There’s a meal prep craze sweeping America. But it turns out it’s more than just a fad – it’s a fantastic way that busy parents and their families can eat better and enjoy healthier lifestyles.
Meal prep, or putting together meals ahead of time to reduce cooking time, helps solve big problems for the busy, modern family. A study conducted by Dr. Carol Devine and fellow researchers in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and Department of Human Development at Cornell University found that parents who had irregular schedules or worked long hours were more likely to buy takeout or purchase prepared meals. It also revealed that more than half of the parents who participated in the study ate one or more take-out meals or one or more fast-food meals each week.
Furthermore, those who frequently cook meals at home eat fewer calories and enjoy a healthier diet, according to research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Research.
Even simple prep like slicing veggies can make a difference!
Meal prep solves this conundrum by allowing parents to fit preparing healthy, home-cooked meals into their busy schedules. It may sound overwhelming, but with a few simple changes you can make it a new healthy habit.
Here are some tips for meal prep and planning for beginners:
It's common to get the urge to go big from the get-go. But instead of vowing to create three squared meals for a whole week all in one day, start small, since it's making gradual changes that will lead to success. Fitness guru Kayla Itsines recommended focusing on prepping for just one meal when starting out. If you typically skip breakfast, try preparing an easy breakfast the night before, like overnight oats or a yogurt parfait. Alternatively, you could try prepping meals to last for two to three days, instead of tackling the whole week at once.
Get the gear
Durable, high-quality containers are essential to successful meal prep and can help even the busiest person stay on track with their diet. Stock up on a variety of containers in a range of shapes and sizes to store your ingredients and pre-made meals. Whatever your needs or your lifestyle, there are easy-to-use containers that will work for you. Clear containers make it easy to portion out snacks, while color-coded lids make storage a snap. And innovations like salad dressing dispensers and insulated lunch bags make transporting healthy meals simple and convenient.
Look for easy slots in your schedule
The key to making meal prep a habit - and not just a one-time thing - is finding ways to easily integrate it into your lifestyle. If your Sundays are typically free, designate them as your meal prep days and spend an hour or so getting your meals ready for the week. If Sunday doesn't work, find another time that does, be it after work every Tuesday night or Friday morning after you drop the kids off at school, if you have a late shift. Just 10 minutes of prep time can make a big difference for your diet.
Keep it simple
While you can certainly prepare complicated or "fancy" dishes ahead of time, it's best to keep your meals simple when first starting out. Hard-boiling a batch of eggs ahead of time will give you some protein to help fuel your mornings all week, while spending time Sunday cooking a whole chicken will make for easy lunches and dinners. For a well-rounded meal, all you have to do is cook a large box of rice, pasta or other grain and then pair it with the chicken or other pre-cooked meat and some stir-fried veggies. Once you adopt meal prep as a habit, you can begin cooking more complex ideas. If you're stumped for what to make, check out Meal Prep Mondays for some inspiration.