Guest Post by Allyson Connors, Dietetic Intern

There are endless programs that claim that healthy eating just takes a few easy steps. The truth is, eating well and nourishing your body can take lots of time and energy, which can make it difficult if it’s competing with other priorities in your busy schedule.

The secret to success in many areas of life is planning, and nourishing your body is no exception. Whether your goal is to eat better, get the most out of your workouts, or simply eat more vegetables and fruit, meal planning and meal prep can help set you up for success.

The secret to success is planning, and nourishing your body is no exception. #mealplan #mealprep Click To Tweet

Meal planning and meal prep doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. If you feel intimidated by the idea of deciding what to eat for a week (“But what if I don’t want chicken on Wednesday?”), or would rather spend your weekends outside instead of chopping vegetables, read on to find out how you can still make meal planning and meal prep work in your lifestyle.

Meal Planning

MealPlanning-AConnors

For most, meal planning means deciding on exactly what you’re going to eat for the week (or however long) ahead, which can be overwhelming for some. The good news is, you don’t have to plan every single meal, but at least getting a few meals written down and making sure you have the ingredients on hand can help you move forward in your nutrition and health goals.

Best if You…

  • … Like to be organized and find it reassuring to have a concrete plan.
  • … Grocery shop only once or twice a week, and don’t want to make additional trips to the grocery store.

Might Not Work if You…

  • … Find plans too rigid (i.e. you’d rather eat what you feel like, or something always seems to “come up” that makes it hard to stick to a plan) – skip to the Prep Days or Staple Grocery/Pantry List section!

Tips

  • Set aside a specific time to sit down and plan your meals.
  • Follow the 6 Steps to Healthy Meal Planning.
  • Plan meals that do double-duty! If you are having chicken breasts or roast chicken one day, make extra so that you can make a stir-fry, wrap or salad with the leftover chicken the next day.
  • Use your meal plan to make your grocery list, and double- and triple-check it before heading to the store. If you have all the ingredients ready to go in your fridge, you will be more likely to stick to your meal plan!

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Vincci - circleHow Vincci Makes Meal Planning Work

“My husband and I do our meal planning every week on a Google Sheet. We start by listing what’s going on in the week ahead – volleyball games, evening nutrition talks, etc. – to figure out who’s going to be doing the cooking. Then we plug the meals in. We have go-to meals that we like, like mapo tofu or kung pao chicken, as well as a shared Pinterest board where we pin things that we want to try. We then put our grocery list on Dropbox. I love being able to access my meal plan or grocery list from anywhere, whether it’s on the phone or computer.”

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Prep Days

MealPrep-AConnors

They’re called prep days, but they can be as long or short as you make it, whether it’s simply taking a few minutes after a grocery trip to cut up some vegetables, spending a few hours every Sunday making meals for the week, or setting aside a day every month to stock your freezer with meals you can easily reheat and eat. Whichever you choose, cooking ahead means a healthy meal or snack is only minutes, not hours, away when you’re on a time-crunch.

Best if You…

  • …Like to be organized, but still have a bit of flexibility. Prep days can definitely be incorporated into a meal plan, but if you don’t like planning, prep days help make sure healthy food is always on hand for quick meals and snacks.

Might Not Work if You…

  • …Want your meals and snacks to be fresh – Prep days can still work for you for prepping ingredients ahead of time, but you might find that Meal Planning or having a Staple Grocery/Pantry List are better options.

Tips

  • Make sure you have lots of containers handy to store the food you prepare.
  • Have all your ingredients ready to go so that your prep days don’t get missed. (This is where a Staple Grocery List could be helpful.)
  • Maximize your kitchen space! Have a recipe going on the stove, in the oven, a no-cook recipe on the countertop and something in any gadgets you have handy, like a slow cooker or rice cooker
  • Get family or friends involved. Have family (or roommates) help with chopping or prepping. Or, get together for a Big Cook with your friends, where you can make large batches of food to divvy up and take home to freeze.
  • Have a trade party. Organize a group of 4-6 people and assign each person a recipe that can be easily frozen. Each person then cooks that recipe, and divides it into individual servings. The people in the group then swap containers, so they each have 4-6 different meals for their freezer.

What to Prep?

These foods can be prepared ahead and will keep in the fridge for a few days for quick grab-and-go snacks, or ingredients for meals in minutes.

  • Boiled eggs: These will keep (shells on!) in your fridge for up to a week. Make sure you keep them separate from the raw eggs to avoid any surprises. 😉
  • Washed lettuce or greens: Keep them in an airtight container lined with paper towel.
  • Washed, cut fruit like melons, apples, pineapple or oranges: To keep apples from browning, put them with the oranges, or brush them with a bit of lemon juice. Use them within 3 or 4 days.
  • Washed, cut vegetables like carrots and celery: Great for snacks, or cut them small for stir-fries and soups. Use them within 3 or 4 days.
  • Roasted vegetables: Vincci’s favourite way to prepare vegetables. Just toss in olive or canola oil, and roast in a 400˚F oven for 25-35 minutes (depending on how you like them). You will be surprised at what you can roast – root vegetables, yes, but also squash, broccoli, cauliflower and even radish.
  • Baked sweet potatoes or potatoes: Prick them with a fork, and tuck these whole in the oven for about an hour or so, depending on their size.
  • Pulses/legumes, like beans, chickpeas and lentils: Have these simmering on the stove when you’re cooking other foods. If you’re not eating them right away, freeze them in 1 or 2 cup portions so they can be easily added to recipes.
  • Whole grains like barley, quinoa, brown rice, wheat berries: See pulses/legumes above. If you have a rice cooker, you can cook grains like barley and quinoa in it, which also use a 2:1 water-to-grain ratio.
  • Porridge: Meal prep isn’t just for dinner! Cook a big batch of oatmeal or other hot cereal to make mornings a breeze.
  • Homemade salad dressings: Shake these up in a mason jar and save yourself a few dishes.

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Allyson ConnorsHow Allyson Makes Prep Days Work

“Although I enjoy meal planning as it helps me decide exactly what I need from the grocery store, plans can change on a dime and I find it challenging to plan out every single meal. I use prep days to chop vegetables, make mini “salad bars” for the fridge, or to make muffins or granola bars. I’m a huge fan of ‘cook once, eat twice’ (or more), which means I cook food in larger quantities than I need, so I don’t need to spend as much time in the kitchen on later dates.”
 
“When I’m cooking things that can easily be stored in the fridge or freezer, I will often make more than one serving. Having foods like steel cut oats, soups, stews, beans and grains in my fridge and freezer make it convenient to eat nutritiously on future days!”

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Staple Grocery/Pantry List

A staple grocery list, or pantry list, consists of foods that can be easily combined for healthy meals and snacks, making it easier to nourish your body and move closer toward your nutrition goals.

Best if You…

  • …Eat similar foods and meals from week to week
  • …Don’t like spending a lot of time with meal planning or meal prep

Might Not Work if You…

  • …Are always stuck not knowing what to eat – the structure of Meal Planning might be a better fit.
  • …Don’t have time to make something every night – Prep Days can help you save time and energy when it’s time to eat.

Tips

  • Start by thinking of the meals and snacks that you normally eat, and write down the ingredients you need to make them happen.
  • Include a variety of foods – you might want to split your list into the four food groups, plus extras like cooking oil and seasonings, to make sure you’re covering all your nutrition bases.
  • Keep your list easily accessible, for example, keeping it on your phone or in your car so its always with you.
  • Include foods that you will actually eat… if having kale around the house won’t make it more likely to eat it, then there is no point in buying it!

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Vincci - circleHow Vincci Makes Having a Staple Grocery List Work

“I’m a SPUD ambassador, so I order most of my groceries from them every week. What’s great about SPUD is that you can create a “standing order” where you can have the same items delivered to you at regular intervals (every 1-4 weeks), and often when you put something on your standing order, you get a discount to boot!”
“My standing order has staples like bananas, milk, eggs and bread, but also ingredients we use often, like tofu, plain yogurt and green onions. It’s nice to know that on weeks where I don’t get my order in on time that I’ll still have a few things to help me put together some healthy meals.”

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About Allyson

Allyson Connors is a Dietetic Intern from the UBC dietetics program. She loves cooking with friends and family, and enjoys sharing meals within her community. Upon graduation, Allyson hopes to pursue a career in clinical dietetics here in Calgary. In her spare time, she enjoys running, gardening, cooking and spending time with friends and family. 

Do you meal plan, meal prep, have a staple list or a combination of the above? Share how you stay prepared in the comments below.

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