Whether you are back to school or work around the year, finding easy meal prep solutions can be a game changer. While meal prep can seem intimidating by the perfectly portioned meals into dozens on containers on Instagram, it doesn’t need to be that complex. By taking the perfection out of meal planning and prep, you’ll be able to be prepared for the week ahead of you. When planning and prepping meals for the week, you want to ensure they hit three key points:
- They are balanced. Meals contain a fruit or vegetable, a protein source, whole grains, and healthy fats.
- They contain enough food to keep you energized throughout the day. Sometimes it’s better to overestimate your hunger than to not have enough or pack some extra snacks just in case it’s a hungrier day.
- They are practical for your environment and resources. This involves having access to a fridge or microwave and where you will consume the food. Food safety is key, so investing in a freezable lunchbox or ice pack is handy.
By using prepared foods and snacks, you can spend less time in the kitchen and more of your weekend relaxing. While it sounds nice to make everything from scratch, for many of us that concept is a distant fantasy. Try some of these simple solutions to make your busy life a bit less chaotic (and a little more nutritious too!).
#1 Premade sauces and marinades. Barbeque sauce, pesto, Thai sauces, chimichurri, salsa, and tomato sauces can pack a flavorful punch and knock off a lot of time in the kitchen. Use them to marinade tofu, chicken, steak or fish, to flavor rice, pasta or quinoa, or as a spread on your wrap.
Easy meal idea: Whole wheat wrap with pesto grilled chicken, tomato, greens and an extra drop of pesto on top.
#2 Salad kits. In a pinch, these are perfect to have on hand for a quick dinner or lunch. Trader Joe’s has a fairly large variety of salad kits that are full of crunchy veggies, toppings, and tangy dressings.
Easy meal idea: Throw together your favorite salad kit, toss in your favorite protein and cook up a side of whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, bulgur or farro for a complete meal.
#3 Rotisserie chicken, frozen veggies burgers, or pre-marinated tofu. It’s Sunday night, it’s late and you have nothing for lunch tomorrow (and you really don’t want to buy another $20 skimpy salad). Rotisserie chickens, frozen veggie burgers and pre-marinated tofus are available at most grocery stores, are packed with flavor and can be a game changer to your last minute meal prep.
Easy meal idea: Cook up some brown rice and roasted cauliflower and make a grain bowl with the chicken, burger or tofu. Top with any sauce from above (pesto or chimichurri sound good!).
#4 Store bought hummus or guacamole. While these are better homemade, store bought can save you time to do other things (like catch up on the latest episode of 90 Day Fiance). The week isn’t right without your favorite dips and spreads.
Easy meal idea: Try for a savory breakfast toasting an English muffin, topped with guac or hummus and some deli turkey.
#5 Pack the snacks to make a meal. Have nothing prepped and short on time? Strategically packing snacks to make small meals can be helpful in a pinch.
Easy snack meal ideas: 1) yogurt + protein bar + fruit + handful of cereal, 2) carrots + peppers + guac + whole grain cracks + turkey, 3) cheese + pita + hummus + grapes + snap peas.
If you are looking for something a little more robust than a boring salad, try this easy fall kale and sweet potato salad, right in time the cooler weather and apple season. This is one of my go-to favorite salads dressings throughout the year, swapping out the veggies I use season to season.
Fall Kale and Sweet Potato Salad
- 1 bunch curly kale, chopped (~4 cups)
- 1 cup cauliflower rice
- 1 apple chopped
- 2 small or 1 large sweet potato, cubed and roasted
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1.5 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- 1/8-1/4 tsp salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lines a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss cubed sweet potatoes with ~1 tbsp olive oil and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Roast for ~30 minutes
- While the sweet potatoes are roasting, prepare the salad. Finely chop the kale and add it to a large bowl. To the kale and the cauliflower rice (raw), chopped apples, and cherry tomatoes.
- In a small bowl make the dressing by combining olive oil, apple cider vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, and salt and pepper as needed. Adjust as needed to your preference. Pour dressing over the salad and toss to combine.
- When the sweet potatoes are done, allow them to cool before added them to the salad.
- Top with any protein your choose (chicken, turkey, tofu, beans, burgers, etc).