People who are obsessed with their mason jars, bento boxes and slow cookers are onto something. As a hungry athlete, prepping meals and snacks ahead of time instead of working on a meal-by-meal basis is one of the best things you can do to set yourself up for dietary success. A task that almost guarantees you’ll eat better, stress less come mealtime and save a bunch of cash by eating out less. Here’s how to meal prep like a home-economics wiz.
1. Make a Date
Harried lives make it easy for meal prep to slide through the cracks. Instead of putting your batch cooking on the back burner for a Netflix binge, make sure to write down your kitchen appointment in advance and treat it like a one-on-one with the boss—not something to brush off . Try to set aside at least one hour each week that will be devoted to prepping meals and snacks to be enjoyed at a later date.
2. Browse Food Porn
Always prepping the same meals and snacks is a recipe for diet burnout. Who wants to eat chicken, brown rice and broccoli everyday? Hint: Nobody! For recipe inspiration, surf visual potluck sites like Tastespotting.com or Foodgawker.com, where you’ll find a feast for your eyes and plenty of ideas for nutritious, palate-pleasing dishes. From this, consider creating a recipe Pinterest board.
3. Write It Down
Once you know what you want to rustle up in the kitchen, be sure to arm yourself with a detailed grocery list of the items you need, so you’re not eating into your prepping time by needlessly driving back to the grocery store for a crucial item. Try organizing your grocery list by aisle so that you don’t waste time back-tracking in the store. The more you walk, the more opportunity there is to fall prey to impulse buys.
4. Tap an App
Use apps like Paprika and Pepperplate that help make meal prepping a breeze. Functions include creating recipe databases, organizing daily menus and developing grocery lists as items you need run out.
5. Divide and Conquer
Successful meal preppers swear by having several identical pre-portioned meals doled out among reusable containers to stay well fed throughout the week. California Home Goods 3 Compartment Food Containers ($12.95 for a 10-pack) let you prepare big batches of items like whole grains, meats, dressings and chopped veggies in advance and then divvy them up among different compartments. Once full, the BPA-free microwave safe bento-style containers stack neatly in your fridge or freezer.
6. Subzero Heroes
Working on a recipe that calls for quinoa or steak? Make your life easier down the road by cooking extras. Beans, grains and meats (not fi sh) can be cooked in large amounts at once and then frozen for quick access in the future. Instead of making a giant meat sauce ice-cube that takes forever to defrost, divide your bounty among silicon muffin cups and freeze into more manageable portion sizes. Once frozen, unmold the food hockey puck and transfer to a zip-top bag.
7. Soak Your Oats
Who says you have to cook your cherished breakfast oats. Prepping hearty steel-cut oats by soaking the grains ahead of time softens their texture, so they are chewy enough to eat without stove time. For nearly a work week’s worth of morning meals, divide 1 1/3 cups steel-cut oats, 1 cup protein powder, 1/4 cup ground flaxseed and 1 teaspoon cinnamon among four wide-mouth jars or bowls. Add 1/3 cup boiled water to each jar, stir, top with nut butter and berries, cover and chill.
8. Get Stacked
Mason-jar meals are all over social media—and for good reason. Besides good looks, they are your solution to portable, instant meal satisfaction. Grab yourself some quart or two-quart jars (we like Ball’s) and get assembling. Dressings go in first, followed by sturdy items like cooked meats, grains, beans and carrots and then more delicate foods such as greens. (Read: no more soggy lunch spinach.)
9. One-Pot Wonders
Most chilies, curries and soups are ideal for making in big batches on a lazy Sunday afternoon to reap nutrition rewards throughout the week. When these dishes are chilled in the refrigerator, flavor compounds in the meats and aromatics like onions react with water, air and acids to be chemically transformed into new and improved tastes.
10. Think Small
If you only prep meals and not snacks, you could be setting yourself up for dietary meltdown as you give into break-room cookie temptation when a snack attack strikes. Once a week, divvy up healthy snack options like sliced apple and cheese, Greek yogurt and berries or nuts and dried fruit among single-serving containers to help you keep your distance from the vending machine.
Bonus: Make a Killer Smoothie
Nothing hits the spot after a spirited workout like a frosty smoothie. But gathering up all the necessary ingredients when your gas tank is empty is no fun. These make-ahead subzero smoothie packs are your new post-run BFF.
• 2 cups blueberries
• 2 large banana, peeled and roughly chopped
• 4 cups baby spinach
• 1/3 cup fresh mint
• 1/4 cup hemp seeds (hemp hearts)
Divide everything among four zip-top freezer bags, seal shut and freeze until solid. When ready for a smoothie, blend together contents of one bag with milk, Greek yogurt and a couple dashes cinnamon.