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Healthy Meal Prep to Make Your Menu

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two healthy meals prepared in food storage container

You may have heard, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Meal prep is a way to plan for healthy meals and is also a form of self-care. It may reduce the likelihood that you will make unhealthy food decisions during the week by preventing those drive-thru dashes. By building in time, meal prepping may ensure you have a balanced plate, include variety in your diet and most importantly, stick to your goals during a busy week.

Suggested meal prep guidelines from Cooper Clinic:

1. Set realistic goals
Decide how many days a week you want to prep, based on meals you will prepare. Start with a realistic goal of a few days a week, such as, “I will prep for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday.” Don’t be afraid to start slow, so you are not overwhelmed.

2. Schedule the prep day
Decide which day for the actual prep. Ideally select a weekend day, if that fits with your schedule. Sundays are a popular choice for most people with weekday jobs.

3. Choose your meals
As you plan your menu, think about foods that store well. Choose a variety of foods from every food group to ensure a colorful and healthy plate, for example, lean proteins, vegetables and whole grains. Consider both nutrition and convenience.

  • For grab-and-go breakfast options or snacks, make a smoothie with protein, fruit, vegetables and a dairy source (or alternative dairy option). Try overnight oats, homemade bars or peanut butter energy balls.
  • Soups and stews are ideal as they keep well and can be loaded with vegetables, grains, beans and a lean protein.
  • A roasted chicken can play double or triple duty by standing alone or making tacos, salad or sandwiches.
  • For fresh vegetables and fruit, chop and divide into grab-and-go containers.
  • Hard boil eggs. They are an excellent source of protein for breakfast protein or chopped and added to salads or sandwiches. Plus, hard-boiled eggs keep up to 10 days in the refrigerator.

4. Do a preliminary pantry check
Before shopping, make sure your pantry is stocked with these staples:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • No-added salt broth, tomatoes, beans
  • Steel-cut or old-fashioned oats, quinoa and bulgur
  • Herbs and spices (Tip: Chop and mix with olive oil. Freeze in ice cube trays for convenient use later in recipes.)

Make a list so you don’t forget key ingredients when you go grocery shopping.
5. Purchase the right supplies for the job

  • Select storage containers of different sizes, large for storing in the refrigerator and smaller container for packing to take with you. Ideally, choose glass containers that are microwave, freezer and dishwasher-safe. Look for glass with borosilcate to indicate temperature change tolerance.
  • If choosing plastic containers, look for BPA- free materials. The numbers on the bottom indicate type of plastic; numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are ideal, according to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Purchase a set of cutting boards for meat and produce to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Invest in a good set of knives for chopping. This will make for light work!

6. Remember food safety
Use prepped food within 3-4 days. After cooking, place food in a shallow pan and allow to cool down quickly in the refrigerator. Make sure to reheat food to 165 degrees. Plan to check expiration or use-by dates at least once a month.

7. Put technology to work for you!
Use an app to track pantry items, grocery lists and recipe ideas. The Mealime app is a great tool to help make meal planning easier. Snap a picture of your fridge or pantry before you shop to help trigger ideas of what you need or already have while you’re at the store. These techniques will lead to less waste and reduce trips to the store.

8. Have fun as you prep
Make it a day or partner with a family member or friend. Put on your favorite playlist and set yourself up for nutrition success!  

Meal planning is an important component of healthier eating. By taking small steps toward prepping your meals in advance, you can better control your intake of food, nutritional benefits from daily meals and even save yourself time and money.

To schedule a one-on-one consultation or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Amber Grapevine, MS, RDN, LD, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.