I’m all about keeping things low-key in the kitchen, but spending about 30 minutes to prep a meal one night can shave time when things get chaotic during the week. My meal prep strategy involves making a component or two on one night and then perhaps another component on a different night. Once I have a few ingredients prepped, I can mix-and-match them on busy nights to quickly and easily create a variety of dishes. Plus, this strategy helps me customize meals for me and my teenage son, who have very different appetites and body-fueling needs. Here are some of my favorite ingredients to prep ahead and how to incorporate them into meals that help you lose weight and stay healthy.
Quinoa is arguably my favorite whole grain since it’s especially rich in protein (about 8 grams per cup) and it provides a slew of other nutrients that we often shortchange in our diets, including fiber, magnesium, and potassium. You can cook it in about 20 minutes total in your Instant Pot or on your stovetop and then use it with different proteins and veggies throughout the week. (Side note: One reason I like using the Instant Pot is because I don’t have to watch things cook or stir them in the middle, which helps with multi-tasking—whether that’s tending to other kitchen stuff or dealing with emails.)
Sometimes I mix chicken, quinoa, and veggies to make a one-dish casserole-style meal, and other times I just serve it as a side dish. I also swap it in for rice in a Chinese-style unfried rice, using frozen or pre-prepped veggies, like broccoli and shredded carrots, along with scrambled eggs and a little sesame oil and soy sauce.
Make a batch of boiled eggs and they’ll stay safe in your fridge for about a week. Having boiled eggs handy means you can always grab a quick, protein-rich snack or meal booster. I often enjoy a boiled egg or two in a spinach salad topped with chickpeas and pine nuts and tossed in a little bit of pesto instead of salad dressing. This is a five-minute meal if you cook the eggs in advance. Boiled eggs are also great on top of avocado toast or in an egg salad. As a snack, I like them paired with a veggie, like red pepper strips or baby carrots.
Fingerling or petite potatoes
These buttery potatoes come in multiple colors, which indicate they have different health-supporting antioxidants. I like using smaller potatoes for a couple of reasons: they cook more quickly and you can right-size portions for different eaters. It’s not necessary to shun carbohydrates completely, but if you want to take charge of how you look and feel, getting a handle on the portions of carbs—which are especially easy to overeat—is a good way to go.
Here’s a fun fact about potatoes and weight loss: Potatoes contain a type of starch (known as resistant starch) and cooling potatoes before you eat them ups this type of starch considerably. Research points to the fact that resistant starch promotes weight loss and also helps your healthy gut bacteria flourish. So consider eating potatoes both hot and cool. Roasted and cooled potatoes are delicious served over arugula with roasted wild salmon or chicken.
A final note on portion sizes here: The right size depends on your goals, body frame, and activity levels, but a portion is considered a half cup.
You can poach and shred chicken on the stove or in an Instant Pot and then use it with different seasonings to create a variety of meals. We like shredded chicken with Stubbs barbecue sauce (a little lower in added sugar) served alongside roasted veggies and fingerling potatoes. Since my teenager and I have very different appetites and needs, I usually serve mine atop a salad with just a few potatoes, while he gets a half plate of veggies and heartier portions of protein and starchy carbs.
As I mentioned, I always have store bought pesto on hand, so another way to go is to toss the shredded chicken in pesto and serve it in whole grain or bean-based pasta with veggies on the side.
If you don’t feel like making the chicken yourself, you could also sub in rotisserie chicken. This is one of my backup plans for busy weeknights! I pull chicken off from the bones (i.e., shred it) and store it in a container to pair with various seasonings, sides, and veggies during the next few days.
If you’re serving a bigger family, you could roast multiple packages of chicken sausage on a sheet pan instead of sautéing them in a skillet. It cooks up quickly and you can have it with sautéed peppers and whole grain pasta one night or in a Greek-style salad with crisp greens, tomatoes, chopped peppers, and feta. Use a scoop of your pre-prepped quinoa to boost satisfaction and nutrition.
Veggies are the most important meal component for both looking and feeling your best. Here’s why: Veggies provide the raw materials your cells need to lower inflammation and protect your cells from aging. This means the nutrients in veggies help support healthy blood sugar and insulin levels and make it easier to take charge of your weight. On top of that, people who eat veggies report feeling smarter and more accomplished—benefits they say they feel immediately.
Depending on how many eaters are in your family, roast a batch or two of veggies every few days to ensure you can fill up on these gems. Some of my favorites are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green beans, and carrots. You can buy any of these pre-prepped at the grocery store to save even more time. Since I Iike to flavor meals with different seasonings and condiments during the week, I stick to extra virgin olive oil and salt when I’m making a batch of veggies.
Serve roasted veggies alongside your protein and starchy carb choices, use them in omelets, toss them in your pasta dishes, or use them to create a quinoa bowl (a meal made with a base of veggies, a scoop of quinoa, and your protein of choice).