We’re already several weeks into the New Year, and hopefully keeping strong with the resolutions we made to improve our health. A couple of weeks ago I posted about menu planning and how it can improve and maintain healthy eating habits. This week is all about meal prep, and the two go together like carrots and hummus.
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Meal prep is an absolute life saver. Whether you’re working three 12’s, four 10’s or five 8’s, the work week can get hectic for all of us. Especially if you’ve got a commute! Sometimes it feels like between work and sleep, there isn’t much time for anything else. Healthy eating takes time, and that time is often allocated to other necessities and responsibilities, such as errands, housekeeping, and laundry. Just like menu planning, meal prep makes it easier for us to make and keep healthy eating habits, even when we feel like we don’t have the time to.
Benefits of Meal Prepping
Meal prep has many similar benefits to menu planning, like saving time, reducing stress, and making it easier to eat healthy.
Save time. Spending half an hour Sunday night to prep your lunches for the week saves time throughout the rest of the week. It takes only seconds longer to cut vegetables for the whole week than it does for just one day. Only one cutting board and knife are dirtied, instead of three or four or five. You save time in both preparation and clean-up afterwards.
Reduce Stress. One of the number one tips for making mornings smooth and stress free is to have everything you need for the day ready to go the night before. And when we eat fast food, it’s often just for the sake of convenience – we simply need something available to grab and go. With just a half hour prep time on Sundays, a stack of lunches can be ready to grab off the fridge shelf, even at the last moment. Morning don’t get much smoother or more stress free than that.
Eat healthy. If you’re not packing a lunch, you’re eating out, and when eating out, you’re usually limited to what’s close to work. Chances are, if you’re eating out, you’re not going to have as many healthy options as when you do the shopping and meal prep yourself. My personal favorite healthy lunch meal is salad.
Meal Prep Go-to’s & Must-haves
There’s a lot of great lunch ideas to meal prep for the week. My meal prep go-to is a salad. It’s a great healthy choice, and after lunch I feel full, content, but never sluggish. There’s several must-haves if you’re prepping salads, including a good salad container, a great salad dressing, and a healthy protein source.
Salad Container. I’ve tried several different salad containers, including the ever popular mason jar. But the Sistema salad containers take the gold. They include a one-serving-size container for salad dressing and you can separate your greens from your toppings till you’re ready to eat. I feel this greatly enhances freshness, especially when you’re meal prepping for several days. The set also includes a fork and knife. When you’re ready to eat, add the salad dressing to your greens, replace the lid only (not the insert with your toppings), shake to thoroughly mix your dressing, add your toppings, and Guten Appetit!
Salad Dressing. Having a good salad dressing can make the salad. I’ve found Annie’s brand to generally be a healthy and tasty choice, while being comparable in price to other salad dressings and available at most grocery stores. Their dressings don’t have any synthetic colors or preservatives. My favorite flavors have been Balsamic Vinaigrette, Shitake & Sesame Vinaigrette, Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette, and the Tuscany Italian dressing. But my guilty pleasure is Brianna’s Home Style Asiago Caesar dressing.
Protein. A healthy protein option for salads is another must. I often add boiled eggs and nuts to my salads, because they are quick and easy. I used to use and love smoked salmon, but it’s nearly impossible to find nitrite-free smoked salmon, and when you do, it costs a small fortune. Other healthy options include quinoa, seeds (chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.), tuna or salmon, or chicken. Often times, I’ll add a little Mrs. Dash* and olive oil to my chicken, cut it in thin slices, and bake in the oven for about twenty minutes at 350.
*There are so many great Mrs. Dash flavors – Onion & Herb, Fiesta Lime, and Southwest Chipotle have been my favorites.
Favorite Seasonal Salad Combos
Eating seasonally means fresher, more flavorful produce with (usually and hopefully) higher nutrient value. So here’s some of my favorite seasonal go-to salad combinations.
Spring. Snow peas, sliced mushrooms, cucumbers, green onions, mandarin orange slices, home-canned tuna, and Annie’s Shiitake & Sesame Vinaigrette or Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette.
Summer. Cherries, chopped walnuts, cucumbers, green onions, boiled eggs, and Annie’s Balsamic Vinaigrette or Brianna’s Home Style Asiago Caesar dressing.
Fall. Sliced apples, pumpkin seeds, chicken baked with Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb Seasoning
Winter. Red sliced pears, pomegranate seeds, green onions, feta cheese, chopped pecans, boiled eggs, and Annie’s Balsamic Vinaigrette.
My Meal Prep Goes Something Like This…