Do you have more on your plate than usual right now? I don’t mean your literal plate! I mean your to-do list! Whenever you’re under more pressure than usual, managing ordinary chores, like getting a meal on the table, can feel overwhelming. The added stress can quickly throw off healthy routines because easier options, like takeout, are usually less healthful. But let’s face it: Chinese delivery isn’t a long-term solution! Here are some easy meal prep ideas to keep you sane this season or whenever your stress levels start to climb.
1. Keep your freezer full of frozen produce
One of the biggest hassles of meal prep is all the washing, chopping, slicing, and dicing that needs to be done. You can eliminate this hassle completely by stocking frozen fruits and veggies. Frozen fruit is a no-brainer in smoothies, but it’s also great in oatmeal, yogurt parfaits, and even warmed and served with some granola on top as a shortcut fruit crumble. (Email me if you want an easy cherry crumble recipe using frozen fruit.)
And frozen veggies will literally save you from a mid-week grocery haul when you’ve run out of fresh produce. Plus, frozen veggies won’t rot in your fridge when you make last-minute plans or order in because you aren’t in the mood to cook.
Frozen veggies and fruit are as nutritious as fresh and ones and a recent study found that while 90% of Americans fall short of their needs, those who eat these frozen gems eat more produce than those who don’t keep their freezers stocked. (1) These nutritional powerhouses are also linked to better diet quality, with higher levels of key nutrients, such as fiber, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D, but a lower intake of sodium (which most people overdo).
It takes about two to three minutes to heat up a heaping plate of frozen broccoli, spinach, or green beans and clean up is a breeze! You can season frozen veggies any way you like, but some of my favorite ways are to toss veggies like broccoli and spinach in store-bought pesto and to sprinkle parmesan and nuts (like slivered almonds or chopped walnuts or pecans) over green beans.
2. Embrace shortcut grains
It’s not overly complicated to cook quinoa or brown rice, but if you have better things to do with your time than to stand and watch a pot come to a boil and then watch your grains simmer for up to 30 minutes, you might want to take advantage of these timesavers. You can find frozen or parboiled whole grains, such as quinoa and brown rice, in every major market and unlike ordinary grains, they take just 1 ½ minutes to cook. This easy meal prep idea just saved you 28 1 /2 minutes, which you can use any way you like!
By the way, if you’ve never tried a side of savory oats, you might enjoy this easy meal prep risotto hack: Cook oats in vegetable or chicken broth and stir with veggies and seasonings, like mushrooms, garlic, and thyme. Oats take about a quarter of the time that other grains take to cook so they’re a good backup plan when you’re running late.
3. Have a meatless meal
There’s pretty much nothing easier than opening up a can of beans so when things are more chaotic than usual, consider swapping a night of cooking chicken or beef for a night of rinsing beans and kicking your feet up. Does the family want tacos? Try using some black refried beans in place of the usual filling. (These Thrive Market Organic Refried Black Beans are a winner in my house.) Or throw together a nourish bowl with some quick-cooking grains, frozen veggies, and canned chickpeas. Another easy meal prep idea: Pour some canned chickpeas and a scoop of hummus over some pre-washed salad greens. Add a scoop of quick-cook quinoa or brown rice, some Italian or Greek seasoning, and some kalamata olives. If you have a minute more, chop up some cucumber and tomato to add to the mix.
4. Hack a healthy frozen entree
Frozen meals have come a long way so if you haven’t had one in a while, you might be in for a nice surprise. These days, many brands offer an assortment of interesting meals made with a whole grain base and a controlled amount of sodium. If the thought of easy meal prep makes your heart race a little faster, having a meal like this can help you minimize meal prep stress while offering a healthier option than most takeout and delivery food. Take a look at my blog post on the best healthy frozen entrees to get my picks plus some ways to make these meals a little heartier and more satisfying.
5. Have a plan that includes takeout
You read that right. In some cases, easy meal prep actually means getting takeout or delivery food. The prep part means that you’ve done a little planning—in other words, you know some area restaurants that offer healthy food and you know the menu well enough so that you can place an order without triggering decision fatigue.
You’ve likely experienced decision fatigue even if you’re not sure what it is. Essentially, you make hundreds upon hundreds of daily decisions—about food, work, life, what to wear, etc.—and it’s exhausting for your brain. At the end of the day (and sometimes even sooner), your brain is tired of making all those decisions. When you experience decision fatigue, it’s pretty common to throw in the towel and just make the easiest choice, and when it comes to food, this may not be the healthiest option. But knowing this and planning for it when you aren’t so wiped out means you’re prepared for those times that you need something even simpler than easy meal prep.
Some of my favorite healthy delivery and takeout options include: the salad bowl at Chipotle, chicken kebabs and Israeli salad at a Greek or Mediterranean restaurant, and veggie-packed omelets. You can get more tips for ordering healthy takeout and delivery meals in this blog post.
6. Delegate the protein portion of your meal.
This is one of the ways I stay sane and keep meal prep easy on a routine basis. Roasting a tray of veggies doesn’t feel that difficult—especially if you have the time-saving, pre-washed and cut varieties on hand. And, as I’ve already shared, there are plenty of options for easy-to-heat whole grains. But the protein—chicken, fish, beef—is what requires some work. First, you have to remember to defrost it, then you have to season it, and so on.
Let’s face it: You don’t always have the time or energy to deal with all that! On these occasions, lean on the easy meal prep ideas for your veggies and grains and go with pre-cooked protein instead. There are so many ways to delegate this! If you delegate the task to your supermarket, you’ll find many healthy options, including rotisserie chicken, poached shrimp, pre-grilled chicken breasts, sliced, roasted turkey, ready-to-heat turkey burgers, and sometimes even roasted salmon. (Pro tip: Whole Foods usually has this.)
You can also consider delegating the task to a restaurant or quick casual chain where you may be able to buy just the protein portion rather than a complete meal. I’ve found I can buy kebabs from several Mediterranean spots, grilled chicken breasts from a local Cuban casual chain, and various protein sources from quick casual restaurants, like Dig Inn and Little Beet (In the NYC area). What might you discover in your area? If you need help with this task, schedule a complementary call to learn more about my menu planning packages. Because nothing makes meal prep easier than delegating it to someone else! 😜
If you want some rotisserie chicken recipes, you can grab my free recipe booklet with 5 healthy recipes to make with a rotisserie chicken.
7. Don’t forget about eggs.
Eggs are about the quickest and most convenient source of protein and when weeknights (or any night) feel like a scramble, they can be the perfect meal prep plan. You can elevate an ordinary egg scramble by adding some store-bought pesto or salsa and then serve your them with a simple side of pre-washed salad greens or a generous serving of frozen veggies. A side of whole grain toast or savory oatmeal is all you need to complete this meal.
Shakshuka is one of my all-time favorite easy meal prep recipes because all you have to do is pour some no-added-sugar jarred marinara sauce into an oven ready skillet, simmer over low heat, and then crack open some eggs into the sauce and bake. You can take this meal up a notch by adding baby spinach or another veggie to the sauce and when baked, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to the finished dish. It’s also delicious with a sprinkle of parm or crumbled feta.
There’s nothing worse than feeling stressed about life in general and then feeling like meal prep is going to put you over the edge. I hope these easy meal prep ideas come in handy this holiday season or any time your stress levels start to rise. Since the holidays are hectic for everyone, feel free to forward this email to anyone you know who could use some easy and healthy meal prep inspiration!
Stay happy and healthy, my friends!