When COVID-19 ramped up here in the states, I found myself overwhelmed with preparing the usual 3 square meals a day for my family. Let me preface with the fact that it wasn’t just my husband and 2 picky children, but included in-laws, teenagers, and another toddler that were already in town visiting for a few weeks. So, we’re talking about meal prep for 9 people… NINE PEOPLE! I was accustomed to cooking for 4 on a regular basis with 2 meals being pickup per week. Add on a new Telehealth practice, a partner who works full time in healthcare, and 5 guests to entertain and feed - all during a pandemic that restricted our food options. Let’s just say the beginning was a challenge. However frustrating at first, the takeaway was learning new and helpful meal-hacks that you don’t have to spend all day pre-cooking. Moreover, it enabled me to provide healthy options for my family plus reduce food waste, save time, and $$$.
How did you do that?????
Check out my methodology and process below. I hope you find it useful whether you’re the busy at-home chef for 1 or trying to find a solution on cooking healthy for your entire family.
1. It’s great to have an idea of the types of recipes that you’ll be preparing. Our family loves the Mediterranean diet, which is one of my core meal plans for the majority of my weight loss patients. It does not only call for lean proteins but also incorporates a key focus in plant-based essentials like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. These basic ingredients can be prepared with simple seasoning that you probably already have in your pantry, doesn’t call for time-intensive recipes, and meets all of the nutritional needs in a lean and healthy way. Additionally, these ingredients are really easy to prepare in large amounts.
2. I shop at the big box stores like Costco to save time and money. 'Buy more, save more’ - I’m in! If you live near a farmers market, that’s a great option to not only support your local community but to buy very fresh ingredients! If I lived near one, that would be my go-to pick.
3. As best as you can when you’re at the grocery store, avoid processed foods filled with sodium, carbs, sugar, and chemicals. As a former junk foodaholic, I can attest to their temptations as they are engineered to taste amazing, seemingly budget-friendly and ‘convenient’, but ultimately provides little nutrition and will most likely cause health issues and greater health costs down the road. Pro tip: don’t feed the kids refined sugars when you’re stuck at home 24/7. I can totally empathize when they crave pizza and chicken nuggets, so choose your dinner time battles. All I can say is that moderation is key and today, there are great frozen options that sneak in plant-based nutrition. If it fools my picky kids, it can probably fool yours too into eating their veggies!
1. I pick out 3-4 different kinds of protein like seafood, beef, poultry, and eggs to rotate for variety. Portions were based on 3 servings of a protein per day (about 3oz per person, per meal) for 9 mouths and to last for 10 days. You can adopt this calculation based on your household needs. If the protein was fresh and going to expire in 3 days, I'd generally cook 1 that day and the bag up the remaining portions for the fridge, knowing I’ll use them the next day. Anything else goes in the freezer.
2. Let’s talk fish for a moment. It’s not only rich in Omega 6 and 3, but is also a staple of the Mediterranean diet that’s light, nutrient-dense and perfect for Pescatarians. Pro-tip, if you want more bang for your buck, seek out a whole fish! My process is the assembly line method. Clean, portion out, season/marinate on a baking pan, done! This is great for a day of meals where I can add veggies onto the pan and bake that as a fresh meal for dinner. I let it marinate in the fridge as I continue the assembly method to prepare the remaining items for the rest of the week.
3. I drop in the proteins/marinades direct into my food vacuum baggies. I find they last 10 days longer frozen vacuum-sealed over a ziplock. This keeps the meat fresher and moist while retaining flavor from the marinade. After you’ve portioned out all of the proteins, move onto preparing the veggies. Repeat the same principle of cleaning, cutting, and portioning into a baggie for each meal. And yes, I’ll freeze my veggies in separate bags. Freezer veggies do retain their nutrition and the vacuum bags especially keep them fresh and crisp. If you are bagging leafy greens like kale or spinach for the fridge, I'd add a paper towel sheet to absorb extra moister. Pro tip: If you are storing fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro in your fridge; wet a paper towel sheet, fold it in half, and wrap it at the base to cover where the stocks were cut. It will last a bit longer.
4. The next step is labeling to organize the next 10 days. Grab a sharpie and write down the item name, quantity, and date sealed (if it will be frozen) or expiration date (if it goes into the fridge). I generally keep 3 meals worth of protein in the fridge and rest in the freezer.
5. Last is our family menu, which comes in handy to view at a glance instead of rummaging through the freezer. I’ll list on a piece of paper all the proteins and veggies. Mark what items are in the fridge vs freezer so you’ll know what soon-to-expire items to consume first. I’ll also include a ‘Quickie’ category for the kids, which includes those emergency cravings mentioned previously. Just post it on the fridge or somewhere visible in the kitchen and mark the items off as you go!
Pro Tip: In the morning, I look at my list and pick an item to defrost for dinner. For lunchtime, I’ll strive to use the fresher meats.
This may sound like a lot of work if you’ve never tried a meal prep strategy before, but it will essentially save you time during the week, money, and headaches over trying to figure out dinner when you’re busy. I didn’t cover snack time prep, but you can definitely apply the same principle to portioning out fruits and nuts. For whole grains, we love quinoa or brown rice. These items are easy to prepare as you’re cooking your ready-made meals.
If you’d like more information on my wellness programs that include a variety of diet options, supplements, full recipes, detailed shopping lists, meal delivery options, an advanced app for tracking your goals supported by my one-on-one medically supervised coaching, you can learn more about my program. Your first consultation is absolutely free!