My meal preps aren’t usually as intense as you find on many diet and food blogs. After I do weekend grocery shopping, I prep two different breakfasts and lunches (3 of one and 2 of the other) for the week and then look at what I have planned for dinners and pre-chop any vegetables or make any marinades or sauces I might need to cut down my cooking time. It’s thorough, but not difficult. This usually takes me about 45 – 75 minutes on any given Sunday.
In the beginning of July, though, I started rehearsals for a play that was going to take me out of the house in the evenings after work. If I ate dinner at all, it was going to be at around 10 p.m., and I also wanted to have some healthier options for my husband Jaguar to grab for dinners, if he wanted.
So that meant adding about 30 minutes to my food prep time and making some full-fledged, pre-proportioned meals to grab and nuke in the science oven.
So here’s some samples of what I’ve been doing for food prep these last five weeks.
My usual breakfasts this summer: 1. Greek yogurt with fruit. 2. Muesli cereal – Rolled oats, dried cranberries, raw almonds, whole milk. Sometimes I add a teaspoon of honey to either of these. Sometimes not.
1. Slice up whatever fruit I’m using that week and store in thick plastic tupperware. The fruit is usually pineapple and/or some sort of berry. Eat with Greek yogurt 3xs a week.
2. Pre-measure the muesli dry ingredients and put in small food storage bowls or glass jars. (1/2 c oats, 1/4 cup of dried cranberries and almonds.) Add lids. Keep in cupboard until ready to eat. Pour milk when ready to eat. Whole milk and cranberries add to the sweetness without a ton of extra sugar. The almonds and oats give you a lot of extra fiber. This muesli is very chewy so it will slow you down when eating it.
My usual lunches: 1. Salad four times a week. 2. Vegetarian sandwich once a week or 3. chicken and rice bowl once a week.
1. I make my “salad bar” with pint sized mason jars to keep the vegetables fresh for a solid week.
In the mason jars:
- One bag of mixed greens fills four pint jars.
- Black beans (drained and rinsed), cucumbers (rough chopped), fresh tomatoes (large diced), and red onion (rough chopped).
- Hard boiled eggs, crumbly cheese, and nuts (almonds, walnuts or cashews for me).
- Vinaigrette Dressing. I love balsamic vinaigrette, olive oil and red wine vingaigrette or Trader Joe’s Pear and Champagne Vinaigrette.
When I come home for lunch or need to build a salad to take to work, I just open up each jar and toss what I want on my salad.
2. Vegetarian Sandwich: I have two go-to sandwiches.
Prep: The only thing I prep is anything that needs to be sliced.
- Farmer Sandwich: Multigrain bread, brown mustard on one side, mayo on the other. Sliced apples on the mayo side and sliced cheddar cheese on the brown mustard side. It is based on the old-fashioned Farmer’s Lunch of a hunk of bread, an apple, and a hunk of hard cheese. The mayo gives it a creaminess and the brown mustard, just enough sharpness. They balance the sweet in the apple and the sharpness of the cheddar.
- Cucumber & Avocado Sandwich: Multigrain bread, whipped cream cheese on each side (add any herbs you like, I just use salt and pepper), thick slices of cucumber, half an avocado sliced or mashed, and sprouts in between. It is all the freshness of cucumber tea sandwiches, but with the healthy fats of the avocado and added nutrients of the microgreens. (If you don’t have sprouts, I’ve also used fresh spinach. It works, but I like the sprouts better.
3. Chicken and rice bowls. This is one of the first things I lived on when I was starting to change my diet. I’ve used it less in the summertime than I did in the wintertime, but it is still good for using up some leftover chicken breast from dinners. Slice up 1/3-1/2 a chicken breast, add 1/3-1/2 cup of brown rice*. Heat it up with salt and pepper, a tablespoon of butter or add 2 tablespoons of hummus after you heat it. It is very satisfying and keeps you full a long time.
Prep: slice leftover chicken breast. Steam rice in microwave.
*I use Trader Joe’s frozen brown rice bags to cut down on prep time. It cooks in 3 minutes and you get 3 pouches for $2.69 so they are worth the convenience in my opinion. One pouch gives you about 1.5 cups of rice. Enough for three servings. You can also get frozen rice in steamable bags in the freezer section at other stores.
Okay, this is where it gets tricky because of rehearsals. I’m not normally a snack-eater. So, the first thing I did was acknowledge that I wasn’t going to get in a full dinner meal before rehearsals. So I was going to need a snack to eat before rehearsals. Enter the “Snack Pack”
Snack Prep: Nuts and String Cheese. I took the “Handful of Nuts” pouches from Trader Joes and combined them with a stick of string cheese. It’s about 1/4 cup of mixed nuts with a stick of string cheese in a sandwich bag. I keep them in the refrigerator at work and eat one pack before I leave for rehearsal. I make four packs a week.
And I’ve changed the variety of TJ’s mixed nuts I’ve used each week. This snack gives me some solid protein, healthy fats, fiber, is low in sugar, and is pretty filling in general.
My strategy on dinners was to make it cheap, easy to put in individual food storage containers, and decent to eat when reheated. I wanted a little bit of choice, so I made two different kinds of meals each week, and I didn’t want them to be complicated. Some were healthier than others, because I wanted Jaguar to have options he’d like as well. And since they’re pre-portioned, neither of us is likely to over-do it like we sometimes do when I’m cooking dinner that night.
They all kept in the refrigerator for at least a week. I froze a few items that didn’t get eaten so we can grab them later in the month, if we need to. If it was a very late night, I’d eat maybe half a dinner. Otherwise, these got pulled out after rehearsal and heated with no drama involved!
Here’s a selection of recipes I made and divided up into 3-4 meal-sized portions each.
- Taco Chicken Bowls – Top with a dollop of sour cream or guac. Awesome, basic, totally easy crock pot meal. Makes six servings. Also very low calorie. Serve over brown rice.*
- Easy Weeknight Blackbean Chili – again, serve with brown rice*, sour cream or guac to give it more oomph. Use ground turkey or ground beef – whichever.
- Cheeseburger Pie – super-not-healthy, but it is a classic from the 70s that both Jag and I love. I make it and portion it out in advance so I don’t overdo it. It is insanely easy to make.
- Lime, Cilantro, and Feta Drumsticks – this recipe doesn’t call for the feta, but I add it during the last few minutes of baking because I love feta. Serve with chili seasoned rice and corn**.
- White Bean Chicken Chili– Another super-easy crock pot meal. Great for freezing.
- Chili -seasoned rice and corn: Just a pouch of TJ’s frozen brown rice, half a bag of whole kernel frozen corn (steamed in the microwave), mix together with a dash or two of chili powder and a squeeze of lime juice. Or just use TJ’s Chili-Lime Seasoning.
So, yeah. The summary of the meal prep looks like this:
- Hard-boil eggs for salads
- Make 1 dinner in the crock pot (start it in the morning)
- Make 1 dinner on stovetop or in oven
While dinners are cooking:
- Cut up breakfast fruit
- Measure out breakfast muesli into containers
- Slice anything I need for vegetarian sandwiches or chicken bowls
- Prep salad bar in mason jars
- Prep Snack Packs for week
When the dinners are finished cooking:
- Steam rice and/or corn in science oven.
- Divide dinner components in to small meal portions in food storage containers.
- Label and refrigerate.
The average time for this was about 1 hr. and 30 minutes. Just for the sake of efficiency, I’d also have a load of laundry going during this time.
After food prep is done, I write out my meal plan for the week, so I know what I’m planning to eat each day and don’t have to think about it again. (I do move things around from time to time, but planning in advance takes the decision-making drama out of it.)
If you have any meal-prep hacks, I’d love to hear them! Recipes, too – the easier the better.
Have a good week, y’all!