I have found meal prepping to be one of the most vital aspects of maintaining my physical and mental health throughout my time as a student-athlete, pre-med student, and now medical student. I realize it can be intimating to start, which is why I created this free guide with links to products I use and trust to attempt to make the process easier for you. Further, once you get the hang of meal prepping (it’s very easy), you can begin to refer to my recipes section to start taking your cooking game to the next level.
Tips and Tricks for Healthy Meal Prepping:
Whether you are a stressed-out medical student (like myself), a busy student-athlete (as I used to be), or just an overworked professional in any field, this guide has been designed to help make meal prepping and healthy eating less stressful because at the end of the day, you should enjoy your food! This guide serves as a tool in preparing lunches and dinners (as these are usually the meals we eat on-the-go) in advance. Some of the sections below will have a link to amazon lists with any suggested healthy products that Teslie and I use, but feel free to shop around. I have tried to include the cheapest options on my lists (also, if you find a cheaper option, let me know!) My advice is to set aside 1-2 hours on your least stressful day to spend some time prepping.
Step 1: Stocking Your Kitchen to Prep Healthy, Tasteful Meals
Healthy Cooking Oils- Choosing the right oils to use for cooking are vital. Below is a list of my favorite oils to use. In general, stick to monounsaturated and saturated oils. PUFA’s like corn and canola oil are inflammatory and aren’t good items to put in your body.
High heat cooking (above 350 degrees) Unrefined avocado oil, grass-fed ghee, grass-fed butter
Low-medium heat cooking (below 350 degrees) Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Unrefined Coconut Oil
Condiments/Dressings/Spices- I try to limit my condiment use, but I do enjoy certain items with my meals. These can add a delicious (and sometimes even healthy) twist on your foods and help you to avoid getting tired of the same old bland foods. Spices are included in every meal I prepare and are what I consider the most important item in our kitchen. The right mix of spices can boost nutrition, taste, and enjoyment of any meal. We use the Primal Kitchen Products, take a look if you’re interested!
Step 2: Choose Your Foods For The Week
To make things easier for you, I’ve broken the down the list below to include proteins, high-quality carbohydrates, and healthy fats. I’ve also included fish items I use when meal prepping as canned salmon and tuna are both delicious and filled with important nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids. Depending on you health and fitness goals, the proportions of each will change. However, whether you’re a keto-wizard , a carb-a-holic, or somewhere in between, this list can serve as an easy blueprint for you. When possible, try to buy sustainable meat and fish products, this is your best bet for staying healthy, getting the most nutrients in your meals and avoiding toxic exposure.
Proteins- Chicken (breast or thighs), Steak (stew meat, strip, flank, ribeye), Ground Turkey, Ground Bison, Ground Beef
Carbohydrates (starches/grains)- Sweet Potatoes (orange or white), Yams, Plantains, Sprouted Quinoa
Carbohydrates (veggies)- Broccoli, Zucchini, Squash, Butternut Squash, Onions, Spinach, Kale, Arugula, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Carrots, Brussels Sprouts
Fats- Avocado, Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts, Pecans, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds
Fish- Canned Wild Salmon, Canned Wild Tuna.
**I know I didn’t include fruit items above. For simplicity, I’ve chosen to only include the major food prep items that I use when making meals. I bring fruit with me every day, so if you enjoy fruit (as you should), eat away!
Step 3: Choose Your Preparatory Method
What I’ve chosen to do here is provide some of my favorite ways to prep different foods. I like to change it up as much as possible. As such, I’ve listed the method of preparation, a description of how I use the method, and some suggested food items. Not all foods above will be included, but this should serve as a good starting point for your meal preps.
Saute (1 pan meals)- One of the easier methods to use in my opinion. If you don’t have a large pan, I suggest investing in one that’s non-stick and reliable. What I typically do here is take a protein, some vegetables and seasonings in the pan and sauté on low-medium heat for 20-30 minutes. The important thing here is to not overheat and overcook your food. This is best done sautéing your vegetables first (as they will take a bit longer) and then adding your meat at the 5-10 minute mark. Here’s a few suggestions for easy, healthy 1-pan meals to try:
Bake/Roast- This works best for root vegetables (Sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions, rutabaga) and chicken breast or thighs. Most often, I’ll do a full weeks’ worth of lunches using roasting. Oil a sheet pan, put some seasoned vegetables on the pan and roast for 20-25 minutes. Do the same with the chicken and in less than an hour you have a week’s worth of food. *Note I do not suggest cooking the chicken and vegetables on the same pan.
Instant Pot- If there is one item that I could not live without, this would be it. The single best tool for making large amounts of food. The high pressure system can cook chicken, steak, pork, eggs, veggies, rice, and pretty much any other food item on your list. And here’s the best part- it does it in minutes! I couldn’t begin to list all of the items you could make with the instant pot, but some of my favorites are butternut squash chili, pork tenderloin with a spicy date sauce, and chicken and vegetable soup.
Step 4: Store and Enjoy!
Once you’ve chosen your foods, prepared them properly and efficiently, you need to make sure to store them to maintain freshness. Here are some tips for storage:
Wait for food items to cool down before refrigerating them. If you put them directly into glass containers and then into the refrigerator, the food will keep cooking. Let the foods cool down, put them into your containers, and then put them in the fridge.
Freeze items to save yourself even more time. For example, if you know you’re going to have a busy week and want a head start on the next week, make a batch of soup and freeze it for the week.
If you choose to make salads or items that require dressings, bring the dressing with you or put it on the morning of. NO ONE likes a soggy salad.
If you’re bringing a soup or stew, make sure you choose your storage wisely. I make sure to put soups/stews in glass containers with rubber insulation to ensure they don’t spill. The last thing I need is chili on my biochem cheat sheet.
I hope this information helps you save time, money, and increase your health | Does a different method work for you? Let me know!