National Nutrition Month: #MealPrepSunday

Meal preparation refers to the habit of proactively planning, cooking, and packaging food to be eaten over a specified period of time (usually 3 – 7 days). Although it may seem like a fad popularized by fitness gurus on Instagram, #mealprep is actually a tried and true strategy for eating healthier! Studies show that it can be helpful for anyone interested in improving their nutritional intake, avoiding boredom from repetitive meals, decreasing “convenience eating,” and increasing grocery shopping efficiency. Set a time(s) each week to do your meal prep, and follow these five easy steps to become a meal prep pro!

Step #1: Know Your Needs

Aim for a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and unsaturated fats. Federal guidelines recommend that 50% of your diet be fruits and vegetables, so be open to trying new plant-based dishes. If you have a specific health condition or complex dietary restrictions, a registered dietitian (RD) can provide sound nutritional guidance.

Step #2: Collect Recipes

Use websites, cookbooks, and friends to build a recipe collection. Create a binder of paper recipes or a digital collection using your browser’s “bookmark” function, and keep researching until you have a variety of meals and snacks organized in one space. For inspiration, ask yourself: What foods do I like? What foods does my roommate/family/partner like? What foods do I want to incorporate to maximize my nutrition? Are there lower-fat or lower-sugar alternatives to my favorite foods? Are there cuisines I have always wanted to try? If you’re not sure where to start, these sites are filled with recipe ideas and can be sorted by keywords, ingredients, and meal type:

Step #3: Plan Your Week

Write down your plan for 3 meals plus 1 – 2 snacks per day, and remember that you can double or triple recipes as needed to allow for leftovers throughout the week. As you’re choosing recipes for the week, ask yourself: Will I need to eat on the go or will I have time to sit down? Do I already have plans to eat out on certain days? How many people do I need to feed? Do I have any coupons that are expiring? What foods are on sale and/or in season? Do I have frozen or non-perishable foods I have been meaning to use? Am I craving a certain food?

Although writing your meals/snacks down may seem unnecessary, it’s actually one of the most important steps because it holds you accountable to your plan. Some people prefer pen and paper, but tech-savvy preppers can use a variety of smartphone apps (e.g., AnyList, MealBoard, or Cozi) or put meals into a digital calendar (e.g., Google, Outlook, or iCal).

Step #4: Create a Shopping List

With your meal plan written down, create an organized shopping list. Using the apps listed above or a piece of paper, sort your grocery list into categories (produce, eggs/dairy, beans/rice, deli, condiments/sauces, canned foods, frozen aisle, etc.) so that you can make one smooth trip through the store. To avoid buying duplicates, do a final check of what you already have in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry before you go. When you get home from shopping, prevent food waste by storing produce properly and freezing foods that go bad quickly.

Step #5: Cook and Pack

It’s finally time to get cooking, so put on good music and start chopping! Most people take 1 – 2 hours to cook meals/snacks for the week, depending upon the number of separate recipes and the complexity of each recipe. Increase your efficiency by dicing veggies while the oven preheats or washing dirty dishes while waiting for water to boil. Once your food is cooked and cooled, pre-portion meals/snacks into reusable containers for grab-and-go convenience (e.g., Bento boxes, plastic containers, or glassware). If you don’t have access to a refrigerator for your prepped lunch or snacks, investigate cool storage options (e.g., freezable lunch boxes or frozen gel packs). Above all, put your pre-packaged front and center in your fridge and pantry as that will make it easier to stick to your plan even when life gets hectic.

Suwannee River AHEC is celebrating National Nutrition Month by holding a Meal Prep competition during the last week of March. If you’re in Alachua county and want to do a similar challenge in your workplace, check out our Workplace Wellbeing program.

About the Author: Aviva Ariel-Donges, M.S.

Aviva Ariel-Donges, M.S., is an intern at SRAHEC.  She is currently finishing a master’s in public health and a doctorate in clinical health psychology at the University of Florida.
By |2018-03-15T12:38:08-04:00March 8th, 2018|Categories: Education, Workplace Wellbeing|Comments Off on National Nutrition Month: #MealPrepSunday
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