Meal Prep: Learn It, Love It, Live It

When you plan ahead and prepare meals in advance, it’s simple to formulate a diet around whole foods and balanced nutrition.

Rather than calling for take-out, throwing together whatever’s been taking up space in your pantry or – worse yet – stopping at the drive-through window, just set aside a couple hours each week to whip up some easy-to-store-enjoy-anytime recipes. Then, simply heat your creations in the microwave as needed throughout the coming days.

I’ve compiled a list of instructions, along with corresponding visuals, to walk you through the steps of proper meal prep. The recipe below is just one example of a make-ahead meal that’s convenient, satisfying, and completely guilt-free – whether on its own as a filling lunch or as a tasty side dish for dinner.

And here’s more fabulous news: all you need to pull this off are a few basic, fresh ingredients!


  • Step 1: Chop your vegetables of choice (any veggies you have on-hand will work; I used onions, mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes, and corn).

food prep step 1

  • Step 2: Transfer the vegetables into a Tupperware container and store in the fridge while you continue with the remaining prep work.

food prep step 2

  • Step 3: Assemble your seasonings (I used olive oil and garlic) and whole-grain carb (lentils are my go-to, but quinoa or couscous will work too).

food prep step 3

  • Step 4: Rinse off the grains, transfer them into a Teflon pot, and allow them to soak in water for approximately 10 minutes.

food prep step 4

  • Step 5: Place the pot on a stove-top burner and turn the heat on high until boiling, then lower to a simmer and cover, stirring occasionally.

food prep step 5

  • Step 6: Add the seasonings (1 tsp. garlic and 1 tbsp. olive oil), then re-cover and let the mixture simmer for approximately 30 minutes.

food prep step 6

  • Step 7: Once the lentils (or another whole-grain of choice) have softened, add the vegetables you prepped earlier and stir thoroughly.

food prep step 7

  • Step 8: Allow the vegetables to simmer for approximately 10 minutes, then strain this mixture to remove any excess liquid.

food prep step 8

  • Step 9: Transfer the lentils (or another whole grain of choice) into a Tupperware container and store in the fridge until your next meal.

food prep step 9

*** 1 16-oz. package of lentils yields at least a week’s worth of lunches/dinners. ***

My Make-Ahead-Enjoy-Anytime Menu for a Full Day of Healthy Eating

So, what does an entire day of balanced nutrition look like? Let’s break it down meal-by-meal. For example, the following delicious dishes were my breakfast, lunch, and dinner yesterday. Not only did they pass the taste test, but they required minimal effort and used whole food ingredients. Yeah…that’s a win in my book!

Recreate these recipes for 12 hours of only the freshest fuel (that won’t even feel like you’re on a diet).


Breakfast: Apple & Carrot Smoothie

  • Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup rice milk
  2. 1 tbsp. almonds
  3. 1 apple
  4. 1 carrot
  5. 1 tbsp. nut butter
  • Preparation
  1. Peel and chop the apple.
  2. Peel and chop the carrot.
  3. Finely chop the almonds.
  4. Combine all the ingredients in a blender.
  5. Puree until the mixture is smooth

carrot apple smoothie ingredients       carrot apple smoothie   

Lunch: Lighter Cobb Salad

  • Ingredients
  1. 1 egg (hard boiled)
  2. 1 avocado (sliced)
  3. 2 Roma tomatoes (diced)
  4. 1/2 cup corn (off-the-cob)
  5. 1 cup lettuce (shredded)
  6. 1/2 cup chicken (chopped)*
  7. 2 tbsp. bleu cheese (crumbled)**

* If your dietary needs/preferences exclude animal protein, you can easily omit the chicken or use a vegetarian substitute (i.e. tofu or tempeh).

** If your dietary needs/preferences exclude dairy, you can substitute a vegan “cheese” product.

  • Preparation
  1. Boil the chicken (or protein substitute) in 1 cup of water for 15 minutes, or until fully cooked.
  2. Saute the corn, uncovered, on medium-heat for approximately 8-10 minutes.
  3. Hard boil the egg in 1/2 cup of water for approximately 12 minutes (for step-by-step hard boiling instructions, click this link).
  4. While the chicken, corn, and egg are cooking, prep the other ingredients, then set aside.
  5. When the egg has finished cooking, chop it into bit-size slices, then set aside until the chicken is cooked.
  6. Once all the ingredients are ready, arrange the lettuce at the bottom of a salad bowl, then layer the other ingredients on top of the lettuce.
  7. Toss the salad thoroughly so as to evenly distribute everything.

cobb salad   

Dinner: Shrimp, Mango & Avocado Flatbread

  • Ingredients
  1. 2 tbsp. organic orange juice
  2. 1/2 tbsp. lime juice
  3. 2 tsp. organic honey
  4. 1 tsp. orange zest
  5. 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  6. 1 tbsp. plain hummus
  7. 1 piece Stonefire whole-grain naan*
  8. 1/2 pound shrimp (peeled)
  9. 1/2 red onion (thinly sliced)
  10. 1 mango (peeled and chopped)
  11. 1 avocado (peeled and chopped)
  12. 2 tsp. cilantro (finely chopped)
  13. 1 tbsp. peanuts (finely chopped)

* If your dietary needs/preferences exclude gluten, you can substitute this GF naan recipe from Queen of Quinoa.

  • Preparation
  1. In 1/2 tbsp. of olive oil, saute the shrimp on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes, or until fully cooked.
  2. Combine the orange juice, honey, lime juice, and orange juice together in a small bowl.
  3. Whisk the other 1/2 tbsp. of olive oil into this mixture, then toss in the shrimp once they are finished cooking.
  4. Allow the shrimp to marinate in this mixture between 5-10 minutes, then add in the mango, avocado, and onions.
  5. Warm the naan in the oven on 350 degrees F for approximately 5 minutes, or until crispy.
  6. Allow the naan to cool slightly, then spread a thin layer of hummus on the bread.
  7. Drain excess liquid from the marinade, then spoon the shrimp, mango, avocado, and onion mixture on top of the hummus.
  8. Garnish with a few pinches of chopped peanuts and cilantro.

shrimp mango avocado flatbread   

Love Thy Lentil (It’ll Love You Back!)

Lentils are, in short, amazing.

Often hailed among the world’s healthiest foods, these lovely legumes are rich in fiber, protein, iron, potassium, and B vitamins. They have been proven to lower cholesterol, regulate blood-sugar levels, reduce risks of cardiovascular disease, and treat gastrointestinal disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome. Just 1 cup of lentils provides 7 of the body’s essential minerals and maxes out at 230 calories. (Now, I don’t necessarily advocate counting calories, but the point is lentils are ideal for those looking to manage their weight).

If you’re not yet familiar with the lentil’s nutritional benefits, tender meaty texture, woodsy flavor, and appetite-satisfying heartiness, then here’s a recipe you need to try. This is my mom’s creation, and she recently taught me how to make it when I moved into my own apartment. Easy to whip up, absolutely delicious, and convenient to store in the fridge for anytime you don’t feel like cooking, this dish gets my seal of approval.


Ingredients:

1 cup lentils (I prefer red, but you can also use either the green or yellow variety)

1 cup carrots (finely chopped)

3 stalks green onion (finely chopped)

1 1/2 ounces crumbled bleu cheese (I add this for creaminess, but if your dietary needs exclude dairy, shredded vegan “cheese” will work too)

6 cups water (3 cups for prepping lentils, and 3 cups for cooking lentils)

Preparation:

1. Pour 1 cup of lentils into a strainer (make sure to use a strainer with small holes) and rinse them off in the sink.

2. Transfer the lentils into a large stainless steel or teflon pot, then pour 3 cups of water into the pot.

3. Set the pot aside on your counter top and let the lentils soak for 1 hour.

4. When the hour is up, run the lentils back through the strainer (they should have expanded in size).

5. Transfer the lentils back into the pot, then pour in another 3 cups of water.

6. Heat the lentils and water on a large burner and bring to a rolling boil.

7. While the water is boiling, chop the carrots and green onion into fine slices.

8. When the lentils have softened, lower the heat to a simmer and add the chopped veggies.

9. Stir the mixture, then cover and let simmer on the lowest setting for 1 hour.

10. When the hour is up, taste the lentils and veggies to ensure softness (if they are still tough, bring back to a boil).

11. Once the water has absorbed, add the bleu cheese crumbles (optional) and stir thoroughly.

Serving Suggestion:

This savory recipe can be enjoyed as a filling and nutritious meal in itself for lunch. Or, serve it as a side dish for dinner along with sauteed chicken, fish, or tofu (for all you vegetarians out there) and a fresh spinach salad.

Image   

And here’s how my first attempt turned out.

Bon appetit!