Preparing to Succeed: Meal Prep Your Way
By Molly Sleger, SwedishAmerican
Making a decision to live a healthier lifestyle requires changes.
Moving more and eating better will put you on the path toward a healthier lifestyle, but staying on that path is never easy. Scheduling appointments with a personal trainer or attending classes with friends can create accountability for the moving more part of the equation, but what about eating better?
You might intend to eat better, but long days at the office, lunch meetings, and sudden urges can all lead to ruinous food choices. And while moving more by itself is a worthwhile lifestyle change, doing it without eating better typically leads to the number on the scale freezing at a certain plateau.
Just like you have created a plan for your workouts, meal prepping keeps you on track to reach your health goals. We spoke to Molly Sleger, a local clinical dietitian and the person behind @815Dietitian pages on Instagram and Facebook, about her experiences with meal prepping.
Q: Could you define the process of meal prepping, i.e., how it’s different than me going home and making dinner after work?
It’s a head start, the motivation to finish off a healthy meal at home. But it can be any amount of prepping for a meal; it doesn’t mean making five dinners in one Sunday afternoon.
Q: How long have you been meal prepping and what effect has it had on your health? I have been meal prepping off and on for a few years.
In the last few months, I have been more diligent because my time is so tight now with the marathon for which I’m training. If I don’t do any meal prep, my stress level increases and I’m likely not going to be able to have the dinner I’d like to have. Also, if I don’t meal prep, I may not have lunch the next day. I generally take leftovers to work for lunch. This is a big motivator to making dinner.
Health-wise, it helps my sanity and stress levels. I typically have the least motivation to make dinner on Fridays. If I have a meal prepped, I can get my act together. If I haven’t meal prepped, Lino’s pizza and a special salad always sounds good!
Q: Do you enjoy cooking as a hobby? Is meal planning something that someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience with cooking can do easily?
I’m not sure if I can say that I look forward to making dinner during the weekdays. I see the value in a nutritious dinner and the time spent enjoying the meal with my husband (and again at lunch the next day!). And eating out can be so expensive!
There are a lot of levels of meal prep. I suggest making a to-do list and setting a time limit. With each week of meal prep, you become more efficient. You realize that you can bake chicken thighs and bake sweet potatoes at the same time and while that’s happening, it’s time to chop vegetables. The most difficult part of meal prep is figuring out what to prep — as in, “What’s for dinner?” Planning should be the first step of successful meal prepping.
Q: How has meal prepping impacted your wallet?
Meal planning and prepping has helped cut down on our food waste. By the end of the week, my fridge is pretty bare. You can figure out ways to use up various ingredients throughout the week. Red cabbage, for example, can go into tacos, salads, or cooked down for a side dish for example. Anything hanging on at the end of the week can often be made into a frittata for a breakfast or dinner.
Last week I had a high grocery bill at $160. Between my husband and eating about three meals per day, this would come to $3.80 per meal per person. Typically my grocery bill is closer to $120 a week ($2.85 per meal per person).
I recommend investing in Sharpies and Post-It notes to label containers of chopped vegetables, marinades, cooked meats, etc. This cuts down on confusion later in the week when you are looking for ingredients or a spouse accidentally eats something that is for tomorrow night’s dinner.
I haven’t had to invest much in storage containers; I use a variety of mixing bowls and leftover plastic containers from food products I’ve purchased for extra storage when needed. We definitely wash a lot of Tupperware throughout the week, though!
Q: Do you ever find yourself not looking forward to a meal you’ve prepped beforehand and going out to eat instead?
Not really! I make sure to make meals that I really enjoy. Meals that are restrictive in some way can easily not sound good as you’re driving home from work.I often prefer my own meals over eating out because I know that it’s going to taste good and that I’m going to feel good afterwards.
I have already invested meal planning, grocery shopping and meal prep so I feel committed and go through with making the planned dinner. I always end up happy that I have made the meal!
The times when I have scrapped dinner and grabbed pizza instead is when there has been a kitchen disaster like the oven door falling off or the kitchen outlets not working.
Q: Does the food ever feel less-than-fresh? What tips do you have for a meal prepper so that something they’ve made is still good when it’s time to eat?
The only time anything is less-than-fresh is if I waited all week to make a salad or a recipe that includes fresh basil. Ripened and quick-to-wilt vegetables must be used up earlier in the week. More shelf-stable and sturdy vegetables are utilized later in the week. Some dishes are best right out of the oven. Try to prep some meals right up to the point of assembly/cooking to ensure the best texture.
Q: Do you prep all your meals for the week?
To some degree, yes! I make sure most vegetables are chopped and that all recipes are accounted for. On my meal plan, I write the cookbook and page number next to the meal or print the recipe. This is helpful should my husband make the meal that I have prepped. I rarely cook a complete meal on my prep day; this turns meal prep into a daunting task that I don’t want to do.
The cooking process is more enjoyable when I start with a clean kitchen and ingredients are accounted for and semi-prepped. Meal prep for me is getting close to “mise en place.”
Molly Sleger is a clinical dietitian with SwedishAmerican. You can follow her at 815 Dietitian on Facebook and @815dietitian on Instagram.