Balanced Meal Prep 101
Whether you like it or not, we are approaching the end of summer, and chances are your schedules are starting to fill up again. But a busy schedule does not mean your healthy eating habits have to be paused. If fact, balanced meals can be your saving grace, giving your body fuel to get through your day with high energy and a clear mind. Today we are going to go over methods to plan your meals ahead of time, so you can stick to your health goals even on your busiest days.
Our primary focus is going to be Meal Prepping. Despite what you might think, making a week’s worth of meals ahead of time doesn’t have to consume your entire weekend. Rather than making 4-5 unique meals, meal prepping generally involves making a large batch of the same meals or foods. This condensed version of cooking is a major reason why meal prepping saves time.
There are a couple of different ways to meal prep.
- Half-Prepped Meals: This method involves putting together a dish ahead of time, and either half cooking it or fully cooking it before storing it in the fridge or freezer. When you’re ready to eat, simply reheat or finish cooking the dish and enjoy. This can be particularly helpful for dinners, or when you are feeding multiple people. Some examples might be lasagna, Chili, Enchiladas, Pot Pies, etc.
- Batch Cooking: Similar to the above method, but before you package the dish for the fridge or freezer, you would divide everything into individual portions to be reheated for a quick lunch or dinner.
- Ingredient Prep: With this method, instead of preparing meals, you prep different ingredients that can then be paired together to create multiple different meals throughout the week. This method is great if still want to save time, but you easily get sick of eating the same thing multiple days in a row. Some examples of this meal prep style might be to cook a bunch of chicken, beans, a grain, and roasted vegetables. With those ingredients, you can add the chicken to salads, make quick and simple Buddha Bowls, or throw together a hearty burrito wrap.
- Pre-made meal services: The full hands-off approach, simply order your meals pre-made from a meal service provider. No cooking, no planning, simply pick up at the start of the week and reheat as needed. This method is ideal if you are really strapped for time, or you simply don’t want to deal with cooking anything yourself.
Depending on what your goals are, and what your schedule looks like, some of the methods listed above may be better for you than others.
The next thing to look at is what types of foods are actually good for meal prep, or rather what combinations of foods. For instance, you can portion out a week’s worth of salads, but keep the dressing and any croutons/crunchy toppings separate. Otherwise, at the end of the week, you’ll be eating a soggy mess that’s lost all its crisp freshness. The same goes for burgers, sandwiches, or wraps. In general, you want to keep ‘wet’ things away from ‘dry’ things when necessary.
Some ingredients/foods that work really well for meal prep:
- Cooked protein (except for fried)
- Cooked tofu, tempeh, and other vegetable proteins
- Cooked quinoa, rice, and pasta
- Cooked legumes
- Medium roasted vegetables
- Fresh crunchy vegetables (think carrots, cabbage, kale, broccoli)
- Roasted nuts
- Hummus, tzatziki, or other sauces/dips
- Soups, casseroles, or other one-pot dishes
- Overnight Oats
This is not an exhaustive list, but even within these options, you can put together a huge variety of meals. What you choose to make is a matter of your personal taste, your budget, and how much variation you want throughout the week.
Balance is important
As we stated at the begging of this post, the key to successful meal prep is building a balanced meal. A massive plate of spaghetti might be filling and easy to prep, but we would argue that it’s not the most nutritious fuel to get you through the day.
When it comes to planning your meals, we suggest including a protein + grain + vegetable. Or, if you want to minimize carbs, go with a protein + vegetable x2. Throw in some healthy fats and dairy when you want to, but you don’t want to skip out on the protein or veggies. Why is this balance so important? because each of these food groups serves a different purpose. Proteins help repair your body and maintain strength, and will help you feel full for longer. Carbs, or grains, help provide immediate access to energy. Vegetables provide necessary fiber, vitamins, and nutrients to help maintain a healthy digestive system and a strong immune system, among other important benefits.
Some great examples of balanced meals:
- Tofu veggie stir-fry, with rice OR cauliflower rice
- Sheet Pan Fajitas with chicken, peppers, onions, and fresh herbs
- Italian stuffed peppers made with ground turkey and quinoa
- Chimichurri steak with cilantro lime rice, and roasted vegetables
Meal Prep at IG
Maybe you’re not used to meal planning, maybe this still sounds like a lot of work, or too time-consuming. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t give up hope yet. One of our primary pillars at IG is to provide our customers with healthy & convenient meals. We know it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, so we’ve taken steps to provide multiple meal prep options.
If you’re wanting a hands-off, fully prepared meal prep service that you can order, pick up, and enjoy, then we’ve got you covered.
On the other hand, if you prefer having ingredients and prepared dishes you can mix and match throughout the week, we’ve got a solution for you too. Our deli cases are full of fresh options that you can purchase by weight, so you can get as little or as much as you need. We always have vegan dishes, lean protein and seafood, and a huge variety of salads and vegetables to pair together. Imagine a whole foods deli/salad bar, but everything is made with local organic ingredients, with plenty of gluten-free, sugar-free, and keto-friendly options.
We know that planning meals ahead of time is not for everyone and that there is joy in spontaneity and following a craving when something sounds so perfect in the moment. But we also hope that this post has helped to shed light on the benefits of meal planning, and how versatile and convenient it can be when you really need it. Meal prepping is a great way to save time on cooking, without sacrificing your health and nutrition goals. We hope that you give it a try, and we’d love to hear your favorite meal prep tips and tricks! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.