Two top-tier Cleveland dietitians share ways that a little smart prep can save you from jeopardizing that precious unwinding time at the end of the day. Modern CLE Staff Report
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Let us paint you a picture of an ideal food world: With no constraints on your time or energy—this is a dream world, after all—you’d cook your own healthful, nutrient-dense meals every day, handily dodging the siren call of doughnuts, pizza, and other junk food.
Now back to reality: You’re over-stretched, over-worked, and desperately in need of a dozen more hours a day. You might think be thinking, Prepping meals for an entire week? There’s simply no time.
“Meal prepping can be challenging for young women,” says Allie McTighe, M.S., R.D., L.D., and recipe developer for Simply CLE. With our weekends set aside for time with friends, errands, and much-needed R&R, “it can be difficult to find time to prepare meals,” she says.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute and author of Skinny Liver, agrees. “Meal prep is a common challenge for just about every one of my patients. The key is to change your perception of convenience foods, and tap into easier options that are still nutrient dense.”
Here are four tips on efficient meal-prep planning to help you turn that ideal food world into reality—without adding too much to your to-do list or sacrificing your nightly Netflix binging.
1. Stock Up on Frozen Vegetables
When you picture meal prepping, it likely involves spending hours and hours on Sunday evening chopping vegetables. But you can cut—please excuse the pun—those hours out completely by using frozen vegetables in place of fresh, says Kirkpatrick. Frozen veggies come pre-washed and pre-cut, and they’re just as nutritious as what’s in the produce aisle.
Stock up on frozen vegetables on your next grocery store trip; then, add them to brown rice or beans for a quick, healthful meal, Kirkpatrick suggests. But Kirkpatrick’s favorite way to use frozen vegetables is to prepare frozen zucchini noodles, then toss them with a premade pesto and steam-in-the-bag broccoli for a quick-and-easy flavorful, fiber-filled meal.
2. Invest in the Right Tools
Even the easiest recipes can be made complicated by the addition of fresh herbs and spices. But a small investment in kitchen tools can add up to big time savings when meal prepping.
3. Make Meals in Large Batches
If, for example, you’d like to eat-in five nights this week but can’t possibly cook five meals, don’t nix the idea of meal prepping just yet. You can reduce the number of recipes you will make and still eat healthy, home-cooked meals all week long by simply doubling or tripling each individual recipe. “By cooking more servings,” says McTighe, “you are able to save the leftovers for lunches [or dinners] throughout the week.” McTighe suggests two recipes that are delicious and easy to make in bulk: chipotle grain bowls and ground turkey chili.
4. Stick to Three-Ingredient Recipes
Speaking of recipes, Kirkpatrick recommends building up a trove of three-ingredient meals that you can make each week. “These are quick meals that are easy for any chef,” she says. With only three ingredients, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an excuse not to cook, she adds.
Here’s a handy compilation of 45—yes, 45!—three-ingredient recipes to get you started.