Nutrition and Food

Meal Prep Guide for Busy People

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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!

Time & Money Saving Tips for Success

  • Start slow and small. Maybe you’re new to meal prep or even cooking.  It might feel overwhelming at first and it may feel like it takes too long or that it’s not worth it.  It may take a bit longer in the beginning. But as with any new behavior, the more you do it, the better and more time efficient you get at it! Be patient with yourself and find a method that works best for you.
  • Develop S.M.A.R.T. goals. What is a S.M.A.R.T. goal? It’s an achievable goal that is:

Specific (simple, significant).

⇒ Measurable (motivating, meaningful).

⇒ Achievable (attainable).

⇒ Relevant (reasonable, realistic, results-based).

⇒ Time bound (time-based, timely, time-sensitive)

An example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal for meal prep would be:  I will do my meal prep steps on Sundays, including planning, shopping and cooking, and I will meal prep dinners enough for 3 days.  I will start this upcoming Sunday.

Sounds do-able, right?

  • Remember: before choosing your meals, take stock of what you currently have, making sure to use up anything that is reaching expiration. Clip coupons and look at what’s currently on sale at your grocery store.
  • Multitask. Maximize the time you have.  While some of the foods are baking, steaming or boiling, you can chop veggies or blend hummus and sauces.
  • Recipe Apps.  There are even apps that can help you choose recipes based on ingredients you already have.  How cool and helpful is that?

Still feeling confused or overwhelmed about eating healthy with home cooking and meal prep?  Let one of the Registered Dietitian Nutritionists at B. Komplete help to make the process easier for you by contacting admin@bkomplete.com.

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!

Corporate Wellness

How to Avoid a “Food Coma” After Lunch

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So you’ve had a busy morning and it’s time for lunch. For many people, work lunches involve buying food from the company cafeteria, or heading out to one of the many eateries that cater to the workweek lunch crowd. Taking your full lunch break is a great way to decompress and prepare for the work in the afternoon (see our blog on how to do the business lunch healthfully), but there is one outcome every productive worker wants to avoid: the food coma.

The “Food Coma” which is so ubiquitous it was added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online in 2014, is that feeling of sleepiness that overtakes people after a big meal. You may know it by a different name like “the itis,” or “after dinner dip,” but you probably haven’t heard of the technical term: “postprandial somnolence.”  We most commonly think of it happening after big holiday meals (like Thanksgiving) but a food coma after lunch can ruin afternoon productivity. So how can we all prevent the food coma…

Don’t go too big. 

A study in young men tested whether a low or high calorie lunch would have a greater impact on sleepiness during a monotonous drive (don’t worry, the drive was in a simulator). Researchers found that the larger meal caused a much greater lull in attentiveness and trend toward greater sleepiness compared to the smaller meal.

TipPack your lunch the night before, or make sure to exercise your ordering skills at a restaurant to ensure your meal is less calorie dense. Use the Healthy Dining Finder to locate a restaurant with healthy options near you, or check out some of B. Komplete’s healthy ordering tips for business lunches.

Keep those carbohydrates complex. 

One theory for feeling sleepy after meals has to do with the amount and types of carbohydrates we eat. There is evidence that eating easily digestible simple carbohydrates (like white flour and sugary desserts) causes sleepiness by increasing blood sugar and subsequent insulin production. That increase in insulin production happens concurrently with increases in hormones like melatonin which causes sleepiness, and inhibition of orexin neurons which help maintain wakefulness. Multiple studies show greater sleepiness and earlier onset of sleep with meals higher refined and total carbohydrate. 

TipTry to keep your post-meal surge in blood sugar slow and controlled by choosing healthy, complex forms of carbohydrates like whole grains. Also be sure to include plenty of fruits and vegetables that add healthy fiber and slow the digestion of carbohydrate in the gut.

Avoid high fat meals. 

A study done in over 700 Australian men found that those who ate diets higher in fat reported experiencing greater daytime sleepiness than those with lower fat intake.  

TipKeep your lunch light on the grease! Heavier, fatty foods like pizza and burgers might just exacerbate your post-meal lull. Also consider the type of fat you eat. Typical fast food often contains lots of saturated fat, the fat we typically consider less healthy. Instead, choose foods full of healthy unsaturated fats like guacamole, or a salad with a vinegar and olive oil, nuts and seeds.  

Get a good night’s sleep.

The experience of a “afternoon dip” doesn’t have everything to do with your meal. At least some of this post-lunch sleepiness is due to natural fluctuations of your circadian rhythm which can be exacerbated by the content of your meals. However, another major factor for your desire for an afternoon nap? Sleep debt. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans is sleep-deprived and you’re much less likely to feel energized after lunch if you didn’t get enough sleep the previous night. Poor sleep is also associated with poor food choices, which can exacerbate the food coma, creating a vicious cycle…  

TipSet an alarm not just for the morning, but for bedtime and hold yourself to it! Ensuring you get enough sleep will not only help you stake wakeful throughout the workday, but will also help you make healthy food choices at lunch!

It might feel great to take a nap after a satisfying meal, but this isn’t an option when you’re busy at work. Prioritizing healthy, light lunches and adequate sleep at nighttime can help you maintain your productivity and prevent the dreaded food coma.

However, if you’re like many Americans, you have a hectic work day and prioritizing healthful behaviors can be difficult. Check out B.Komplete’s post on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle with a busy schedule!

Nutrition and Food

Organic versus Conventional – Which Should You Choose? Part Two

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Lets continue the conversation on some of the main factors that consumers like you consider when making purchases at the food store. If you didn’t read Part 1 of the series addressing the safety and cost of organic and conventional foods, you can view it here.

Nutrition

Working to improve your health through the food that you eat? Then you want to eat the MOST nutritious versions available, right? It’s more bang for your buck!  The food & nutrition industry has been testing both organic and conventional foods for many years. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a definitive answer of which type is nutritiously superior.  In the early 2000’s, you could find articles that were claiming a significant nutritional disparity between select organic and conventional foods. Only a few years later, there had been new research saying the exact opposite. In 2009, the American Society of Nutrition posted an article  concluding there is no significant difference between organic and conventional foods. Again in 2012, a hotly debated report from Stanford University stated that there is a lack of strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional foods.

 Today’s research deviates from those studies, showing that there IS a nutritional difference in some organic foods. Reports are showing up to 40% higher in antioxidant activity  in organic fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants are comprised of nutrients like Vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids and minerals like selenium and the health benefits of antioxidants are evident.

 What does this mean? It’s apparent that there is more research needed.

 If good health is important to you, then we suggest continuing to choose your favorites until further solid evidence is discovered. Want better nutrition now? Remember VARIETY! Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat meats and dairy will give you a wide spectrum of your daily needed nutrients.

Environmental Impact

Soil erosion, decline in crop production, fertilizer runoff, and pesticide resistance are concerns that some take into account when deciding between organic or conventional foods. The USDA has many resources on how farmers can protect and enhance the environment but there are still problems that worry shoppers.

Scary reports of lake and river “dead zones” occasionally surface after finding considerable deterioration of wildlife and vegetation. This fuels new environmental studies to identify the true offender and will often include testing of new farming techniques and products that can help protect instead of harm.

Consider this: all types of farming impacts the surrounding environment. Organic farms can use natural fertilizers and pesticides that can cause runoff problems. However, the USDA says that organic farming differs from conventional farming because they strive to preserve natural resources and biodiversity with their farming techniques. There also are organizations like the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania that dedicate themselves to researching and testing better ways for American farmers to grow organic foods without harming the environment.

If preserving the environment is important to you, then you may want to consider choosing organic foods. Environment-friendly tip: buy local! As we mentioned in Part 1, think about supporting smaller farms that are local to your home or workplace. This reduces the need to truck food products all over the country, which can produce a considerable amount of fossil fuel emissions.

 Don’t know where to find a local farmer market? Visit here and input your zip code or download an app for your mobile device (we tried Farmstand).

So, What Should You Choose?

The bottom line is that, as a consumer, you have to decide what’s important to you. Whether you’re concerned with safety, cost, nutrition, environmental impact or something else that wasn’t mentioned, you should always choose what’s best for you and your family. Watch for new research on the areas that are important to you. And in the meantime, purchase and eat healthy food that you love!

Photo Credit:

http://abcn.ca/category/diet-exercise/

http://farmersmarketannex.com/fmablog/?p=271

Nutrition and Food

Organic versus Conventional – Which Should You Choose? Part One

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Deception. Misdirection. Imminent Danger. All characteristics of a villain in the next superhero blockbuster, not the emotions we should have when selecting our next meals.

With sensational headlines in modern media and new research claims, it’s not surprising that even the most educated shopper can be infused with doubt over what to place in the cart. Shopping at the market should be a pleasant experience filled with delicious options from which to choose.

Today, there is a wide variety of conventional and organic produce (fruit, vegetables), livestock (meat, dairy, eggs) and multi-ingredient products (breads, pasta, and other processed foods). This is a great success for the US, but it can be very overwhelming for the American consumer.

 Common complications:

  1. We can be inundated with so many choices that it may seem easier to select what was purchased before, without thinking twice.
  2. Organic foods are stigmatized, with some saying that they’re only for the wealthy, for environmentalists, or for parents with young children.
  3. Some food companies have embraced misleading marketing practices to boost sales, touting that their foods are “healthy and natural” or even using “organic” on their packaging. (Other companies are responding to these practices by putting out product lists of their own, encouraging transparency in marketing and making healthy, informed choices.)

Choosing between organic and conventional foods can be an easier decision. In this two-part series, we’ll address some factors that consumers like you consider when making purchases at the store.

Safety

A concern for some shoppers is safety – safety for themselves, for farmers, or for the animals. Understanding the production of both conventional and organic foods can clear up some apprehension.

 Conventional food products are produced by traditional farming practices used by small family farmers to large corporate farms. This can include using chemical pesticides for pest control and synthetic fertilizers to increase growth margins. For livestock, this includes dosing with antibiotics and hormones to help maintain the health of the animals.

 Governing organizations like the USDA and FDA regulate conventional farming practices and inspect food products for wholesomeness, deeming them as safe for consumption. However, government regulation ends there.

 According to the USDA,  organic operations must use only approved substances and avoid man-made fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms. These practices also promote farm worker health, lowering the risk of inhalation or ingestion of harmful substances.  Furthermore, the USDA organic seal on meat, eggs, and dairy products verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.

 If safety is your priority, then organic foods may be the best choice. On the fence? Start with the Environmental Workers Group’s “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen,”  an annual list distributed to educate consumers on pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables.

Cost

One of the key benefits of conventional food products is their wide spread availability in the US. These products can be found in grocery stores, convenience stores, and schools, to name a few. Simple economics of supply and demand as well as generous government subsidies help explain the lower prices of conventional foods.

Typically, organic foods are priced higher than conventionally grown foods, which may be caused by the limited availability of organics. America has seen a significant increase of organic operations since 2002 however, so consumers may begin to see reduced prices on certain foods. 

Consider also the additional fees to the farmers. Farm owners have to pay fees and complete a transition period  before beginning organic operations. To recoup these expenses, additional costs may be incorporated into food prices. Paired with “high-end” public perception and premium upcharges, organic foods will often be more costly than their conventional counterparts.

If you are concerned about cost, then conventional foods may be best. Still like to buy some organic? Here are some money saving tips:  

  1. Purchase discounted organic “seconds” at your local markets when available. 
  2. Visit local farmers who may follow organic practices but save on operational costs by avoiding the USDA certification process. A few specific questions to the farmer may help save you some money. 

Don’t know where to find a local farmer market? Visit here and input your zip code or download an app for your mobile device (we tried Farmstand).

Check back for Part Two of Organic vs. Conventional – What should you choose? We’ll discuss the Nutrition and Environmental Impact of Organic and Conventional foods.