Meal Prep Made Easy: 5 Ideas for Delicious and Nutritious Meals
Is it possible to be busy and still eat healthy?
Yes! Especially if you take advantage of the benefits of meal planning.
Meal prep allows you to plan and prepare healthy meals in advance, allowing you to maintain a nutritious diet even on your busiest days.
Here, we’ll cover some of the main benefits of meal planning and get you started with meal prep by listing helpful tips and meal prep recipes for inspiration.
3 Benefits of Meal Planning
1. Save Time and Money
Many of us are so busy with families, deadlines, careers, and life that it can feel impossible to eat healthy. However, meal planning can save you time while still allowing you to eat healthy and provide healthy meals for your family.
Rather than wasting precious time trying to figure out a meal to cook after a busy, stressful day or resorting to takeout, meal prep ensures you always have a convenient meal option ready for you. Initially, it takes time to plan and organize everything, but the time it saves, in the long run, is worth it. It can also cut down on dishes — another great way to save time!
Along with saving time, meal prepping can also save money. By buying ingredients in bulk, reducing impulse buys, and reducing expenses on takeout meals, meal prep can keep more money in your wallet. Meal prep can also cut down on the amount of food you waste, which is better for your wallet and the planet.
2. Meal Prepping Can Improve the Quality of Your Diet
Research shows that meal prep is associated with a higher quality diet and an increased intake of fruits, salads, and vegetables. This means meal planning can translate to a healthier diet that is higher in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
This is likely due to the planning involved and the reduction in impulse buying that results from meal planning. By buying only what is on your list and planning ahead of time, you may end up cooking with more varied ingredients. This can lead to a diet that is higher in quality and filled with a broader range of foods.
3. Meal Prepping Can Help You Lose Weight
When you are hungry and stressed and your blood sugar levels are low, your brain starts looking for sources of quick energy. This often makes you crave simple carbohydrates, junk food, or takeout meals. Since junk food and takeout meals are often higher in processed ingredients, sugar, simple carbs, and saturated fat, these impulse choices can hurt your weight loss efforts.
Since meal planning is linked to a higher quality diet, it isn’t surprising that meal planning can help with weight loss efforts. By reducing the urge to buy junk food or takeout when you are short on time, meal prep can help you eat healthy even on busy days.
Along with helping you eat healthy even on busy days, here are other ways meal prepping may help you lose weight:
- Increasing your connection to what you eat and how you view and treat food
- Teaching you to only eat when you are hungry
- Helping you avoid the impulse to reach for junk food or takeout when you are in a hurry
- Taking the stress and guesswork out of eating healthy
- Promoting mindful eating
- Ensuring you know the exact ingredients that go into your meals
- Automatically helping with portion control due to the specific ingredients used and measured sizes that get planned and set aside for later
Related Reading: 20 Healthy Foods to Always Keep Around
Easy Meal Prep Tips and Ideas
There is no set way to meal plan. Meal planning is all about what works for you.
Some people plan meals a few days ahead of time or a week ahead of time. Some people prefer to plan out an entire month of meals at once. Other people complete meal prep by making freezer-friendly meals they can thaw out at a later time. It’s all up to you and what works for your preference and schedule.
Your meal prep plan will depend on how many people you need to feed, any dietary preferences or restrictions, what produce is currently in season, etc.
Here are some helpful tips for making meal planning as easy as possible
- Have the right meal prep tools on hand (food storage containers, measuring cups, a food scale, measuring spoons, a food scale, sharpies for labeling containers, etc.)
- Discuss food preferences with your family, take turns planning recipe ideas, find out everyone’s favorite meals, and work together to create a meal prep plan that works for the entire family.
- Pick a day of the week when you plan out meals for the week, make a grocery list, do the shopping, and prep ingredients (you can also split this up into several days — remember, meal prep is all about what works well for you)
- Start a spreadsheet or monthly calendar to record your meal ideas, write down your grocery lists, or jot down recipes you want to try
- Collect healthy recipe inspiration from your favorite online recipe blogs or healthy eating magazines and organize them for fresh ideas
- If you have kids, get them involved by coming up with fun meals for each day of the week. This can help them look forward to meals, get involved, and be more likely to eat the healthy foods you make. Go beyond the classic “Taco Tuesday” or “Meatless Monday” and create other fun nightly meal themes, such as Stir-Fry Sunday, Make Your Rice Bowl Monday, Soup Saturdays, or other creative ideas.
- Start small and get involved with meal prep however you can. At first, this may simply mean having healthy ingredients on hand and prepping ahead of time (bagged salads, diced fruit, boiled eggs, chopped-up vegetables, etc.)
Watch for sales and stock up on healthy pantry staples such as lentils, canned and dried beans, spices, herbs, jarred sauces, brown rice, whole grains, etc.
Related Reading: Ideas for a Healthy Grocery List
5 Delicious Meal Prep Ideas
Here are 5 easy meal prep ideas that are delicious and nutritious, including breakfast and vegetarian meal prep options.
1. Rice Bowls
Rice bowls are budget-friendly, full of healthy fats and plant-based protein, and super easy to customize.
Start with a base of brown rice — easy to make ahead of time in large batches — and add healthy ingredients to the rice bowl.
Healthy mix-in ideas include:
- Diced avocado
- Diced tomatoes
- Black beans
- Shredded cheese
- Feta cheese
- Shredded lettuce
- Sour cream
- Diced cucumber
- Diced purple onion
- A squeeze of lime juice
- Whole grain tortilla chips on the side
- Shredded carrots
- Shredded cabbage
You can stick to a vegetarian rice-bowl, or add diced chicken for an extra boost of lean protein. You can also substitute rice for quinoa.
You can make large portions ahead of time, package them in individually portioned containers, and have the perfect pre-made lunch for your work week. Be sure to add ingredients like shredded lettuce, avocado, or sour cream at the last minute to prevent sogginess.
2. Overnight Oats
Need a healthy breakfast made ahead of time? Few healthy breakfast recipes are easier than overnight oats. Better yet, overnight oats are easily customizable. This is perfect for families as it can be personalized according to everyone’s taste preferences.
Have add-ins ready ahead of time and simply prepare the oats the night before by soaking old-fashioned oats in your choice of milk.
Healthy add-ins to have on hand include:
- Chopped high-quality dark chocolate
- Fresh or frozen berries
- Sliced banana
- Shredded coconut
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Vanilla extract
- Nut butter
- Unsweetened yogurt
Related Reading: 5 Reasons Oatmeal Is Good for Weight Loss
3. Easy Egg Bake
Make a nutrient-packed, healthy pre-made breakfast, lunch, or dinner option! It can be eaten at home or easily taken on the go.
Egg bake is an easy way to increase your vegetable intake since there are so many mix-in options.
To make an egg bake, simply combine your favorite add-ins with eggs and bake in the oven.
Mix-in ideas include:
- Diced zucchini
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- Chopped broccoli
- Diced tomatoes
- Diced bell pepper
- Minced garlic
- Diced onion
- Bacon bits
- Black olives
- Black pepper, turmeric, paprika, etc.
- Chopped cilantro or basil
You can even freeze egg bake if you bake it in a foil baking dish. Once it is cooked and cooled, wrap it in a layer of storage wrap. Follow it up with a layer of aluminum foil and freeze for up to three months.
4. Chicken Fajitas
Chicken fajitas come together in just minutes and are extremely versatile. They can be made as a stir fry or in a crockpot. Simply combine chicken breasts or rotisserie chicken, sliced bell peppers, sliced onions, and your choice of herbs and spices (chili powder, paprika, salt, pepper, turmeric, garlic salt, etc.), and cook.
It is easy to make a double or triple batch so you can stock up on freezer-friendly meals. Or you can make enough so you have leftovers for lunch all week. Always label anything you put in the freezer and research how long it will last. Typically, it is best to consume freezer-friendly meals within three to six months.
For an instant healthy meal, simply thaw your chicken fajita mixture and serve it with tortillas, salsa, avocado, sour cream, and lettuce.
Soup is one of the best make-ahead meals. Healthy and filling, soups are extremely easy to load with vegetables. Soups are also freezer-friendly and perfect for thawing on busy nights when you don’t have the time to cook.
There are hundreds of homemade soups you can make for meal prepping, but chili is a particularly excellent option. Chili is a comforting, filling meal, especially on cooler nights. Fill your chili with beans for a hit of plant-based protein, lean beef or turkey (substitute with mushrooms for a vegetarian option), diced tomatoes, chili powder, turmeric, salt, pepper, and diced onions.
Choose your favorite chili recipe, double or triple the batch, serve for a meal, and take the leftovers to work during the week for an easy, healthy lunch. Or, freeze the extras to thaw ahead of time on a busy night.
If desired, serve with your choice of toppings, such as:
- Diced onion
- Diced tomato
- Diced bell peppers
- Jalapeno peppers
- Shredded cheese
- Sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt)
Bonus Meal Prep Idea: Healthy Snack
Homemade trail mix makes the perfect on-the-go snack that is healthy, filling, and satisfying. Simply mix and match your favorite trail mix ingredients to make a snack that is filled with vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, and complex carbs:
- High-quality dark chocolate (minimal ingredients and 70% cacao content or higher)
- Raisins or other dried fruit of your choice
- Brazil nuts
- Shredded unsweetened coconut
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Want More Healthy Recipe Ideas and Wellness Tips?
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