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8 Tips for a Successful Meal Prep, According to a Dietitian

November 27, 2023

If meal prep seems like a great idea every Friday but too much work come Sunday, you’re not alone. But according to one expert, it doesn’t have to be as difficult – or as time consuming – as it sounds. Samantha Nimmons, MS, a registered dietitian at Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, has eight tips to make your meal prepping dreams a reality. [insert-cta-small id=52704]

1. Start small.

When you start meal prepping, it’s easy to feel like you need to make a meal for every day of the week. But if you’re new to meal prep, this approach can be risky. "Meal prep can be overwhelming, especially at first. Don’t feel like you need to do it all at once,” Nimmons says. “If cooking meals for a full week seems daunting, try starting with two or three days first.” Smaller quantities of food mean fresher meals, less repetition, and often, less wasted food at the end of the week.

2. Always include a starch and a vegetable with your protein.

“Getting a vegetable in each meal is key,” says Nimmons. “They’re packed with vitamins and minerals, and will help you feel full throughout the day.” And a starch is just as important. “A starch will help you stretch your proteins,” Nimmons adds. “It will also give you a boost of energy, and help get more fiber in your diet.” > Related: 3 Reasons Why Watercress Is the Healthiest Vegetable

3. Use versatile ingredients.

Worried about eating the same food all week? Nimmons has advice for that too. “You can always select recipes with overlapping ingredients, or a type of cuisine for the week. For example, one week you might choose to make a burrito bowls, spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, beef orzo and vegetable casserole. You can use the same ingredients and prepare everything together, without eating the same meal all week.” And don’t be afraid to try different variations of the same foods, either. “This is a great way to incorporate the foods you love, without ever getting tired of the ingredients you have chosen,” says Nimmons.

4. Choose something easy to prepare in bulk.

The best part of meal prepping is having ready-to-go dinners for the rest of the week. Which means there’s nothing worse than running out of food a couple days in. “When it comes to quantity, Instant Pot and Crockpot recipes will be your best friend. Cooked grains like rice, quinoa, farro and pasta tend to go a long way,” says Nimmons. “Choose a protein to go with it, and add vegetables, nuts, seeds or whole fruits – fruit may not keep as well once it’s cut.” Save any leftover fruits and vegetables to use as snacks throughout the week.

5. Find a meal that will reheat easily.

If the delicious meal you cooked Sunday night isn’t tasting so good on Wednesday, don't be surprised. “This is a common complaint people have when it comes to meal prepping. If you’re reheating food in the microwave, soups and sauce-based dishes tend to do well,” says Nimmons. “Anything that holds plenty of moisture.” But depending on what you cooked, you might be better off reheating it on the stove or in the oven. “Pasta dishes and meat reheat best on the stove, especially if you add a splash of water or milk to them. Anything crispy, or food that was originally baked or roasted, will likely reheat better in the oven.” Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

6. Or even better, choose meals that don’t need to be reheated at all.

“You don’t always need to prepare hot meals,” Nimmons says. “Sandwiches and other cold foods like grain bowls, salads and overnight oats work just as well. Just be sure to keep them refrigerated.” And foods that freeze easily can be just as good. “If you’re worried about getting tired of eating the same meal all week, make a large batch and freeze some of it,” Nimmons suggests. So next time you don’t feel like cooking, you can save yourself a trip to the nearest fast food restaurant – you’ll already have a delicious meal ready to go.

7. Invest in sealable containers.

Planning to bring your lunch to work, but worried about the mess? A sealable container will be your new best friend. “There are so many great options out there for meal prepping,” says Nimmons. “Clear glass containers, divided containers, snack bags – anything with a seal is great. If your meals include sauces or dips, I’d recommend putting that in a separate container.” Not only will you no longer need to worry about a mess, your food will last longer, too. “Airtight containers keep oxygen out, which will help keep your food fresh for longer,” she adds. “And try to choose something that’s both microwave and dishwasher safe. You’ll be glad you did.”

8. And most importantly – choose something you love.

The best part of meal prepping? Choosing your favorite ingredients. “I always suggest identifying some of your favorite foods and building meals around them. You should always choose something you’ll be excited about eating – especially if you’re planning to eat it for several days in a row,” says Nimmons. If you like the food you’ve cooked, you won’t be tempted to DoorDash takeout from the Chinese restaurant down the street. “This is my biggest tip to help people meal prep successfully. If you look forward to eating the meals you’ve cooked, you’re more likely to stay on track,” Nimmons says.

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