this for the entire week, but a few days’ worth should stay fresh.
- Roasting sweet potato: Roasted sweet potatoes can be thrown into a bowl for salads, nourish bowls, or snacked on alone for the week. One of the things that makes sweet potatoes so great is that they can be made savoury or sweet. Toss sweet potatoes with cinnamon and a pinch of salt for sweet chunks, or garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika for savoury. Sweet potatoes can also be sliced into fries, or baked whole and stuffed with black beans, grains and guacamole.
- Chopping celery: Growing up my mom always kept washed and cut celery prepped in the fridge. This meant we always had fresh veggies on hand to eat as a snack to be quickly chopped up and added to meals. I’d recommend washing and cutting celery into sticks, then keeping in a large glass with a bit of water at the bottom to keep it fresh.
- Kale: Tough greens like kale can be washed, chopped, and stored in an air tight container. This simplifies morning smoothies, salads, nourish bowls or soups.
- Smoothie packs: If you’re a morning smoothie lover, try portioning out all smoothie ingredients and storing in freezer-safe containers. This way, all you have to do is throw it all in a blender and add liquid of choice! For my go-to smoothie recipe, check out my Instagram.
Hummus: Homemade hummus is so simple to make and can taste much better than store-bought versions. Simply combine 2 cups of cooked chickpeas (or 1 can), 1/4 cup tahini, 1 clove of garlic, the juice of 1 lemon, 1/4 tsp of salt, 1 tbsp of olive oil and any other add-ins you like (I love adding 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes!). Blend in in a high speed blender or food processor until smooth, adding water 1 tbsp at a time until it blends well.
Energy bites: Energy bites are the perfect grab and go snack, and don’t have any strange ingredients like most store-bought granola bars. Find my favourite recipe here.
Chia pudding: Chia pudding is great to have on hand for breakfast, snacks or desserts. Simply combine 1/4 chia seeds, 2 cups of plant based milk, 1 tbsp of maple syrup and 1/2 tsp vanilla into a mason jar and shake to combine. Store in the fridge overnight, and when you wake up the chia seeds will have puffed up, making a pudding like consistency.
Follow my Instagram to see more of what I meal prep on a weekly basis, and make sure to tag me in photos so I can see your meal prep creations!