Meal prepping is an excellent way to keep your goals, time and budget on track. By planning and prepping your meals ahead of time, you’ll have less to do prior to each meal and less time-consuming meal preparation each day. Plus, prepping lets you plan meals in a smart way, to help you keep your grocery lists within your budget.
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Additionally, meal prep can aid your overall health, by helping you plan healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Want to get started? This guide to healthy meal prep will help!
What Are the Benefits of Healthy Meal Prep?
If you’re serious about sticking to a healthy diet, not just for weight control, but for overall health, our healthy meal prep ideas are perfect for you. Planning and prepping your meals ahead of time helps leave the guesswork out of each meal, and lessens the risk of temptation and getting “hangry”.
The creators of Tone It Up, a healthy lifestyle blog, encourage people to use meal prepping to maintain a healthy diet. Meal prepping ahead of time not only gives you the opportunity to plan healthy meals but it also frees up time through the week for you to focus on other important areas of a healthy lifestyle, like exercise and stress-reducing activities.
New to meal prepping? Check out our meal prep 101 guide!
Choosing Healthy Foods
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlines several key steps toward creating a healthy diet, and suggests incorporating at least six of its nutrition goals into your diet. Take baby steps to change your diet, and do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable. As you become more aware of what works for your body, you can slowly make more changes.
When you specifically focus on healthy meal prepping, there are specific things you should add into your diet to make sure each meal is well-balanced. This will help improve your overall health and will bring you closer to your fitness and health goals. The following is a general guide to healthy additions you should consider when planning your meals:
- At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. If possible, stick to whole grains all the time, like whole grain pastas, breads, and rice. Think outside the pasta box and consider amaranth, barley, wheat berries, quinoa, teff, buckwheat or other whole grains. To ease yourself (or your family) into the whole grain habit, start by mixing half and half- for example mix half whole grain pasta with half white pasta. Blending can help get you used to the nuttier, chewier whole grains.
- Half your plate should contain fruits and/or vegetables. Color is key to a healthy plate, so the more colorful it is, the better! Keep in mind eating seasonally will not only mean cheaper produce, but also more flavorful and nutrient rich produce.
- Eat a variety of proteins in your diet. Try to use several lean proteins per week, like nuts, seeds, yogurt, poultry, and seafood. Fortunately, there are new healthy chicken meal prep ideas cropping up on the internet all the time, so you’ll never run out of ways to prep this healthy mainstay!
- Focus on healthy fats- oils, avocados, nuts and seeds, eggs and fatty fish are all great sources of fats that will help fill you up, provide important nutrients and keep you at a healthy weight.
When it comes to nourishing your body, every meal matters. For different people “healthy” can look different, all of our bodies are different and respond differently to different foods. There is no “one size fits all” healthy diet.
Low carb, Whole 30, vegan, vegetarian and any combination thereof can be done it a healthy and sustainable manner. What it really boils down to, in the end, when it comes to a healthy diet is being able to stick to it. If you have a diet that makes you feel restricted or prevents you from eating foods you truly love, you likely won’t stick with it. Therefore, it’s important to prep meals that are healthy, but in a fulfilling and balanced way that works for you.
Healthy Breakfast Meal Prep Ideas
Breakfast has long been known as the most important meal of the day. It provides your body with much-needed energy and balances your blood sugars, which have a lot of control over your weight. In fact, breakfast eaters tend to have healthier habits overall than non breakfast eaters and they are less likely to get ravenously hungry (read: overeat) later. To get the most out of this mighty meal, it’s important to plan a balanced breakfast complete with protein, complex carbs, healthy fats and fruits and vegetables.
Eggs are a great way to include protein at breakfast, try hard boiling some to have on hand for breakfast throughout the week or scramble some eggs, pair with sauteed veggies and beans and wrap it all into a whole grain tortilla for a great grab-and-go breakfast that you can nuke and eat in the car or at your desk.
Try preparing a large batch of oatmeal- or amaranth or quinoa, or mix them all together for a mega-cereal- to have throughout the week, and add different “mix-ins” each day, like yogurt, nuts or nut butter, raisins, apples, or bananas. Or, go savory with your oatmeal (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!) and add some sauteed veggies and a fried or hard-boiled egg. Another awesome idea?
Make your own freezer waffles or pancakes. While you’re serving up your favorite whole grain (buckwheat! whole wheat!) pancakes on the weekend make a second batch, cook’em up and bag ’em (along with some nut butter and fresh fruit) separately for each day of the week for a convenient, on-the-go breakfast. They pack all the goodness your body needs to get going- protein and healthy fats from the nut butter, complex carbs from the fruit and whole grains and, of course, fruit!
A few ideas to get you started:
Quinoa Egg Breakfast Muffins
Easy Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole
SIMPLE VEGAN OMELET
From Minimalist Baker
Healthy Lunch Meal Prep Ideas
Lunch is all about re-fueling your body after your morning energy starts to ebb (although if you’ve properly prepped your breakfast we are betting it won’t happen for hours!). A healthy lunch should have plenty of vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy fats, protein and carbs to keep your energy flowing.
To make a salad more filling pack it with whole grains like wheat berries, quinoa or brown rice, or protein and fiber packed beans or lentils and the heart healthy fats of your favorite nuts. You can cook your whole grains and cut up your veggies at the beginning of the week and mix and match to create epic salads all week long.
Not a fan of the tried and true salad? How about a sandwich: a whole-grain tuna sandwich with lettuce and tomato is a perfect lunch choice, and a large batch of tuna can keep for a few days in the refrigerator.
Slice any meats or cheese, prep tuna or chicken salad, prepare any spreads like hummus or pesto ahead of time, but wait until the day of to cut the tomato and put the sandwich together.
Soups, stews and pastas can all be great choices as well- make them in bulk ahead of time and refrigerate or even freeze in seperate containers and for an easy to grab lunch all throughout the week.
Start planning your lunches with these tasty and healthy ideas:
cajun honey chicken bowls
From The Weary Chef
MASON JAR HEALTHY TACO SALAD
From Food Faith Fitness
RATATOUILLE BARLEY SALAD
From Sprouted Kitchen
Healthy Snack Ideas for your Food Prep Day
Because, let’s face it, snacks are life. And when you’re energy levels start to droop as they always, mysteriously, seem to do at that magical 3 o’clock hour and you find your mind wandering to the break-room where you know there were donuts this morning and wondering if there are any left and, really, it would be such a shame if they just got thrown away… it’s important to have something healthy to help get you over that hump.
To keep your snacks from de-railing your best efforts to eat healthy, plan ahead and do some meal… er, snack prepping- pack a snack that has at least 2 food groups and is around 200 calories. As in, don’t just grab a carb heavy muffin or you’ll be in that break-room wondering where all the donuts went and why your hands and face are covered in chocolate icing faster than you can say “carbohydrates”. Try string cheese with an apple, brown rice cakes with nut butter, popcorn (a whole grain!) with nuts or yogurt with granola.
Healthy Dinner Meal Prep
Most people eat their biggest meal at dinner, although this can be an unhealthy habit- your heavier meals should fall at breakfast and lunch when you need the energy (calories). Chances are your biggest need for calories comes before dinner, not after.
So keep your dinner portion controlled with an emphasis on balance. Your dinner prep should, once again, focus on healthy fats, protein (try to keep it to about 3-4 ounces), complex carbs like whole grains, sweet potatoes, beans or other legumes and, of course, plenty of veggies!
Grill, roast, bake, or steam fish, chicken, or other lean protein early in the week and throw them into stir-fries, soups or stews, or serve reheated with a side of roasted veggies and brown rice. Cook them once and then re-purpose them and enjoy them in a variety of ways throughout the week. Beans, lentils and other
Beans, lentils and other legumes as well as most grains will also hold up for several days in the fridge or freezer. Make them plain and season them to fit whatever flavor profile you’re working with that night.
Many vegetables will also stay fresh for several days, cut veggies that won’t go bad ahead of time and separate them into bags per meal, for quick, convenient meal preparation. Keep your prepped veggies fresh until they start to get a little wilty then toss ’em on a sheet pan and throw them in the oven to get all roasty toasty- not only does this completely change the flavor of your veggies, but you’ll also get a few more days of dinner meal prep out of them.
And never, never, never underestimate the time saving and delicious value of a crock-pot. Never. Does meal prep get any easier that tossing everything into a crock-pot and walking away only to return to a perfectly cooked meal and a kitchen that smells like heaven?
Give these ideas a try:
Freezer-to-Crockpot Chicken Fajitas
Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli
From Well Plated
EASY SLOW COOKER CHICKEN TACO SOUP
From Kristine’s Kitchen
Healthy Meal Delivery Services
There are several companies that focus specifically on healthy meal prep. Depending on your budget, they can be extremely useful in helping you cut even more time out of your week deciding on the meals to prepare. In fact, these companies do all the hard work for you, like putting together ingredients to create fantastic meals each day of the week. All you have to do is cook and eat them!
Blue Apron is currently giving 3 free meals with your first purchase!
But, they can be costlier than creating healthy meal plans yourself. Meal prep delivery services are extremely convenient, but they simply may not be in the budget for many people.
To find out if a meal prep company is the best choice for you, consider the following:
- How many people do you have to feed? The costs rise with the more servings you need.
- How much do you spend on groceries now? Are the meal service costs comparable? Many are, but it depends on your specific budget.
- Does the company provide a variety of foods you like to eat? If not, much of it will be going to waste, and so will your money.
- What is your comfort level when it comes to deciphering nutrition information? If you have a difficult time understanding how to nourish your body, a healthy meal prep company can take away the guesswork.
Another great option is My Freez Easy, freezer cooking meal plans. These plans will help you create 10 meals in under 1 hour! Put them in your freezer and take them out when you are ready to eat.