There are many benefits to meal prep. You can:
- Structure your meals and snacks to meet your macronutrient and calorie goals.
- Learn how to eyeball healthy portions.
- Save yourself time in the kitchen.
But once you’ve solidified your routine, it’s easy to get stuck in a meal prep plateau.
Eating the same meals and snacks over and over again can take away from the joy of eating, cut out the variety your palate craves, and may even lead you to reach for comfort foods when the same-old rotisserie chicken and broccoli just isn’t satisfying. But “meal prep doesn’t have to be boring or condemn you to the same foods day after day, week after week,” says Micah Siva, a registered dietitian and trained chef. To make it more enjoyable, all you need is a little creativity.
PLAY WITH NEW PROTEIN SOURCES
Batch-cooking proteins often means go-tos like roasted chicken and hard-boiled eggs, but there’s lots more to explore. “Switch up your protein sources so you can get a variety of vitamins and minerals, while also preventing boredom,” says Tamar Samuels, a registered dietitian based in New York City. For example, shrimp is a great source of selenium (which is rich in antioxidants that fight free radicals linked to chronic disease and cancer); beef and lamb provide iron and vitamin B12 (which help support blood cells and prevent anemia); and fish like salmon, sardines and tuna are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids (which support a healthy heart and brain).
Since cooked meat and fish need to be eaten within 3–4 days, mix in one or a few plant-based proteins per week, too, adds Siva. Try chickpeas, black beans and lentils (which are packed with filling fiber and health-promoting antioxidants), tofu (a great source of calcium) and tempeh (which contains prebiotics that help support healthy digestion).
Adding a few store-bought or homemade sauces each week is a quick and easy way to add more flavor without having to tackle complicated recipes, says Samuels. A few to try: chimichurri sauce with fresh parsley and cilantro, Greek yogurt sauce, zingy tahini sauce, Green Goddess dressing with avocado and coconut milk, different pesto varieties and peanut sauce with a ginger-lime twist. Use marinades to add new life to your go-to proteins, too.
Rather than reaching for a takeout menu, “get inspired by your favorite cuisines, recent travels and places you’ve dreamed of visiting with delicious homemade meals,” says Siva. Change the type of cuisine you’re cooking every week or even more often, from Mexican-inspired recipes to Korean classics. Try Italian chicken cacciatore and slow cooker minestrone, Greek wraps and couscous, Chinese takeout-style kung pao chicken and mu shu tofu, Japanese noodle bowls and ramen, Thai meatballs, curry tofu and more. Not only does this keep things interesting, but “you’ll also get to experiment with different spices and fresh herbs, which come with a ton of health benefits,” notes Samuels.
CREATE A DATABASE OF HEALTHY RECIPES
Another way out of a meal prep plateau is to discover new recipes, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you find yourself scouring Pinterest for hours every Sunday, says Samuels. Instead, pick a few of your favorite recipes from blogs or apps like MyFitnessPal and revisit these sources. You can save them directly in the app or to a folder on your computer. This way, when you can’t think of what to meal prep for the week, you’ve got a wealth of options right at your fingertips.
“A simple rule of thumb for balanced meal prep is 3+2+1, meaning 3 types of vegetables, 2 proteins and 1 grain or starch per week,” says Siva. If you’re having trouble brainstorming new, creative combinations, here’s a timesaving meal-prep hack: Grab some popsicle sticks or pieces of paper and color them green, red and blue. Then, write down veggies you enjoy eating on the green ones, proteins you like on the red ones and grains and starches you have on hand on the blue ones. Before you head for the grocery store, pick out 3 greens, 2 reds and 1 blue for a mystery meal prep challenge, says Siva. This can be a fun activity to get the whole family involved at mealtime.
JOIN A FRESH FOOD COMMUNITY
Consider becoming a part of a community-supported agriculture program (aka CSA), which gives you access to fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables straight from the farm with a membership or subscription, says Samuels. Many CSAs also provide eggs and meat options, as well as fun recipes to cook the ingredients each week. Not only are you simplifying meal prep — but you’re also diversifying your diet with high-quality produce and eating in a sustainable way (which the planet thanks you for). Use the USDA directory to find a CSA near you.