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Healthy “Fast Food” Hacks to Meal Prep Like a PRO!

How to Meal Prep like a PRO! Fast Food Hacks from a dietitian.

The secret to healthy eating isn’t in a magic pill or some detox ‘cure-all’ cleanse (if it were only that easy); it comes with good consistent planning, a bit of preparation and having some important tools [1]in your ‘toolbox’ to help you along the way.  And today we’re going to show you HOW!

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Ok, so I’m a busy mom of two and know first-hand that life can make it super challenging to get healthy meals on the table and into those bellies (yours included) at a reasonable hour!  Honestly, the struggle is real.  And there’s nothing more frustrating than opening the fridge at the end of the week to find that produce you never got around to using, rotting in the crisper. Wasted time, wasted money, and realizing you have yet to get out of that take out rut!

There are so many fellow dietitians that I admire and respect, and Lindsay Pleskot [2] is one of them.  This girl is the real deal, and has created the 321 Method for meal planning [1] that I HIGHLY recommend.  Lindsay’s method actually teaches you how to properly meal plan to reduce food waste, maximize nutrition and take the stress out of mealtimes in the least amount of time possible.  She’s a ninja when it comes to this and I’m so happy she’s sharing this post with you… take it away Lindsay!

Hi guys, it’s Lindsay Pleskot here to take over today’s blog, and I’m SO excited to get to talk about something that I’m incredibly passionate about helping you with!

The situation Tori described above is hard to break, and I have to admit, one I used to find myself stuck in more often than I’d like to admit. Over the years I have become a HUGE fan of meal prep, both for myself and my clients. Honestly, if you had asked me a few years back, I never thought these words would be coming out of my mouth! Meal prep can be super intimidating, and pretty dang unappealing – especially when you search meal prep tips online, only to find those five identical containers of chicken, broccoli, and rice, unappetizingly staring back at you – I don’t know about you guys but that doesn’t exactly get me excited!

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But, the benefits of simple prep are pretty hard to deny. It gives you hours of your time back by limiting unnecessary trips to the grocery and cooking from scratch every night, taking the stress out of meal planning (not to mention saving money by actually using up what you buy) and eliminating the need for another expensive and possibly unhealthy take-out lunch. Trust me when I say that the small investment of time up front is worth your long term sanity!

But the dilemma remains – how can you maximize on the time and stress saving benefits without sacrificing the flavor and variety that actually make eating enjoyable! Through some trial and error over the years, I have discovered a couple of game changing tricks.

 

HACK #1: Streamline Your Prep to 6 Ingredients 

I teach my clients a super simple strategy to prep for the week in just 1 hour, The 321 Method [1].

This eliminates the decision overwhelm and makes it super easy to plan for the week ahead. All you do is pick:

Start by cooking your carb (rice, quinoa, wheat berries – so many options to choose from!) and while it cooks, roast or bake your proteins, wash and cut up your veggies, and voila – when prepped in this order, you can be done, packed up and kitchen clean in less than an hour! And the best part, you’ve got all your core ingredients to mix and match into different meals throughout the week!

NOW, here’s the secret sauce to turning this minimal effort, 1 hour meal prep, into delicious mouthwatering meals for the week!

Enter…

 

HACK #2: FAST FOODS

Sound a bit weird coming from a dietitian?? My definition of fast foods are nourishing, whole food ingredients that take little to no extra time to prepare, but come together to create completely different flavors and dishes – more variety, more flavor, less time. That’s something I can get on board with!

So here are my staple fast foods that can absolutely transform a meal!

  1.  Greens & Fresh Herbs

Possibly my favorite category.  Greens are nutrition powerhouses! But they also add a ton of fresh colour and flavour (don’t forget about herbs, these count as leafy greens too!). I always make sure to add a bin of some type of leafy green plus at least one fresh herb to those six core ingredients on my grocery list each week.

Examples: Arugula, Swiss Chard, Kale, Romaine, Beet Greens, Mixed Greens, Spinach, Basil, Mint, Cilantro, Chives, Parsley, Oregano, Dill

How to use:

 

2. Ready-to-Go Produce (Fresh or Frozen)

A lot of the heavy lifting will already be done for you from your 1 hour meal prep. But we all know the benefits of eating more veggies (ideally aiming for ½ of our plate) so adding a couple of these ready-to-go veggies to your list gives you more variety and makes it super easy to get those extra servings in!  Frozen veggies are 

Examples: cherry tomatoes, snap peas, pre-cut veg like broccoli, spiralled veggies like zucchini or squash, cauliflower or stir-fry mix, lemons and limes (juice and zest), frozen edamame beans

How to use:

 

3. Condiments, Sauces & Broths

With the tip of your hand these pantry staples can turn your core meal prep ingredients into a  curry, a stir-fry, or a hearty soup – on the table in under 10 minutes.

Examples: Coconut milk, curry paste, black bean paste, soy sauce/tamari, stocks and broths, tomato sauce, stewed or diced tomatoes

How to use:

These ones sort of speak for themselves, but pick one or two, add to a pot or pan with your prepped ingredients and voila, an instant meal just like we did with this Coconut Curried Butternut Squash Soup! [15]

4. Spices

Like herbs, spices can instantly transform the flavor profile of simple ingredients – turning roasted cauliflower or chickpeas into a delicious taco filling, a tomato sauce into a hearty chili base or pasta sauce [16], or a variety of whole grains into a flavour packed base for a one pan meal.

Examples: The list is endless but my favorites are chili powder, cumin, chili flakes, turmeric, cinnamon, or spice blends like Italian, Greek, or Jerk Spice

How to Use:

 

4. Whole Grains

When it comes to this category, I try to opt for sprouted grain when possible, and the more fiber the better (3-5 g per serving). Keep them in the freezer to grab as needed – these can be lifesavers to avoid having to cook multiple meals to suit family preferences (if your kids aren’t fans of mixed meals, keep their prepped protein and veggies separate, throw them into a wrap or a bun and you’ve got a burger, taco, or quesadilla)!

Examples: Whole grain buns, wraps, tortillas, pitas, ready to go grain packs for when you’re in a pinch or rye or seed crackers 

How to use:

With a combination of the right spices or ready to go greens or produce, pretty much any combination of your prepped vegetables and proteins can create a totally different meal like the examples below!

 

If you want to see this all in action, you can download my free 5 day meal plan here [21], or for a full done-for-you version, my 4 week meal plan, check out The 321 Method Meal Plans here [1].