Meal Prep Doesn’t Have to be Boring.
If you were to ask anyone that makes health and fitness a priority in their life their top 5 habits for success, I can guarantee meal prep would be one of them for everyone.
Meal prepping allows you to control exactly what goes in your food, the quality of the ingredients, and the amounts of everything. A crucial part of staying healthy and reaching any fitness goal.
Of course that’s not to say there’s no room for eating out in a healthy lifestyle, of course there is, but the foundation should be 85% home-cooked goodness.
But when most people think of meal prep, they think of chicken breast nestled next to rice nestled next to broccoli. Or some other bland combination of foods.
This just doesn’t have to be the case.
Italian meatballs with oreganata sauce and zoodles (or pasta), Pumpkin chicken curry with basmati rice or naan, sweet and savory Korean ground beef stir fry, Tandoori chicken, Thai red curry chicken, Shepherds pie, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, Greek chicken Souvlaki with tzatziki and lavash bread…
These are typical meal preps that I make. I make 5 servings of 4 separate entrees, totaling 20 meals.
Including planning, shopping, preparing, cooking, and cleaning, this takes about 4 hours (depending on how far your grocery store is away) so you can do it all in a free morning or evening.
It may seem like a big time investment, but when you consider the ROI (return on investment) when it comes to your health and fitness goals, its really a no-brainer.
Step 1: Planning
The first step to any meal prep is obviously planning. For our purposes, we’re going to be planning out 4 separate dishes with 4 to 6 servings each.
Planning is honestly the hardest part. Finding or thinking of recipes, getting together your shopping list, and going to the grocery store. This is my least favorite part.
For recipes, just use good ol’ google. You can find a recipe that looks tasty, and you can generally make it lower calorie (if you need to) with a few simple tweaks. Full fat cream cheese for greek cream cheese, light coconut milk for full fat, etc.
You could also check out my recipe books or free recipes section of my website. My recipe books have a MyFitnessPal barcode for each recipe so you can easily scan in a serving!
I use the greek cream cheese to add a creaminess to so many dishes. It has the perfect amount of tang, not too strong like greek yogurt, and adds a beautiful amount of creaminess.
Important: To accomplish meal prepping 4 separate dishes in an efficient way, I advise (and I do this myself) finding four recipes with separate cooking methods. I.e. I generally choose one baked dish, one pressure cooked or slow cooked dish, one stew/soup dish, and one sauteed dish.
I like to make this simple and make each prep have roughly 2 to 2.5lb of lean meat, and then adjust the number of servings based on how big or small you need them to be.
For example, for my Italian meatballs I use 2.5lb of 93/7 ground beef, and this results in 4 portions for me since Im currently a 225lb male. For the sake of simplicity, you can use 2.5lb as well, but this may be 6 or 7 portions for you. Or 3 if you’re much bigger than I am.
As I said before, look online for tasty recipes, and then scale the meat amount up to 2-2.5lb of meat, and the rest of the ingredients as well for meal prep.
If you want to count calories, you can go to the recipes section of MyFitnessPal, create a new recipe, and put in each of the ingredients and how many servings you want it to be.
Step 2: Prepping
For the sake of teaching, I’m going to be going through preparing Italian meatballs with zoodles, pumpkin chicken curry, BBQ pulled pork, and Korean ground beef stir fry. This is one pressure cooked, one baked, one stewed, and one sauteed.
I won’t be going into the exact details of how to prepare each recipe, as it would be overbearing. This post is just on meal prep strategy to be as efficient as possible.
First step: Preparing cooking containers to place vegetables and meats before cooking. Then vegetable chopping for all recipes. Go through each recipe and see what you need vegetable wise to chop. In this case, these recipes aren’t super vegetable intensive.
In this case, the vegetables needed are:
- Italian meatballs: One whole garlic bulb and one sweet onion
- Pumpkin chicken curry: 15 oz mushrooms (canned preferable) and 2 large carrots
- BBQ pulled pork: 5 garlic cloves and 1 large sweet onion
- Korean ground beef: 2 large carrots, 1 red onion, 1/4 red cabbage, 4 garlic cloves, 2.5 tbsp fresh ginger, 1 red bell pepper, 1.5 heads broccoli
Now, I normally go ahead and get out the necessary cooking containers or spots to put the vegetables as I’m chopping them.
This is kind of how it would look:
- Have the bowl I’m going to mix the meatballs in ready, the pot that I’m going to be stewing the curry in, the instant pot insert, and another large sauce pot (I do my sautee’s in a sauce pot in order to cook an extremely large batch).
- Have two whole bulbs of garlic out. Mince one whole bulb, that goes into the meatball bowl mix. Mince 5 cloves from another, and right into the instant pot. Mince 4 cloves from another, and right into the Korean dish pot.
- Next would be onions. I get my 2 large sweet onions and 1 red onion. I mince the first onion for the meatballs and into the bowl it goes. Chop the second two for the curry and korean ground beef respectively, and into the pots they go.
- Etc..etc..Repeat with all vegetables until all the pots are filled with them.
The next thing I usually do is decide the order I’m going to finish everything in.
I normally start with weighing the factors of “easiest to get started” vs. “length of cooking”. If you have a recipe that takes a long time to cook and is also low maintenance to get started, go with that first.
For me, this would be pulled pork. It’s going to be about 90 minutes in the pressure cooker and doesn’t take a large amount of effort to get going.
After this, I like to go with the dish with the second longest cooking time, which would be the curry (also fairly low maintenance to get started).
After this, I choose to work on the meatballs since they have an untouched time baking in the oven where I can focus on the final dish – the korean ground beef.
Step 3: Commence cooking!
As I said above, pork comes first.
- Chop the loin or butt into a few big chunks and put the rub on. Move the onions and garlic that are in the instant pot to the side and put the pork in there. Put in all other ingredients and get it going.
Easy peazy. Pork is on, next is pumpkin chicken curry.
- Chop the chicken into chunks, put it in the sauce pot with the vegetables already in there. Pour in a bit of oil and start to saute until the chicken is browned on the outside. Once that happens, put all the other ingredients into the pot (in this case, pumpkin puree, chicken broth, various spices). Cover and simmer for 45 min – 1 hr.
Chicken curry is going! Alright. Next up, meatballs.
- At this point I preheat the oven to 425. I put all the rest of the ingredients into the bowl for the meatballs (in this case panko breadcrumbs, parmesan, eggs, parsley, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, almond milk, and meat). Mix it up, form into meatballs, put on a tray and into the oven.
And meatballs are in. Set a timer to check on them in 12 minutes. At this point, give the curry a few stirs.
- Finally, we have the Korean ground beef stir fry. I go ahead and make the sauce (soy sauce, brown swerve, cornstarch, rice vinegar, chili garlic paste) in a small bowl. Put a bit of oil into the vegetables that are already in the pot and start sauteeing the vegetables.
- Give the curry a few stirs.
- Once the vegetables for the korean dish are tender-crisp, take them out of the pot and put them in a separate bowl. Put the beef in the pot and start to cook the beef.
- Since you have about 2 to 2.5lb of beef cooking in the pot, you’re going to have a lot of liquid released. About halfway through the cooking of the ground beef, I like to use a top to pour off the excess liquid from the beef and continue cooking.
- Give the curry a few stirs.
- Once the beef is browned, I like to add the vegetables back to the pot to finish it off.
- Add in the sauce, mix thoroughly.
Korean ground beef is done. Meatball timer probably went off while you were cooking the korean dish, so those are done. The curry might be done or is very close to being done. And the pork is most likely done too.
Adapting to Other Combinations of Dishes
What if you’re not making exactly the above?
As I said earlier, I like to choose recipes that have differing cook times from long to short. And differing cooking mediums such as one baked, one stewed, one pressure cooked, and one sauteed.
Take these things into consideration when deciding the order you’re going to prepare the dishes:
- Cooking time. Prepare in order of longest cooking time to shortest. Generally, those with longer cooking times are lower maintenance during the cooking (pressure cooked, slow cooked, baked, stewed).
- Amount of maintenance while the dish is cooking. If you need to constantly baste something, or constantly stir as in a stir fry, save those dishes for last. High maintenance dishes are generally the fastest to cook as well.
- Amount of effort to get going. I like to go ahead and get the smallest effort/longest cooking time done first.
And that’s that. Hope this post helps your next meal prep!