Four Ways to Spice Up Meal Prep
By Catherine Roy, O2X Nutrition Specialist, RD
At the end of a long day, the last thing most of us want to do with a growling stomach is spend our few hours of nightly downtime in the kitchen cooking and cleaning, right? Establishing a weekly meal prep routine is a great way to ensure that you (and those around you) have a few healthy options on hand for those nights when Netflix and takeout sound much more enticing than firing up your stove.
Meal prepping is a great way to eat healthy, save money, and reduce food waste – but let’s be real, eating the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner four days in a row can get pretty boring, even for the best home chefs! Arming yourself with ways to keep weekly meal prep fresh and interesting is key to keep you coming back to your kitchen for more.
1. Spice up your proteins with sauces
Batch cooking proteins like chicken, beef, or even tofu is a great way to cut down on your meal assembly time. However, making a big batch of buffalo chicken might sound good on Sunday, but is that really what you want to commit yourself to eating all week?
Instead, try cooking your proteins seasoned lightly with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. This essentially leaves you with a blank canvas that you can dress up with different sauces throughout the week. One night you toss your pre-cooked chicken with Caesar dressing to use in Caesar salad wraps and the next night you use that same chicken tossed with some salsa in tacos or quesadillas. This ensures you are still only cooking once, without totally committing to the same meal every night of the week. Also, don’t over think the sauce; bottled sauces are a totally acceptable option (but make sure the ingredient list is short, with very few “unknown” ingredients). Be mindful of nutrient content, as some bottled sauces have an excessive amount of added sugar, fat, and sodium.
Another tip is to make use of the slow cooker. Soups, Chilies, and Curries are easy-prep for Sunday, and they can simmer all day. They are convenient to store in small batches and can be used as a base for a dinner, or as a full meal (e.g. chili for lunch). The best part about these is the flavors get better as the week goes on, as the acids, vegetables, and seasonings interact.
2. Bagged salads and snacks are your friends
Bagged salads are pretty high up on my list of grocery store gems. Bagged salads take the stress out of deciding what type of salad you want, what toppers sound good, as well as what dressing will complement your flavors. They make life so easy! Just remember to add a protein and a carbohydrate to keep you full and satisfied.
On your weekly grocery store run, pick up one or two different salad kits. Use them as an easy lunch option topped with your favorite protein, and enjoy with a piece of fruit on the side, or as an accompaniment to your dinner to help you reach your daily veggie goal.
Also, have snacks prepared and on hand. Some suggestions include portable cheese/meat snacks, raw veggies (or fruit), whole grain bites, protein muffins, etc.
3. Capitalize on your mix-ins & condiments
Adding crushed up tortilla chips on top of a taco salad, stirring in sliced olives or sundried tomatoes to a Mediterranean inspired pasta dish, or using a horseradish or Dijon mustard on your sandwich can really take your meals to the next level. Think of these as the finishing touches on your meals. They round out the flavors, tie everything together, and give your taste buds a flavor pop that they weren’t expecting. Other ideas include (but aren’t limited to) sliced or chopped nuts, dried fruit, cheese, avocado, salsa, honey mustard, pesto, and mayo!
4. Don’t cook your grains in water
Using a liquid other than water to cook your grains adds a significant boost of flavor with minimal effort on your part. Stock, fruit or vegetable juices, and coconut milk are some of the most tried and true methods. The best grains to cook in stock are the ones that absorb their cooking liquid. Those like quinoa, farro, barley, rice, couscous, and oats. Insider tip: don’t waste your stock on pasta since you’re just going to dump the excess liquid down the drain.
Experiment with cooking your rice in coconut milk, your quinoa in chicken stock, and your couscous in orange juice to find the flavor combos that best satisfy your palate. Just remember to think about what type of meal you are going to be incorporating your grain into before you start cooking – while rice cooked in coconut milk might be a great addition to a curry, it might taste a bit funny paired with pesto chicken.
Mealtimes shouldn’t contribute to your already hectic weekday schedules – rather, they should be a time for unwinding and enjoying the company of those around you. With the above tips and tricks, you’re now well equipped to easily incorporate variety and excitement into your weekly meal prep routine to ensure you remain in your kitchen and out of the takeout bag.