This post was written by Erin Palinski-Wade
I am excited to partner with one of my favorite Greek yogurts, Dannon® Light & Fit®, to bring you this post. I have been compensated for my time commitment. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.
If you asked me to share just one tip that has the most impact on health, I would say without a doubt it’s planning ahead. I’m sure you’ve heard the quote by Ben Franklin “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” When it comes to making sure you are eating a well balanced diet, this statement couldn’t be truer. Take the other day for instance. I woke up in the morning and couldn’t wait to start my day off with a smoothie packed full of berries, spinach, and Greek yogurt. But then I realized I had not been to the grocery store and had none of these foods in the house. Needless to say, the breakfast I did end up eating that day was not nearly as nutritious as I had hoped for.
Devoting just a bit of time each week to meal planning can prevent situations like this from happening. I have found for both my clients and myself that meal preparation is the key in achieving and maintaining your health goals. But I know what you are thinking – meal prep is time consuming, right? I used to think that too, but it’s actually the opposite. If you know how to do it, spending just a little bit of time one day a week on meal prep can save you hours the rest of the week. And who doesn’t want to save time and make nutritious eating even easier? You know I am all about easy! That’s why I am so excited to share my top three meal prep essentials for your healthiest week yet:
Step #1: Create a must-have list of your top 5 staple foods and have them on hand at all times
Have you ever looked in your kitchen and realized you were out of pretty much everything, but your day was so busy there was no time for long trip at the grocery store? This happens to me a lot, which is why I am a huge advocate of creating a ‘must-have’ food staple list. This is a list of your top five foods that are essential to have on hand at all times. When I am short on time, but out of everything, I can run into the store, grab these 5 items and be done shopping in under 10 minutes. As long as I have these items on hand, I know I can create healthy meal and snack options for my whole family. So what’s on my must-have list? I’m glad you asked:
Dannon Light & Fit Yogurt Drinks
I am a yogurt fanatic for a good reason. Many yogurts are a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans even recommend increasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods, such as fat-free or low-fat dairy products, like yogurt, which is pretty easy to do. Yogurt is so versatile it can easily be added as a snack, mixed into a recipe, or even enjoyed as a dessert. I’m currently enjoying the Dannon Light & Fit Yogurt Drinks which contain 90 calories, 9 grams of protein and zero grams of added sugar per serving (7 fluid ounces). These delicious little guys make the perfect grab-and-go option and have become my new gym bag essential as my go-to post-workout snack.
I love having fresh vegetables, but they can spoil pretty quickly. Keeping frozen vegetables on hand is a great way to ensure I always have a veggie backup for every meal. Since frozen produce is picked at its peak ripeness and flash frozen, the majority of nutrients are maintained, making it just as nutritious as the fresh alternative, but with a much longer shelf life.
Beans provide a good source of plant-based protein, fiber, and iron plus they are incredibly versatile. I can toss them onto a salad, make a batch of chili in the slow cooker, or use them for a family taco night depending on our mood. Not only are they incredibly nutritious, but they are also very budget friendly which makes the grocery bill a lot lighter.
Eggs aren’t just for breakfast. Not only do they provide a complete source of protein, but they can be used as the main ingredient in a meal, added into a recipe, or enjoyed as a snack. If I have a carton of eggs on hand, I know that I can always whip up a quick meal that my family will love any time of day.
Whole grain tortillas
You can probably see why these are an essential based on my other food choices. With these on hand, I can create anything from taco salad bowl, to a breakfast burrito, or even a flatbread pizza.
Step #2: Schedule one hour a week to save time all week long
Figure out which day of the week works best for your meal preparation efforts and schedule it. For me, I like to make this the same day I go grocery shopping so I have everything I need to make my prep work as easy as possible. During this hour, clean and chop your fresh veggie options for the week. Create your full week of lunches and have them packed and stored in the refrigerator so you can quickly grab them as you run out the door each day. Have your dinner ingredients ready to go. For me, this may be having a chicken breast marinating in a bag so that it can be quickly tossed on the grill one night. Or, I may slice my vegetables and meat, toss them in a bag with my favorite seasonings, and have it all ready to throw into the crock pot for a dinner that cooks itself.
Step #3: Keep a reverse food record
I am a huge believer in keeping a food record. Did you know that people who keep food records lose about 40% more weight than those who don’t? That’s a huge number for simply tracking what you put in your mouth. The main reason for this is increased accountability. Now, writing down what you eat after you have eaten it is the typical way you would keep a food record, but I actually recommend trying it in reverse. If you take a few minutes each night to write out what you plan to eat the next day, you can better plan your meals and problem solve instead of having to do it on the fly.
For example, if you were writing out tomorrow’s meals and realized you didn’t have the foods on hand to make the dinner you were planning, you can think through what foods you do have available and how you can create a healthy dinner from those instead. If you had waited to do that until right before you started to prep the meal, you may have had to pick up the phone and order takeout instead.
My One-Week Meal Prep Guide
So what does my meal prep routine look like? Here’s an example of my healthy meal planning menu from this week:
Sunday Night Meal Prep Routine: Time Frame – 1 hour
- Batch cook One-Pot Slow Cooker Chili for weekly lunches
- Hard boil one dozen eggs for weekly snacks
- Bake up one dozen Veggie Egg Muffins for breakfast on-the-go
- Clean, wash, and slice fresh peppers, carrots, and celery for snack options
- Grill 3 lbs chicken breast, slice, and refrigerate for salad toppings and sandwiches during the week
- Prep 3 bags of slow cooker meals including marinated meats and vegetables in plastic bags and freeze for easy dinner meal prep throughout the week
- Prep post workout snacks with Dannon Light & Fit Yogurt Drinks and fresh fruit
- Prep snack options throughout the week including Dannon Light & Fit Greek nonfat yogurt, nuts, seeds, and low fat string cheese.
Taking the time to prep everything in advance allows me to have quick access to nutritious meals and snacks all week long. I have found this takes the stress out of meal planning, ends the ‘what should I make for dinner’ struggle that often happens after a long day of work, and saves me both time and money on groceries.
What does your meal prep strategy look like? Join me over on Instagram and follow @lightandfit to show us how you #DoWhatFitsYou