Forget ramen packets, cup-a-soups, microwaved Lean Cuisines and all those other bland, salty, unhealthy lunches. This year, we’re getting healthy thanks to two words: meal prep.
We’ve been seeing fitness Instagrammers and health-food bloggers posting shots of their neatly stacked containers of portioned food for years. The idea is simple: prepare healthy meals for lunch, dinner or both on Sunday, ready to be heated up and devoured on the busy week ahead. By preparing, you can make sure to have balanced, health-conscious choices, instead of grabbing a last-minute box of frozen Bagel Bites for lunch as you run out the door.
We spoke to two North Jersey restaurant owners, Todd Marvel of Sprout in Maplewood and Kiersten Gormeley of Shaka Bowl in Hoboken, to share with us their tips for how to create balanced, delicious, healthy meals that will taste just as fresh on Monday as they will on Friday.
5 tips for healthy meal prepping
1. Start with a protein
A filling and energizing meal nearly always includes some type of protein. Lean proteins include skinless, boneless chicken breast, turkey and low-fat pork. Marvel recommends using a slow cooker to braise meats. Just start your slow cooker at the beginning of your meal prep day and by the evening you’ll have tender, flavorful meat that you can incorporate into your eats for the rest of the week. Play around with spices (Southwestern flavors or lemon and herb, for example) to find a recipe that suits you. The finished product can be served as a main dish or shredded and put in salads or grain bowls.
And meat isn’t the only way to get in protein. Legumes such as kidney beans and chickpeas are great options. Gormeley notes that chickpeas can even be turned into meatless burgers when combined with spices, onions and garlic. “Plants have a ton of protein, it’s not just meat,” she said. Tofu, tempeh (fermented soy) and avocado are other healthy, non-meat sources of protein.
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2. Add fruits and veggies
Marvel suggests using a strong leafy green like kale in your meals. Dense and fibrous, kale can be shredded to be put in salads at the beginning of the week, then sautéed with olive oil, salt and pepper toward the end of the week.
Other vegetables that keep for a long time include carrots, beets, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and squash. These can be steamed, sauteed or roasted with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper for an easy way to jazz up your veggies.
For fruits, Gormeley highly recommends eating fruits as-is: whole apples, oranges and bananas.
For a filling dish, Gormeley suggests making vegetarian chili with a ton of lentils and beans. Another option is cooking up simple soup by sauteing vegetables, then letting them simmer in stock with some rice or noodles. Both can be stored and eaten throughout the week.
3. Don’t be afraid of a starch or grain
“People think starches like bread, rice and pasta are bad, but these are the foods that give us stored energy,” Gormeley said. Especially for vegetarians, a balanced meal should include a big portion of starch, she added.
Quinoa is a go-to grain for both Gormeley and Marvel. It’s easy to make a pot of quinoa to be refrigerated and eaten throughout the week. It can be seasoned simply with just salt and pepper, or with combinations of lemon juice, basil, parsley, thyme, lemon zest, garlic, onions or even melted cheese.
“We use a lot of quinoa at Sprout,” Marvel said. “It can be used as a side or a base for a grain bowl.”
4. Store your food properly
A major part of keeping your meals fresh is storing them properly. To keep your veggies fresh for at least a week, remove excess moisture, keep them refrigerated, store different vegetables separately and keep them in either cling wrap, Tupperware or plastic bags.
“If you put any kind of fruit in the fridge it slows down the turning process,” said Gormeley, who recommends putting everything from bananas to ripe avocados in the refrigerator. Gormeley also likes to clean and cut her vegetables immediately after buying them. She says it’s a great way to create space in your fridge, save time later when you want to eat the food, see how much food you actually have, and keep things fresh by picking off any part of the vegetable that has started to go bad (like brown leaves of lettuce or mushy grapes).
5. Don’t fall into a rut
The key to keeping all this healthy eating up? Variety.
Meal prep and healthy eating can quickly become mundane when you stick to the same foods over and over again. So, do your best to pick up different things at the grocery store. “Make it fun,” he said, “by adding some crunch, maybe a different fruit or some seeds, so you’re not eating the same old things every week.”
Here are a few healthy recipes to get you started:
By Kate Morgan Jackson
Zucchini Pesto Noodles
2 medium zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup pesto (or more or less to taste)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
8 ounces pasta (I like to use a short pasta like penne or campanelle)
2 cloves garlic
1 cup shelled edamame (you can find it in bags in the freezer section) plus extra for garnish
½ cup grated Parmesan
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Fresh ground pepper
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