Meal Prep is a popular concept within health and fitness. It's wonderful for those who thrive on structure and exact planning—yet for many, meal prepping can feel a bit overwhelming.
It takes time to research recipes, shop for those specific ingredients in a budget-conscious way and actually prep the meals. Often, not everyone in the family likes the same things, restricting you to what's on the menu when you're no longer in the mood to have it.
Enter: Food Prep.
Food prep is prepping a few ingredients, categorized by food groups.
I like to think of the food groups as:
- Smart Carbs
- Powerful Proteins
- Vibrant Veggies
- Healthy Fats
Smart Carbs are whole food carbohydrates packing plenty of nutrition and fiber, adding energy and value to your health, digestion, and performance. Oats; brown, red and wild rice; spelt; quinoa; sweet potatoes; legumes; bean/lentil pasta; and fruit are all carbs with benefits.
Powerful Proteins are helpful for keeping and building your lean muscle mass—responsible for function, aesthetics, and a stellar metabolism. They help you recover well from exercise and feel satisfied from meals, so ensuring you have adequate protein on your plate is one of the most powerhouse nutrition moves to make. Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, edamame, lentils, tofu and high-quality protein powders are examples of proteins worth pursuing.
Vibrant Veggies are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and health-promoting phytonutrients. They're so good for us, they're like little antioxidant shields guarding our cells from toxins—helping us recover, transport oxygen, alleviate brain fog, and have vitality. Different colors represent different antioxidants. Eating a variety, such as red peppers, butternut squash, onions, broccoli and purple asparagus, ensures we eat the rainbow.
Healthy Fats naturally occur and are minimally processed; they're not found in processed boxed and bagged goodies. Sprinkling meals with healthy fats—nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, coconut oil, fatty fish, even dark chocolate—nourishes your brain, eyes, and cell membranes; makes your hormones happy; and just plain tastes good!
Now that you know what categories many foods fall into, grocery shop and prepare by category.
Pick 1 or 2 Smart Carbs, like quinoa or sweet potatoes or cut-up fruit.
Pick 3 Powerful Proteins, like chicken, boiled eggs and ground beef.
Pick 4 or more Vibrant Veggies, like asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers and spaghetti squash.
Keep a few healthy fats on hand, such as avocados, raw nuts or unsweetened coconut flakes.
Chop and cook each item, storing them in separate containers in your refrigerator. Keep seasonings simple or cook plain and spice up later.
Want to make it even easier? Food prepping can mean pre-packaged slaws and salads, setting out fruit on the counter, pre-made burgers, or my favorite: keeping bags of frozen veggies in the freezer—already cut up and ready to steam or roast.
When it's time to eat, simply snatch a food item from each category and mix and match for grab-and-go-style meals. Add variety and fun flavor profiles by drizzling meals with your favorite sauces, spices, or seasonings.
The "recipe" is always Smart Carbs + Powerful Proteins + Vibrant Veggies + Healthy Fats. For lunch, grab a container before work, head to your fridge, and toss in cold roasted sweet potato cubes, chicken breast slices jazzed up with a dash of yellow curry, a handful of spinach, and a sprinkle of walnuts. For dinner, this could evolve to a brown rice bowl with chicken breast slices dusted with a dash of taco seasoning, another handful of spinach, and a sprinkle of avocado slices.
Simple, but with variety.
Does this mean Meal Prep for entire recipes doesn't work? Not at all! It's definitely a wonderful habit. We find the Food Prep Method even more helpful, because:
- It's easier to track macros and portions for those who want to do so.
- It's perfect for those with full schedules.
- It helps prevent food boredom.
- It takes away the paralysis by analysis we may experience when sorting through recipes to plan meals for the week.
The concept of Food Prep over Meal Prep has been pivotal in the nutritional success of many of our members. I hope you find it just as favorable for you!
Jessica Luepke owns Valeo / Training, a gym in Holland that exists to help members look, move and feel (even more) awesome. When not swinging kettlebells or helping members establish healthy nutrition and mindset habits, she's near woods or water with her hubby, Mike, and boys, Cruz and Hunter.
This article originally appeared in the Oct/Nov 2020 issue of West Michigan Woman.