I’ve been long searching for a simple way to think about health and wellness when it comes to nutrition. I needed something I could maintain even during the most hectic of weeks and with the varied dietary needs in my home but that also allowed me to work toward my goal of fueling my mind and body with intention.
I follow simple plans that allow me to succeed without the overwhelm and without obsessing about what I’m going to fuel my body with at every turn.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Think streamlined, not boring.
While eating the same thing every day may sound dull, having some simple, quick building blocks for meals can really help. And just because you cook a pound of chickpeas on Monday, for example, it doesn’t mean you have to eat plain chickpeas every day — you can make chickpea curry on Tuesday, chickpea burgers on Wednesday, homemade hummus on Thursday, and roasted chickpeas on Friday.
Add colour to your meal prep.
Picture a plain chicken breast on a bed of brown rice. Not very exciting, right? Let’s be honest, bright colours make a meal more enticing. So next time you’re grocery shopping, add more colour to your meal prep with brightly-coloured produce like red berries, yellow peppers, dark leafy greens, and purple onions. Even carbs can be colourful — try sweet potatoes, yellow corn, or purple yams instead of the usual grains!
Stop overcooking your food.
Guilty. If culinary skills aren’t exactly your strong point (as was the case for me), it can be hard to get excited about a week’s worth of overcooked meat or mushy veggies. Research shows a lack of cooking skills can be a major barrier to healthy eating. You don’t need to be a sous chef to prepare meals you actually want to eat — with a little practice, anyone can master the basics.
Use your freezer wisely.
After you batch-prep, stash one or two servings in the freezer — you can rotate them into your meal plan whenever you feel like you’ve hit a rut. So if you make a veggie lasagna or slow-cooker chili on Meal Prep Monday, set a portion or two aside now and you’ll have a backup meal when you need it. I do this ALL the time! It’s also helpful to keep a few frozen meal starters around for quick cooking like frozen cubes of pesto or tomato sauce — combine one of these with fresh whole-grain pasta and salad greens, and voila! You have a healthy meal.
Try a new recipe every week.
Obviously, you’re going to have a few standbys you rely on every week — hello, Taco Tuesday, Stir fry Wednesday and Nacho Friday! — but try to incorporate one new recipe each week to keep from getting burnt out on your go-to foods. Switch up your daily smoothie, try a new one-pot meal, or make over a favourite meal with a new flavour — like swapping out your Southwestern black bean salad for a tangy white bean salad.
Switch up your fruits and veggies.
Did you know eating a variety of veggies can help you squeeze more of them into your diet than simply sticking to your tried-and-true faves? In one study, participants were given half a plate of veggies — either a blend of veggies, or just their favourite. The group who got the variety consumed more veggies overall than the group who got their veggie of choice. Try adding a veggie you don’t usually eat to your grocery list this week — or change the way you use your favourite fruits and veggies, like adding strawberries to a spinach salad or blending kale into your breakfast smoothie.
Try a new protein.
When you think of lean protein, chicken and fish may be the first foods that come to mind, but there are plenty of other healthy protein sources. If you need a change, skip the meat aisle this week and get your protein from eggs, quinoa, tofu, beans, cottage cheese, or yogurt.
Spice up your staples.
There’s no reason to eat bland meals when you can usually add flavour to ramp it up. Almost all spices, peppers, and herbs are super healthy choices, as are most vinegar, citrus zest, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, and even dry wine after it’s been cooked so go for the gold! Get to know the spices in your pantry, and use them to keep your pre-prepped meals from getting monotonous
Sauce is a game-changer — can you imagine zucchini fries without marinara or salad without dressing? And while many sauces are loaded with hidden sugar and other not so good ingredients, it’s usually easy to whip up a healthy homemade version. Greek yogurt comes in handy when you want to make delicious sauces! Just add minced garlic, chives, salt, and a little mayonnaise for a good dipping sauce or sandwich spread. Or make a Mediterranean version with chopped cucumber, mint, lemon juice, and salt, or a Latin version with blended chipotle peppers in adobo.
Stock up on meal prep containers.
Nothing screams “boring leftovers” like storing your meal prep in empty takeout containers you found in the back of the kitchen cabinet. Using drab, random containers can make meal prep feel like a chore — especially if you’re constantly rummaging around for a clean container. Stock up on functional meal prep containers that make the meal prep process more visual and organized. (And it never hurts to keep an extra set or two handy, especially if you like to store portions in the freezer.)