Whether you’re a busy professional trying to clean up your diet and order less take-out, or a working Mama of two like myself, “What’s for dinner?” (or breakfast , or lunch) can be a never-ending question. But cooking, while certainly healthier and more cost-efficient, can take up a lot of time and energy. One major shift I talk to the members I coach here at Parsley Health about that can make the task of cooking far less arduous and more rewarding is meal prepping.
I tell my members to start small. It simply takes too much time to constantly cook each meal from scratch to aim for three plus meals a day.
Below are some of my favorite tips that can help you get started.
Meal prep forces you to think about the week ahead. Decide what you want to make and exactly what you need to buy from the grocery store. Plan to have a meal for at least two days in a row (so at least double the ingredients you need for each meal) so you’re not cooking too many different meals at once. This will save you time spent planning, cooking, and washing dishes, while also saving you money.
For help with menu planning Platejoy is a fabulous tool. You can input any dietary needs, the number of meals you want, and the ingredients you already have on hand. It then gives you custom meal plans and updates your grocery list on Instacart . Tools like this make weekly menu planning a no brainer.
Take a look at your week and see when you can realistically go grocery shopping and cook. With a set plan in mind, grocery shopping can be quick and easy. Online grocery shopping services such as Instacart, Amazon Fresh , and Foodkick can be set up to deliver on the same day each week.
Allotting some time on a Saturday or Sunday to meal prep for the week is a great strategy. You’re not exhausted from a long day and likely have more leniency in your schedule.
Some foods hold up better than others. Stews and soups made in a Crock-Pot/Instant Pot (or even just a large pot!), are super easy to make, and perfect for batch cooking. These meals also freeze very well. When making a stew or soup, make 4-5x the amount you would for one meal so you can start to build a freezer stash. Freeze in single size portions so you have options ready to defrost. Gluten free meatballs, chili, black bean burgers, and egg muffins also freeze well.
When freezing, opt for metal or glass containers. These can be organized neatly in the freezer, and you’ll avoid BPA, which is a known hormone-disrupting chemical that has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease , infertility , and can trigger pre-diabetes .
Meal prepping doesn’t necessarily mean you need to prep every single part of your meal ahead of time- you can prep just part of the meal in advance. If you’re short on time, start with the easy meal prep and prioritize the vegetables.
At Parsley, we encourage our members to eat half a plate of vegetables with every meal, as we know vegetables reduce the risk of chronic disease and provide our body with key antioxidants, phytochemical, and vitamins that it needs to thrive.
I recommend consuming a wide variety of veggies each day to increase the range of nutrients you’re getting. Chopping them up in advance can save you time when it comes to roasting, steaming, or sautéing. Don’t forget to leave some raw for snacks like hummus and carrots, celery and almond butter, or peppers and guac. For busier weeks, opt for pre-cut frozen vegetables.
Batch cooking sweet potato wedges, rice, quinoa, or any other gluten-free grain or carb you’d like to have as a side for the week will make it easy to add to any lunch or dinner.
I also recommend making a large salad or frittata. This is an easy way to incorporate all those vegetables you’ve already chopped. If making a salad, wait on the dressing. Throughout the week, you can incorporate leftover protein such as chicken, canned chickpeas, wild caught salmon (canned or fresh), or sardines, which are packed with omega 3s. Avocados are also a great addition to top off a frittata or salad with and they pack a dose of healthy fat.
If you’re making a smoothie for breakfast, portion out all the ingredients into separate containers so you just need to blend and add your liquid rather than putting it together each day. This also works great if you’re making a dairy -free yogurt with fixings-think nut butters, flax seeds, collagen; mix it all together for the week so you’re not re-making the same thing each morning.
Instead of viewing weekly meal prep as another thing on your to-do list, re-frame your mindset. Preparing food to nourish yourself is the ultimate act of self-love. Listen to some music, a podcast, or an audiobook while cooking, and think about the freedom you’re giving yourself throughout the week to focus on other important things in your life, such as playing with your kids, trying a new hobby, or focusing on your relationship.
Meal prep doesn’t just have to fall on the parents. Involving kids in the process helps them develop a crucial life skill that is so often neglected. Studies show that kids who have learned how to cook have long-term health benefits over a decade later . No matter the age, you can get your child involved. Explain to them why you are meal planning, talk about all the fun foods they’ll get to try this week. If they’re old enough, let them chop some vegetables. You can even purchase a small wood cutting board and some toddler knives for the younger ones and have them help with spices and stirring. It’s also a great, practical way to incorporate math. My 10 month-old loves sucking on a big scallion, playing with wooden spoons, and smelling the various ingredients while I talk to my 4 year-old about cutting items in halves, quarters, etc, and encouraging her to choose spices that go well with our food (while gently suggesting cinnamon isn’t the best choice for salmon!). Kids love to help and get excited about the foods they’re making. Perhaps by the time they’re teenagers, you won’t have to do any prep at all!
Tracy is a New York City-based Health Coach. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, a health coaching certification, and has extensive training and experience in holistic and functional medicine. She is passionate about supporting Parsley members on their quest for optimal health. Prior to working at Parsley Health, she worked as a Health Coach with other functional medicine providers and as a Health Coach at Bloomberg, L.P. In a previous life, she worked in financial sales. You can learn more about her at www.nutritionwithtracy.com.