5 Tips to Hack Your Meal Prep

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5 Tips to Hack Your Meal Prep

When you’re loading up the calendar with workouts, family time, friend events and work projects, it’s likely that “make delicious, healthy meals” tumbles too easily down the to-do list. While there are some good grab-and-go options, let’s face it: There are only so many prepared salads and protein bars you can eat before they get boring.

“When you get tired of what you’re eating, that’s when you usually begin to make food choices that you’re not happy about later,” says Melissa Joulwan, author of the popular “Well Fed” cookbook series. “Taking some time every week for meal prep can help keep it interesting.”

By setting aside time for preparing meals and ingredients in advance, you’ll not only zap food boredom, but also have greater control over putting more vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats into your rotation. Best of all, you don’t have to sacrifice a whole day for the effort. Here are some shortcuts Joulwan uses for her own weekly cookup:

1. SCHEDULE THE TIME

Count on about 2–3 hours for the prep, but it doesn’t need to be done all at once. For example, you can do 90 minutes on Sunday morning and 90 more on Wednesday night. The most important aspect is to put it on the schedule and stick to it, so it becomes a habit. For those who have a weekend farmers market nearby, scheduling meal prep for just after shopping can be an easy way to incorporate more veggies into your meals.

2. PREP YOUR EQUIPMENT FIRST

Before she does any chopping or cooking, Joulwan takes out all the utensils and equipment she needs for the effort. For example, she puts several cutting boards on the counter, locates measuring cups, sharpens knives, gets out large mixing bowls and sets up the food processor. Think of it as the “kitchen stadium” approach, where everything you need to use is handy. That 10 minutes of finding everything first saves plenty of time compared to taking out equipment as you need it.

3. THINK INGREDIENTS INSTEAD OF MEALS

There are two main ways to do meal prep — either you create whole meals and put them in containers, or you focus on ingredients that can be thrown together quickly. Joulwan prefers the latter approach, because it allows her to be more creative, and to eat according to her mood. She focuses on “convenience foods” that can be transformed into a variety of meals. These include roasted chicken, hard-boiled eggs, homemade mayo, zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, chopped lettuce and roasted vegetables. When these components are stored in the fridge, meals usually take only 5–10 minutes to prepare, she says.

4. GET SAUCY

Roasted chicken and cauliflower rice with an Indian vindaloo sauce is a very different meal than the same basic ingredients with a Jamaican jerk sauce. To keep tastes interesting, consider spending some prep time creating sauce blends or simply purchase some to have on hand. As with any prepared food, check the ingredients to make sure the sauces aren’t high in sugar or preservatives.


READ MORE > 3 GREAT WHOLE GRAINS, 3 FRESH WAYS


5. PUT THE TUNES ON

When she does meal prep, Joulwan listens to either ‘80s, new wave or Broadway musical soundtracks, so she’s singing and dancing the entire time. If you’re more the movie type, put on one you’ve already seen (since you’ll be looking down while you work) and will love hearing again, or play some podcasts on interesting topics.

“Your time in the kitchen should be productive, but also fun,” says Joulwan. “The more you can make meal prep time enjoyable, the more you’ll look forward to doing it. Rather than see prep as a chore, think of it as a way to make amazing, healthy food for the week ahead, in a way that feels like a fun break from your busy schedule.”

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  • Amie Lynn Packer

    Excellent tips!!

  • Laura Valerie

    These are great! Number 3 is an especially new thought for me, but I plan to try it!

    • epickett

      Yep, that’s thinking ‘outside the box’. But actually, I think that’s the way restaurants do it. They have many ingredients already prepped for the combinations on their menu, so they can assemble the meal quickly.

  • Sara

    Absolutely #5! Meal prep time is when I can sing along to Hamilton.:)

  • Kathryn Burks

    I like these ideas except for one. On Sunday morning, I will not be doing meal preparation, I will be attending church and feeding my soul. This is very important. I would encourage everyone to do their meal prep on Sunday afternoon or evening.

    • ja

      Absolutely Kathryn!

    • John Olga Sandoval

      You got that right!

    • Justice League

      God’s office hours are 24/7. Give it a rest, please.

    • Andrew Hopkins

      I believe you missed the point… It isnt a prescription, it’s a guideline. That time could very well be split between any two, or even three, days — according to your personal schedule.

    • Ferl Billones

      AMEN!!!! I serve at church so I am there from 9am-1:30 every Sunday. I started meal prepping a couple of weeks ago. I do it on Sundays around 4pm. That way I am done by dinner time. I prep breakfast, lunch and dinner for 5 days. It is worth the time we put into it because then all my meals are ready for the week. I love it and I could not do this weight loss journey to get healthy without the Lord helping me every step of the way (strength, discipline, provisions). God Bless you my sister in Christ.

      • Tracy Poliey

        Good for you! Keep up the great work!!!

        • Ferl Billones

          Thank you
          Matthew 19:26

    • John Paul Martin

      Note the “For example,” that began the sentence.

    • Ellen Friedman

      Give me a break.

    • Tracy Poliey

      Great priority!!!

    • If you were truly righteous and holy you wouldn’t be doing any work on the Sabbath, not just during church hours.

      • MaryBeth Collins Grice

        Ummmm… the point of the New Testament, and what Jesus did for us is to give us Freedom from the LAW you’re quoting …. and no one is truly righteous … again, that’s what Jesus did for us … dying on the cross ….and God raising Jesus from the dead …. and giving us the choice to believe in his death and resurrection …. take on his sacrifice on that day that we die and go in front of God ….. it’s not my righteousness or yours or anyone’s …. it’s all JESUS …. that’s the Good News!!.

      • Nancy Thurman

        FYI, Sunday is not the Sabbath. The Sabbath is Saturday.

  • Cecil @ Dreadmill Drummer

    I prep all of my food (minus dinner) on Sunday every week. I get my meals and snacks all done in about 90 minutes on Sunday. I put my chicken breast (almost always chicken) in my sous vide with a couple different bags with different seasonings to change the flavors up throughout the week. If I am roasting veggies those are then chopped or cut up, slightly seasoned and thrown into the oven for about 20 minutes. In that 20 minutes I get my fruits and raw veggies cut up and put in baggies for individual servings. It is all placed in my fridge and it takes a few seconds each morning to grab my meals and snacks for the day. Altogether I end up with 6-8 meals and snacks per day before I leave work each day along with my 100+ oz of water daily.

    • MaryBeth Collins Grice

      I had to look up what a souls vide was after reading your post! Interesting concept!

  • Pamela Faleti

    I totally agree Kathryn Burks.

  • Lisa Loeffler

    When it comes to meal planning, although I spend a lot of time thinking about it, most of the time I’m flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. Thank you, Elizabeth, for these useful suggestions…I’m inspiring to Meal Prep! Enjoyed all of the comments too. Lol.

  • Sowrabh Behl

    Does Melissa Joulwan have YouTube videos on this concept? I really like the idea of ‘convinence food’ and being creative. I’d like to see more of what she whips up in 5-10mins. I dont know why but I find that if I do full on meal preps boxes I never eat the food. This sounds like a great middle ground.

    • English Rose

      She explains it in her books. I have two of her cookery books and there are some great recipes and meal prep ideas. I would highly recommend them.