Meal Prep: Where Do I Begin?
by Dr. Tamara Wilkerson Dias
“Meal prepping”—two words that were quite daunting to me when I began my wellness journey. As someone who was stuck in a tug of war between strict dieting and eating whatever was in front of me, I realized that I needed to focus on creating habits and routines that I could commit to for a lifetime. The “quick fix” of eating a salad every day and drinking water would not grant me long-term success. I had to figure out how I could eat healthy as a lifestyle.
Years later, I’ve finally settled into a rhythm with meal prepping and my weekends are when the magic happens! Each Friday is dedicated to doing a kitchen inventory, where I check my pantry and refrigerator to see what ingredients I have on-hand. Then, on Sunday, I shop for the groceries I’ll use in my meals. This routine has relieved me of stress during the week when it comes to figuring out what I’ll eat and it saves me a TON of money because I’m not ordering takeout every day.
There are two ways I normally meal prep. The first is to prepare ingredients (brown rice, roasted veggies, black beans, etc.) and create my own meals throughout the week. I don’t specifically have recipes in mind, but I know what foods I enjoy together. The second method is to plan actual recipes and portion out enough for each day. This requires more prep upfront but means that I only have to heat up my food later in the week. Either option is great, and both keep me from making impulsive and unhealthy food decisions at the last minute because I’m starved and/or unprepared.
I certainly remember my own struggles with meal prep as a beginner, so I’m sharing my top tips for creating your own routine to make meal prep doable for YOU.
Meal Prep 101 - The Basics
Start small. Don’t feel like you have to prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the entire week, all at once. If you’re just starting, start with one thing, like snacks. Each week, try to add in a new meal or recipe to your prepping. Trying to do too much at once is the fastest way to feel overwhelmed.
Look for shortcuts. Because I’m vegetarian, when I’m short on time, I will buy pre-cut veggies and fruits to go into my meal prep for the week. You can also purchase cooked lentils or rotisserie chicken to eliminate some of the work of prepping. Tuna is also an easy no-cook protein to add-in to salads or snacks.
Storage matters. I keep a ton of storage containers for my prepped foods each week. It’s a good idea to choose one container type and buy a bunch that can be stacked and stored (Note: if you choose plastic containers, make sure they are BPA-free and that they won’t melt in the microwave or dishwasher).
Spice it up. I quickly learned that using a variety of seasonings and spices can take recipes to a new level. When I’m cooking, I love to use garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, chili powder and paprika to flavor my dishes. Each of these is salt-free, so it allows me to add in flavor without increasing the sodium.
Time yourself. I make a promise each week to only take up two hours of my day (on Sunday) on meal prep. This keeps me from feeling overwhelmed, and it still gives me time to enjoy the rest of my day. I’ll set a timer on my phone, turn on some music, and focus on getting as much cooked as I can in that time.
Bonus: Batch cooking is so helpful! I’ll roast an entire pan of veggies that can be used on top of spinach for a salad and can also be sauteed with eggs for breakfast in the morning. This is an easy way to get multiple meals from the same set of ingredients.
What are your go-to meal prep secrets and recipes? Share with us in the comments below!
Dr. Tamara Wilkerson Dias
Dr. Tamara Wilkerson Dias leads with the mindset that self-care isn’t selfish, but instead the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. In her role as a nonprofit executive director, Dr. Dias works to eliminate the large racial disparity in public education. She leads an organization that supports the recruitment, retention, development, and support of African-American teachers. She has dedicated herself to the mission of supporting public servants in their own self-care journeys. As the founder and CEO of TWD Coaching & Consulting, she also works to support women in living their healthiest lives. A three-time half-marathoner, she believes that putting yourself first allows you to ensure that your cup is full, so you remain at your best for others. When she is not running, or working on long grant applications, she is usually curled up with a good book.