Put Healthy Eating On Autopilot: The 3-Step Guide To Simplifying Meal Prep

Twenty20 / @sussialfredsson

Shopping, prepping, cooking, cleaning the dishes… it can be overwhelming.

Putting a healthy meal on the table takes effort, and sometimes we don’t have the energy or motivation to get in the kitchen and make it happen.

Cooking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner doesn’t seem worth it or fun.

You have things to do – you can’t spend hours figuring out what to cook.

Eating out sounds a lot more fun and easier, but it can get expensive and be less healthy.

Unless you’re a celebrity and can hire a personal chef, you need to find a way to make it work.

Today I’m going to teach you exactly how to put healthy eating on autopilot (even without a personal chef).

There’s a way you can cook only once and have many healthy and delicious meals ready to eat during the week – without any extra cost: Meal prepping.  

Meal prepping will free up your time and simplify your cooking.

You won’t have to worry about what to cook next, your food won’t go to waste, and you won’t need to make several trips to the supermarket.

You’ll be able to spend your time on things that matter knowing there will always be a healthy meal waiting for you.

The best part is it only takes 3 steps: planning, shopping, and cooking – and you can do it all in less than a day.

Step 1: Planning

The key of fast and painless meal prepping is planning. Figuring out from the start what you’re going to eat for the rest of week makes grocery shopping and batch cooking a lot easier.

Meal plan in 4 steps:

1. Pick your favorite recipes from your recipe stash. Don’t have one? No problem. 

This part is the most fun: Find delicious recipes you want to try and that make you excited (or at the very least less bored) to get into the kitchen.

Being excited about your meals will give you the motivation to follow through.

Now it’s the time to browse your Pinterest recipe boards or go through all the recipes you have bookmarked and forgotten about.

If you don’t have a recipe stash and don’t know where to start, create one like this:

  • Subscribe to food blogs you like and create a new folder in your email to stash all the new recipes. My favorite food blogs are Minimalist BakerOh She GlowsDeliciously EllaNaturally Ella, and Nutrition Stripped. Every week you can go back to the folder and pick the recipes that you like. I find this way to be the easiest because it’s all stored in your email.
  • Use Feedly to subscribe to all your favorite food blogs. You can go back to it every week and choose from all the recipes in your feed.
  • Create a Pinterest recipe board and pin all the recipes you would like to try.
  • Get a cookbook.

The number of recipes you will need for the week depends on how many people you’re cooking for.

  • 1 person: 3-4 recipes, plus 2 homemade snacks (optional).
  • 2-3 people: 4-5 recipes, plus 2 homemade snacks (optional). 
  • 3-5 people: 5-7 recipes, plus 4 homemade snacks (optional). 
  • 5-7 people: 7-9 recipes, plus 4 homemade snacks (optional). 

Choose the recipes according to how much your family eats in a week and the yield of each recipe.

Currently, I’m only cooking for me and my partner, and I’ve found that 4 recipes and 2 snacks last us the majority of the week and give us the flexibility to eat out on weekends without food waste.

Including homemade snacks in your meal plan will make school and office lunches healthier and curve your cravings when you’re home.

For snacks, I prefer to go the easy (but healthy) route.

Here you can find snacks and healthy desserts…

My current favorite snacks are banana bread, 3-ingredient almond butter cookies, chia pudding with fruits, chocolate-almond butter fudge, and nuts.

2. Make a meal plan 

Now that you picked the recipes you need, it’s time to create your meal plan.

There are many ways to create a planner, here are some options:

  • Print or keep in your phone a convenient one-sheet meal planner.
  • Write down your meals in a Google spreadsheet.
  • Use tools like Eat This Much or Plan To Eat to plan your meals and create shopping lists.

I use a weekly meal planner I created and keep it on my desktop for easy access.

After picking your favorite meal planner,  simply distribute your meals throughout the week.

I organize my meals to eat the same lunch and the same dinner until it’s time to move on to a different dish.

Arrange your meals however you prefer, eating something different each day or eating the same thing several days in a row, like I do.

3. Make a shopping list based on your weekly meal plan

After organizing your meal plan, create a shopping list for the ingredients you need to cook each recipe.

  • Go through each recipe and write down the ingredients you don’t have at home.
  • Keep the list in a note in your phone, a google spreadsheet, Trello, or paper.

4. Sort each item by department

When you’re done with your shopping list, sort the ingredients by department.

Segmenting your list by section will save you time at the grocery store and keep you from going back to the same section repeatedly.

For example:

  • Produce section: potatoes, bananas, cilantro, parsley.
  • Canned and dry food: Beans, lentils, pasta, quinoa.
  • Condiments: soy sauce, sea salt, curry paste.

Step 2: Shopping

Now that you’re armed with a clear and organized list, shopping will be quick and easy.

  • Start with the non-perishables: Cans, bottles, and bags go first to avoid squishing your delicate produce.
  • Continue with fruits and veggies: The best produce is at the farmers’ market, but if you’re buying at the grocery store, place fruits and veggies over the packaged foods.
  • Finish with refrigerated products: Finally, get refrigerated products like kombucha, coconut or soy yogurt, fish, eggs, almond milk, and others.

Alternatively, if you’re shopping both at the farmers’ market and the grocery store, do it this way:

  • Start at the farmers’ market and pick the produce you need.
  • Stop by the grocery store to pick non-perishables and refrigerated products.

Step 3: Cooking

Now it’s time to prep your meals. Prepping in advance will free up your time and eliminate the stress of figuring out what to eat each day.

Here’s what you do with the ingredients you bring home:

1. Batch cook the meals for the week

Depending on how many people you’re cooking for, you can batch cook in different ways:

  • If you’re only cooking 3-4 recipes, cook all your meals  in one go. For example, you can prep a soup, a quinoa salad, a stir fry, and a lasagna on Sunday. Store your meals in the fridge or freeze them in plastic bags. After I cook my meals, I store them in glass containers in the fridge.
  • If you’re cooking more than 5 recipes,  batch cook the ones that take the longest on Sunday and prep the ingredients for the remaining recipes. For example,  measure out and store all the ingredients you need for a zucchini pizza crust so it’s quicker to cook later in the week, or dice and store all the veggies necessary for a stir-fry. This way you don’t have to cook all your meals at once, but you still make it easier on your future self.

2. Store your fruits and veggies for maximum freshness

The next thing you need to do is take care of your produce.  Here you can find a handy list of the best storage methods for your fruits and veggies.

You’re going to need fresh veggies and fruits for your sides and snacks during the week – so store them properly to prevent food waste and extra trips to the grocery store.

Here’s where you should keep each item:

Fruits

  • Pantry: Bananas, watermelon, pineapple.
  • Fridge: Berries, melons, apples, pears, peaches, kiwis, oranges, grapes, guava, figs, papaya, mangos, oranges, lemons, and limes.

Veggies

  • Pantry: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, eggplant, cucumber, onions, tomatoes, winter squashes, basil.
  • Fridge: Leafy greens, beets, bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots, soft herbs (except basil), hard herbs, cabbage, leeks, zucchini, avocado, green beans.

You can see the exact storage methods and shelf life for each one here.

Get prepping

Planning ahead and batch cooking will simplify your meals and put healthy eating on autopilot – and you can do it all in less than a day.

If you have been trying to eat healthy but you are struggling to find the time, this is exactly what you need to do.

You don’t have to wait. Start right now. Dig into your recipe stash and begin creating your perfect menu. TC mark

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