Nutrition and FoodPreventionStress Management and Mental Health

Meal Prep Guide for Busy People

A lack of time and a busy schedule are some of the reasons why people don’t cook and order take-out. These habits can cost us money and health.  In comparison, people who eat home-prepared meals have a healthier diet, consume fewer calories and are less likely to gain weight! [1-3] And for those with conditions like high blood pressure – which is about ⅓ of American adults – meal prep can help create delicious and healthy meals that are lower in sodium and higher in potassium.

What’s the solution? Well, you guessed it (hint: it’s in the title) – Meal Prep.  There are numerous benefits to meal prep and planning that include saving time and money, maintaining a healthy weight, gaining a nutritious diet, and reducing stress that comes with rushing and having to make last minute meal decisions.  

Meal planning is the key to success
for a nutritious diet.

But if lack of time is the main reason we don’t cook, then you must be thinking, how would meal prep fit into your busy schedule? This post will discuss ways to make meal planning simple, easy and work for you!

Step 1: Set yourself up for success

Lists and Planning

Create a list of healthy recipes you and your family will like.  Use a calendar or spreadsheet to organize meals and shopping lists. “What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl” is a wonderful free resource to browse recipes, save them and even add ingredients directly to a shopping list associated with your account.

Use whatever method works best for you.  Here at B.Komplete, we love our Meal Prep Formula for planning healthy, balanced meals. It’s also helpful for understanding portions.

5-day Meal Prep Chart
For 400 and 550 Calorie Options
Formula: (1 grain) + (1 Veg) + (1 Meat/Seafood/Veg protein) + (1 Fat)
Grain/Starch Choices
400 cal = ½c cooked
550 cal = 1c cooked
Vegetable Choices
1 c cooked
Protein Choices
Fat Choices
1 Tbsp per 2-3 protein choices
Protein
400 cal = 4oz
550 cal = 6oz
Seafood
400 cal = 4oz
550 cal = 6oz
Vegetarian
400 cal = 4oz
550 cal = 6oz
Black Rice
400 cal: 1c uncooked = 3c cooked
550 cal: 2c uncooked = 6c cooked
Cauliflower and Broccoli
Prepare 2.5 cups each
Grilled Chicken Breasts with Garlic + Rosemary
400 cal: Prepare 5-4 oz breasts
550 cal: Prepare 5-6 oz breasts
Wild Salmon with Lemon, Capers and Thyme Grilled Tofu with Turmeric and Smoked Paprika
400: Prepare 2.5c
550 cal: ~3.75 cups
Olive Oil (good for sauteing)
Brown Rice
400: 3/4c uncooked = 2.5c Cooked
550: 1.5 Cup Uncooked = ~ 5 Cups Cooked
Carrots and Green Peas
Prepare 2.5c each
Grilled Chicken with Ground Ginger
400: Prepare 5 – 4 oz. breasts
550: Prepare 5 – 6 oz. breasts
Wild Salmon with McCormick Salmon Seasoning Chick peas with Olives and Basil
400: Prepare 2.5c 
550: Prepare 3.75c
Canola Oil (All Purpose)
Quinoa
400: 1c uncooked = 3c cooked
550: 2c uncooked = 6c cooked
Asparagus
Prepare 5 Cups for Each
Baked Lemon and Parmesan Chicken
400: Prepare 5 – 4 oz. breasts
550: Prepare 5 – 6 oz. breasts
Baked Red Snapper with Black Pepper, Garlic, and Parsley Lentils with Basil, Sun-dried Tomato and Oregano
400: Prepare 2.5c 
550: Prepare 3.75c
Avocado Oil (Good for Grilling and Roasting)

 

 

Instructions on using the Meal Prep Formula Chart: cook the amount shown under the chosen item within each food group to then have enough meals for 5 days.

Examples of 400 calorie meals using the above formula  (1 grain) + (1 Veg) + (1 Meat/Seafood/Veg protein) + (1 Fat)
  • ½ cup Black rice, 1 cup carrots and green peas (prepared with canola oil), 4 oz grilled chicken with ground ginger
  • ½ brown rice, 1 cup asparagus (sauteed with olive oil) 4 oz wild salmon with lemon, capers and thyme
  • ½ cup quinoa, 1 cup cauliflower and broccoli (roasted with avocado oil), 4 oz grilled tofu with turmeric and smoked paprika

Now it’s your turn! Create your own table to breeze through your week with the magic of meal prep.  If this seems complicated, we have you covered.  Schedule a meal-prep planning session with one of our Registered Dietitians.  

Tools and Supplies

Make sure you have all the tools you’ll need for prepping, cooking, and storage.

  • Large pots and saute pans, large baking/roasting sheet pans
  • Cooking utensils, knives, measuring cups
  • Large casserole dish
  • Meal prep’s best friend is a slow-cooker: Crock-Pot or Instant Pot.
  • Food Processor
  • Food containers to maximize convenience and minimize hassle.  Glass containers are a great option. When choosing containers, consider ones that are:
    • Reusable and dishwasher safe, and microwaveable safe if planning to heat
    • Well sealed to prevent leaks if there are liquids, such as salad dressings added to your meal
    • Able to keep food odors locked in
    • Easy to use and portable
    • BPA-free

Step 2: Schedule day(s) of the week

Choose which day(s) you will 1) plan your menu and meals, 2) write out a grocery list, 3) grocery shop, and 4) cook and prepare the meals. This may be done all in the same day or broken up between a couple days. Do whatever is manageable for you!

Step 3: Plan your menu and meals for the week (or month!)  

First, take inventory of your fridge, freezer and cupboard.  Try to use up leftovers and ingredients you already have — focus on utilizing items about to expire — because you don’t waste food.

Another hassle-free (and fun!) idea is to follow themed meal days such as: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Breakfast for Dinner Wednesday, Stir Fry Friday, Slow Cooker Saturday, or pick your favorite meal for [insert favorite dish here] Sunday. Themed meals takes the guesswork out and you can choose any day of the week to schedule it a theme.  Need help making sure you are choosing healthy recipes? Check out the Healthy Eating Plate as a simple reference on eating nutritiously. Or schedule a counseling session with one of our B.Komplete Registered Dietitians.

Step 4: Grocery list & shopping

Plan to scale up the recipe so that it will last you a couple days of dinner and/or lunch, or freeze to have another week.  Again, making sure to account for items you already have on hand, create a grocery list. And then, go grocery shopping! Another benefit of using a grocery list is that it will help save time and money and reduce impulse purchases!

You can use already formatted lists like this one to the right (which you can type directly into it, or print it out to hand-write). Another fantastic option is to use a note keeping app for your phone or computer like Google Keep.

Step 5: Meal prep time

There is no one method. You can cook and assemble the entire meal or just prep some of the ingredients (eg. chopping veggies, cooking rice and pasta).

Methods
  • Buffet-Style. Prepare ingredients separately, protein, veggies, grains and mix-match in meals throughout the week. The meal prep formula table above is a wonderful tool to assist with this style of meal prep.
    • Ideas: Steam or roast few of your favorite veggies, cook some rice or quinoa, and bake chicken or salmon.  Mix-and-match ingredients for a balanced and nutritious dinner.
  • No-cook assembly. This is a great option when using a slow-cooker.  Chop ingredients and throw together in a container or freezer bag to store in fridge or freezer.   Then when you are ready to prepare the meal, just empty the bag into crock-pot. Easy peasy.
    • Ideas for no-cook assembly (and batch-cooking): veggie chili, stews and soups
  • Batch-cooking.  Basically, this when you prepare larger quantities of food to last several meals/days. With this method, you’ll cook the entire meal — so when 6:00 PM on Wednesday rolls around, you just heat and eat.

Step 6: Storage

Storage is the final step (before eating!) and is critical to maximizing the benefits of meal prep — and important in food safety too.  Make sure you have plenty of large containers if you plan on batch-cooking.  Other necessities include large freezer bags, and containers in a variety of sizes.

When prepping lunches, portion meals into containers you can just grab and go during the week.  It’s a sure way to enjoy a good lunch break during a busy work day!

Written by Meghan E. Smith, Dietetic Intern

Leave us a comment below and tell us how you incorporate meal prep into your week or share your S.M.A.R.T. goal!

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