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Food and Nutrition

The Art of Simple Meal Prep: A Dietitian’s Guide

Stephanie Chen, RD | Nutrition Specialist
/ December 21, 2023
Glass Meal Prep Containers

As we bid farewell to another year, it’s a perfect time for a bit of introspection and goal setting. Is 2024 going to be the year you finally nail down the knack for straightforward, no-fuss meal prep? Well, only time will reveal that, but I’m here to offer a bit of a nudge in the right direction.

Many people see the beginning of a new year as a clean slate, an opportunity to start fresh and set new goals. For many, this includes health and wellness objectives, and what better way to kickstart this journey than mastering the art of simple meal prep?

The idea is to make healthy eating effortless and enjoyable. Changing how you see meal prep can make it enjoyable and empowering, benefiting your body and mind. By learning a few basics and adopting the right mindset, you can transform the way you approach food and cooking.

Below are some ideas for making healthy and delicious meals that are also quick and easy to prepare. Think of this as your little playbook for making meal prep a breeze.

I’ll share with you the secrets of combining simplicity with flavor. You’ll discover that meal prep isn’t time-consuming or complicated. Prepping meals is all about smart choices and efficient methods.

We’ll explore how to use simple ingredients to create meals that are both nutritious and satisfying. You’ll learn how to plan your meals effectively, choose the right ingredients, and cook in batches to save time. This guide helps you make meal prep easier and more enjoyable.

Why Meal Prepping is Important for Success

Meal prepping is a cornerstone of maintaining a healthy diet, particularly for those with busy lifestyles. Preparing meals ahead of time is not just about convenience. It’s also a smart way to eat that promotes healthier choices. Additionally, it helps you stay on track with your health goals.

By setting aside a few hours every week to prepare meals, you can make sure you always have healthy choices available. This will help you avoid the temptation of opting for less nutritious convenience foods. It’s a practice that fosters discipline, saves time, and ultimately contributes to a more balanced and health-conscious lifestyle.

Protein is especially important during a weight loss phase because it is the most satiating macronutrient per calorie. Focusing on protein allows you to create a calorie deficit without feeling hungry. Protein also helps build and maintain muscle mass.

Combining a variety of protein sources into your meal prep is key to keeping your diet interesting and balanced. From animal-based proteins like chicken and salmon to plant-based options like tofu and chickpeas, the choices are plentiful. Each protein source offers its unique flavor and nutritional profile, giving you plenty of options to suit your taste and dietary preferences. By understanding the benefits and best methods of preparing these proteins, you can make meal prep both enjoyable and effective.

Top Proteins to Meal Prep

Grilled Chicken Breast

Season with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Baked Salmon Filets

Marinate in soy sauce or coconut aminos, ginger, and garlic.

Seasoned Tofu

Cube and bake tofu marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili flakes.

Chickpeas

Roast with cumin, paprika, and olive oil for a crunchy texture.

Hard-Boiled Eggs

Cook to your preference, then peel and store in the fridge.

Best Grains and Starches for Meal Prep

Farro

Cook in vegetable/chicken broth for extra flavor. Tip: try Trader Joe’s 10-minute farro.

Chickpea/Lentil Pasta

Cook al dente then toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking. Tip: look for Chickapea, Barilla, or Good and Gather (Target) brands.

Delicata Squash

Roast with avocado oil, salt, and pepper. (Note: members on a VLCD will want to temporarily avoid winter squash)

Cauliflower Rice

Oven-roast with garlic and onion for flavor. Tip: also try Trader Joe’s Mexican-Style Riced Cauliflower.

Quinoa

Toast, then cook in vegetable/chicken broth for extra flavor.

Vegetables to Prep in a Pinch

Steamed Broccoli

Season with a pinch of salt and lemon zest. Tip: keep a bag of broccoli or other frozen vegetable mix in the freezer.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roast with a touch of avocado oil and balsamic vinegar.

Sautéed Spinach

Cook with garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Grilled Zucchini

Slice and grill with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Mixed Bell Peppers

Slice and sautée with onions and fajita seasoning. Tip: also try Trader Joe’s Frozen Fire Roasted Bell Peppers & Onions.

Healthy Fats for Simple Meal Prep

Avocado

Slice and sprinkle with lemon juice and black pepper.

Nuts and Seeds

Lightly toast a mix of almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.

Olives

Mix up Kalamata and green olives, or simply drain a can of black olives before slicing them up.

Feta Cheese

Crumble for a salty addition to salads and bowls.

Hummus

Make it yourself with chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, or grab a container from the store. Perfect as a dip or spread.

Meal Prep Flavor Boosters

Pesto

Make it yourself with basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, and olive oil.

Tahini Dressing

Tahini mixed with lemon juice, garlic, and water to thin.

Meal Prep Assembly Ideas

Bowls

Farro base + protein + vegetables + healthy fat + flavor booster

Wraps

Low carb tortilla + protein + sautéed vegetables + healthy fat + salsa

Salads

Mixed greens + protein + roasted vegetables + nuts/seeds + dressing

Stir-Fry

Sautéed vegetables + protein + farro/chickpea or lentil pasta + soy sauce/garlic sauce

Snack Platter

Hummus + raw vegetables + hard-boiled eggs + nuts/seeds

Favorite Meal Prep Recipes

These tried-and-true recipes will make meal prep a breeze, from my kitchen to yours.

Lentil Soup

This is a staple in my kitchen for a good reason. Packed with protein and fiber, this soup makes it a satisfying and nutritious choice.

It’s incredibly versatile — you can throw in whatever veggies you have on hand. Plus, it freezes beautifully, ensuring you always have a healthy meal ready when you’re short on time.

Chili

Another freezer-friendly option, chili is perfect for those chilly evenings when you crave something hearty and warming. It’s a great way to pack in protein and fiber, and you can easily adjust the heat and ingredients to suit your taste.

Vegetable Stir-Fry

This is the ultimate quick and healthy option. You can use a variety of vegetables, from bell peppers to bok choy, and the addition of a protein like tofu or chicken turns it into a complete meal.

The best part? It comes together in less than 30 minutes, and you can cook the vegetables directly from the freezer. I frequently mention Costco’s Kirkland Signature Stir Fry Vegetable Blend as an easy way to get a variety of veggies.

Chickpea Salad (Balela)

This is a fantastic make-ahead option. The flavors meld together when left to sit, making it even tastier the next day. It’s a great source of plant-based protein and fiber, perfect for a quick lunch or a side dish.

With these tips and tricks up your sleeve, I encourage you to take a fresh look at cooking. Let’s keep it simple, healthy, and hassle-free.

Remember, it’s all about finding joy in the kitchen while nourishing yourself and your loved ones. So, here’s to making meal prep a less daunting and more delightful part of your everyday life in 2024!

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