In a productivity-centric world, it can be hard to relinquish working hours to fit in time for things we know are good for us – like home-cooking! So hard, in fact, that Americans recently began spending more on restaurant and fast food than on meals they make at home – a first in US history. In other words, we're buying our meals, rather than cooking them, more than ever before. Why does this matter? Well, research shows that restaurant food is higher in unhealthy nutrients like saturated fat and sodium than the meals we cook.1 Of course, cooking daily can be quite a commitment. So how can we save time and eat health-promoting foods? The answer for many is meal prepping.
While it’s not a new concept, meal prepping (bulk-preparing food in advance) has just recently filtered into mainstream habits – including those of the InsideTracker team. So we've curated some of our favorite meal prep hacks that help us save time and still make enjoyable eats.
We switch up sauces and play with flavors
Meal prepping can be monotonous in nature – by definition, it's about preparing multiple servings of the same meal. And while recipe hunting is the perfect antidote for some people, for many of us, that level of planning is unrealistic. Plus, following a pattern can save time and brainpower. So how can we break out of our mealtime molds without sacrificing efficiency?
One InsideTracker team member cooks the same meal each week: quinoa, roasted veggies, and hard boiled eggs. What he does mix up are the add-ons. One week, it's crumbled feta, pumpkin seeds, and tahini. The next, goat cheese and vinaigrette. Sometimes, these flavorings will even alternate daily. Simple switches make for entirely new flavors, which keep your taste buds guessing.
*Recipe is for two servings. Multiply accordingly.
We make it a date
Like any resolution or healthy habit we try to forge, meal prep can only work if we commit. And like any other habit, meal prep is more likely to stick with repetition. So, one InsideTracker team member found the best way to keep herself honest to the meal prep game was to block time off on her calendar; it can't be bumped back on her to-do list once that reminder rings.
Research of multiple different habits shows that, if you perform a habit at regular intervals (ie. exercise at the same time every day), the habit is more likely to stick.2 So set yourself up for success! Identify time that your schedule is unlikely to have commitment conflicts, dedicate it as meal prep time, and lock it in! No rain checks. The more you go through the motions, the more habitual meal prep will become. Bottom line: find your rhythm.
We involve the kids
As we know, adequate time is often the biggest hurdle to meal prepping, and free time can especially sparse for people with kids at home. So maximize your available time by looping them in!
Not only can enlisting help from your little ones make the entire experience more enjoyable, but it can also help them develop a healthy relationship with food. Multiple studies show children who play a role in meal preparation eat more fruits and veggies, have better overall diet quality, and have a higher sense of self-efficacy for choosing healthy foods than those who don’t.3,4,5 Give them tasks like measuring ingredients, cracking eggs, mixing, microwaving, etc.
*Recipe is for two servings. Multiply accordingly.
We’re not afraid to settle
You don’t have to be a meal prep puritan to be a part of the movement. In fact, we take as many shortcuts as necessary to stick to the plan. One InsideTracker team member peruses the Whole Foods salad and hot food bars for items to spice up the staples she prepares at home. Another brings in chicken, avocado, and dressing from home, and purchases a simple, undressed salad near work for a cheaper and cleaner alternative to a restaurant salad with the works.
We also acknowledge that, sometimes, preparing a full meal just simply isn't in the cards. But that doesn't mean that meal prep is out of the question. If making full meals in advance seems like too high a hurdle, try starting smaller: with your snacks! Snacking can either make or break your healthy eating habits. Get into the swing of meal prepping by packing carrots and hummus or a yogurt cup and homemade granola rather than picking up a snack bar or bag of chips from the vending machine. You can also set yourself up for success by keeping non-perishables at your desk like almond butter, a bag of nuts, or oats and healthy options ready for you at home for your post-workday-hanger.
We give into our cravings
You read that right. To crave is to be human. If you can’t stop thinking about that one beloved dish, you have two options: 1) white knuckle on the reins of your willpower – and maybe end up eating it in the end anyway, or 2) give in from the start. Which one sounds more appealing?
We’ve conditioned ourselves to be proud when we refuse food we love. And sure, we shouldn’t have lasagna every day, but this mentality will only worsen our relationship with food over time. News flash: you can hit your goals and still be excited for lunch!
When you have a craving, acknowledge it. What are you really in the mood for? Now, how can you weave this into your meal prep practices? If you're craving a burrito, maybe that means prepping fajita-spiced veggies and beans with cheese and a corn tortilla on the side. Food is meant to be enjoyed – to fuel us for life. Make a meal that says "I love me."
*Recipe is for one serving. Multiply accordingly.
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An, R. (2016). Fast-food and full-service restaurant consumption and daily energy and nutrient intakes in US adults. European journal of clinical nutrition, 70(1), 97.
Gardner, Benjamin, Phillippa Lally, and Jane Wardle. "Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’and general practice." Br J Gen Pract 62.605 (2012): 664-666.
Van der Horst, K., Ferrage, A., & Rytz, A. (2014). Involving children in meal preparation. Effects on food intake. Appetite, 79, 18-24.
Chu, Y. L., Farmer, A., Fung, C., Kuhle, S., Storey, K. E., & Veugelers, P. J. (2013). Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children. Public health nutrition, 16(1), 108-112.
Chu, Y. L., Storey, K. E., & Veugelers, P. J. (2014). Involvement in meal preparation at home is associated with better diet quality among Canadian children. Journal of nutrition education and behavior, 46(4), 304-308.
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