If you’re a busy professional – or full-time parent – pulling together a week of healthy meals can feel downright heroic, if not impossible. After all, doing so requires both time and energy: Precious commodities when your day feels packed from sunrise to sunset. As such, “meal kits” have become popular solutions to that problem; some enable you to easily prepare a healthy meal while others deliver a pre-prepared, ready-to-eat solution at your door. Genius, right?
Well, anyone who has used a meal kit service knows there are downfalls, the main one being price – they can be prohibitively expensive. For example, one unnamed organic meal delivery service costs over $80 per day. Even those of us who are cooking newbies understand that number is very, very high.
We’re here to tell you that you don’t need to choose between wellness and price to have a week of healthy meals ready. It all comes down to words: meal prep.
Ideally this happens on Sunday afternoons, a time where you have more bandwidth to prep and cook. And we’re not talking super-complicated dishes here; these are simple, batch-style items that you can mix-and-match throughout the week. Ready? Let’s do this.
START WITH PROTEIN
Take chicken breast, for example: This is a versatile ingredient that can be prepped hundreds of ways. We recommend creating three different varieties – for example: lemon and rosemary, jerk seasoning, and tarragon and thyme – and cooking them all at the same time using tin foil as a separation tool for your baking tray. Use this protein as a meal centerpiece at dinner or as a salad topping at lunch.
ROAST DEM VEGGIES
Cut up sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower…whatever type of veggie you love. We’re all about staying seasonal here, so right now we’re cooking wintertime root vegetables. Dress ‘em with quality extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and/or whatever additional spices you fancy. Pop the whole thing into the oven for 30 minutes on high heat (425 degrees Farenheit) and boom! You have five days worth of gorgeous vegetables to nosh on all week. Consider these your standby ingredients throughout the week – snack on them, eat them at lunch in a big bowl, or use them as dinner sides.
While you are prepping your roasted veggies, reserve some chopped, uncooked ones for the week ahead, too. These are great for snacking and for use in a lunchtime salad. Oh yeah, lest we forget: Be sure you have some regular old salad materials on hand – spinach, arugula, and kale… whatever you prefer. Wash them on Sunday so that they’re ready to use throughout the week.
GET YOUR GRAIN ON
Make a big pot of quinoa or a similar grain to be your go-to starch for the week; we use it in everything from a quinoa cereal to an evening stir-fry. We also love cooking big batches of legumes (chickpeas, black beans) on Sundays; they’re an excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber and will keep you fuller longer. Vegetarians, be sure you’re consuming plenty of ‘em!
MAKE YOUR SMOOTHIE (BAG)
If you’ve purchased ingredients like berries and spinach for your morning smoothie, why not prep it ahead of time? Just place the fruits and veggies necessary for a single smoothie in a sandwich bag pop it in the freezer. Come the morning, you’ll pull it out, add milk and/or any dry ingredients, and you’re ready to rock. Or blend. Whatever.
PREPARE PROTEIN SNACKS
We are all familiar with the afternoon crash – the one that has us chugging coffee and snacking on donuts. Well, keeping lots of filling, low-sugar protein snacks on hand can help you avoid that. We love items like hard-boiled eggs or protein balls (here’s a great recipe if you’re unfamiliar with the latter). For those of you who are super low maintenance, try pre-bagging protein-rich nuts – almonds, walnuts – for quality snacking on the run.
SLOW COOKERS ARE YOUR BFF
Sundays were made for slow cooker meals, right? Luckily, these are the types of dishes that actually get better when you refrigerate or freeze them. We love making things like beef chili, hearty bean-based soups, or slow-cooked proteins for Sunday dinner and then popping leftovers into the freezer. Pair them throughout the week with some of your grains and roasted vegetables and you’ll have a downright easy and delicious meal.
LASTLY: STAY BASIC AF
Are you an almond butter fiend? Do you go through coconut oil like it’s your job? Are rolled oats your morning jam? Be sure you always stay stocked up on these go-to ingredients, using Sundays to check up on your inventory and repurchase, if necessary. We prefer to buy them in bulk, particularly when they’re on sale – Thrive Market is a great resource for this.