Meal Prep Magic ~ The Shortcuts You Need to Know!

brain health healthy eating healthy recipes real food resilience stress-free sugarfree Apr 24, 2022

A big part of your healthy eating practice is planning and preparing your meals ahead of time -- so you’re not tempted by anything else!  So, why not bring back the tradition of good ‘ol home cookin’ and start eating healthier, more nutrient-dense meals… at home? 

You may be thinking that it’s way too time-consuming to cook all of your meals from scratch. However, if you plan in advance AND do at least some of the meal prep ahead of time, healthier home-cooking habits can be established far more easily than you think! 

It really doesn’t matter what type of diet you follow either – whether it’s vegan, gluten-free, keto or diabetic-friendly. Nor does the size of your kitchen need to limit you (mine is pretty small!) - just a few basic pieces of cooking equipment is all you need to get started.
I know you’re busy and time really can feel like a luxury some days. So I’ve chopped, diced and puréed everything you need to know about MEAL PREP, including all the best shortcuts.

Plus, keep reading to the end for a super easy make-ahead breakfast casserole recipe! 

What is meal prepping?

Meal prepping involves planning ahead – and preparing your meals in advance.

Basically, you’re cooking complete or near complete meals in advance both for that day, and also so over the next couple of days, all you have to do is reheat them at meal time.

CHECK THIS OUT! I'm offering a 4-part Culinary Nutrition workshop Series, Spring Meal Prep Magic, starting Thursday, May 12.  Each of the workshops in the series incorporates meal planning, starting with the basic concepts and then expanding the process to some popular selections.

However, the prep part can’t really happen until your meal planning is done first. During the meal planning process, you need to decide what meals you’re going to prepare, make a grocery shopping list, and then buy all the ingredients. Then you get to prepping!

Meal prep can offer these benefits:

→ MORE ORGANIZED & SAVES TIME COOKING

By prepping your meals in advance, you’ll only have to cook or reheat your meals when it’s time to eat, giving you more time for other things. Many people do their meal planning and prep on a weekly basis on preset days.  

→ REPURPOSE INGREDIENTS & STRETCH YOUR FOOD BUDGET

Prepping for multiple meals (at the same time) with frequently-used ingredients will save you even more time during the week AND can stretch the food budget.

Many “dry staple” ingredients, such as grains, flours, pasta, nuts, seeds & legumes, can be bought in bulk and kept in the pantry to be portioned out for meals as you need them.

→ STAY ON THE HEALTHY LIFESTYLE TRACK & PORTION CONTROLLED

There’s less chance that you’ll veer away from your healthy eating regime since things have already been prepared, allowing you to have healthier meals and snacks at the ready. 

Part of prepping food in advance includes storing meals in proper portion sizes, and this can certainly help to prevent overeating. Win!

Meal prep meets “batch cooking” - and other ‘just get started’ tips

  1. Use a calendar to get organized, and pick the day(s) of the week to do your grocery shopping, meal prep and/or batch cooking. Schedule these events just like any other appointment.  For example, consider doing your grocery shopping and meal prep on the same day so food doesn’t spoil. Sunday is popular for meal prep because it’s just before the beginning of a new week.  Or I find the best day for me is later in the week, right after I’ve done a major shop for the week, so I can clean and prep everything–especially the veggies–before putting it away.
  2. Meal prepping means you'll prep multiple servings at once "prep once, enjoy often!" a.k.a. Batch cooking.  It means preparing multiple batches of the same meal, portioning them out, then storing or freezing them for later use over.
  3. It may be easiest at first to just focus on one daily meal to prep in advance: lunch or dinner. Then, once you’re a more seasoned meal prepper, add in some other meals each week.
  4. Consider purchasing some foods that are pre-cut to save time and extra mess, if this is something you know is going to interfere with your prepping. Consider the advantages and disadvantages as some pre-cut foods may also have been processed in some way.
  5. Set up your prep station before anything else, being mindful of where the sink, appliances, kitchen gadgets and trash cans are situated in your kitchen. Also, organizing & prepping each of the ingredients before you start cooking is key.
  6. KNIVES: make sure they are sharp! 
  7. CUTTING BOARDS: Use non-porous cutting boards to prevent cross contamination and food borne illness. It’s also wise to have at least 2 separate cutting boards: one dedicated to raw meat/poultry + one for fruits & vegetables. I like bamboo as they clean easily and are  often dense enough to resist knife scarring and naturally resists water penetration and letting bacteria find a place to form.
  8. POTS & PANS: Make sure you have various sizes
  9. Some meal prep tasks should be put off until the night before or right before eating the meal. Examples include not chopping & adding fresh herbs (to minimize oxidation and maximize the flavour), not washing fresh fruit (chance of mold - berries are notorious for this), and not chopping greens (to prevent wilting).
  10. Clean as you go during meal prep. This helps keep counters clear (and space may be at a premium in your kitchen), and it allows you to reuse dishes & utensils - because again, you don’t need much to do meal prep efficiently and effectively.
  11. Labels food storage containers, i.e. what’s in it, and the expiration date. Most food keeps well in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, or in the freezer for up to several months. However, some foods do not freeze well (e.g. eggs, sweet potatoes).

Refer to this Safe Food Storage Chart.

 Let hot food cool to room temperature before storing it in the refrigerator or freezer.
Refer to these Food Safety Tips for Leftovers.

So there you have it… meal prep tips galore so that you can more easily reach your goals of living a more health-full lifestyle - one that includes pre-planned meals.

Keep reading for an easy, make-ahead casserole that’s sure to please everyone! :)

CHECK THIS OUT! I'm offering a 4-part Culinary Nutrition workshop Series,Spring Meal Prep Magic, starting Thursday, May 12.  Each of the workshops in the series incorporates meal planning, starting with the basic concepts and then expanding the process to some popular selections.

 

RECIPE ~ Easy Breakfast Casserole 

With Gluten-free + dairy-free & make-ahead options, serves 6 - 8

Ingredients

  • 12 large whole eggs
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning blend (no salt added)
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1½ tsp sea salt
  • Black pepper, fresh ground, to taste
  • 1/2 cup any milk or dairy alternative (e.g. unsweetened almond or cashew milk)
  • 1 cup hard cheese, shredded & divided (sharp/old cheddar suggested) OR use non-dairy “cheese”
  • ½ cup red bell peppers, seeded & chopped
  • ½ cup green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup broccoli, chopped
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, coarsely grated (= roughly 3 cups)
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves, packed

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Line a 9×13 baking dish with unbleached parchment paper OR oil a cast iron pan.
  3. In a large mixing bowl add eggs & spices; whisk for 30 seconds. 
  4. Add milk and ⅔ cup cheese; whisk gently to combine. 
  5. Add peppers, onions, broccoli, shredded sweet potatoes and spinach; stir well with a spoon to mix.  NOTE: Mixture will be thick, and will likely appear as if it needs more eggs, but don’t add any! 
  6. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish/cast iron pan, and flatten the mixture with the back of a spoon. Bake for 1 hour. 
  7. Sprinkle with remaining ⅓ cup cheese/non-dairy “cheese”, and bake until cheese is just melted.
  8. Remove from the oven, cool for 10 minutes and cut into pieces using a long serrated knife. This is important so that you don’t shred and crumble the slices. 
  9. Serve warm for breakfast with a slice of wholegrain/sprouted grain, avocado toast - or cold with a side salad for lunch!
  10. Store casserole, cooled to room temp, in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Freezing is not recommended as it changes the texture and consistency.

To make ahead: Assemble, cover and refrigerate for up to 48 hours. Bake as described above.

Options: Mix and match the veggies to suit your taste and depending on what you have on hand.  Add cooked bacon (crumbled) or cooked sausage (sliced) to the egg mixture, or serve on the side.

REFERENCES

Eat This, Not That! - 25 Tips to Cook Once, Eat for a week https://www.eatthis.com/meal-prep-sunday/

Academy of Culinary Nutrition (Meghan Telpner) - 5 Essential Meal Prepping Tips

https://www.culinarynutrition.com/5-essential-meal-prepping-tip/

Cooking Light (online magazine) - 12 Nutrition Bloggers Share Their Number One Meal Prep Tips

https://www.cookinglight.com/cooking-101/nutrition-bloggers-meal-prep-tips

Healthline - How to Meal Prep: A Beginner’s Guide

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-meal-prep

University of Nebraska-Lincoln - Food Storage Chart for Cupboard/Pantry, Refrigerator and Freezer

https://food.unl.edu/food-storage-chart-cupboardpantry-refrigerator-and-freezer

Government of Canada (Canada.ca) - Food Safety Tips for Leftovers

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/general-food-safety-tips/food-safety-tips-leftovers.html

Government of Canada (Canada.ca) - Safe Food Storage

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/general-food-safety-tips/safe-food-storage.html

 

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