Article By: Maria Tucker, MPH, RDN, LDN, CDCES
Maria Tucker is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with over 20 years of experience assisting patients with diabetes, obesity, and nutrition-related conditions. Maria is also the Founder of MyBiyaya.com, a site dedicated to healthy recipes and kitchen shortcuts.
You’ve probably heard the question, “What’s for dinner?” a million times (ok, I may be exaggerating). You look in your pantry, your fridge, and your cupboard and think, “Oh no! There is nothing to cook!” Panic sets in and you end up calling a food delivery service or get in your car and drive to the nearest fast food place to get some type of dinner on the table quickly. That’s where meal planning and meal prepping can be a big help.
Meal planning or meal prepping – are they the same thing or is there a difference? According to America’s Test Kitchen, meal planning is “the process of choosing recipes for the week ahead, while meal prepping is the process of bringing those plans to fruition”. Whether you are eating healthy to lose weight on your own or have had bariatric surgery and need to eat healthy meals in smaller portions, meal planning and prepping should be essential parts of your healthy eating routine.
Here are 5 common mistakes you might be making when meal planning and prepping:
1) Not allowing adequate time. Meal planning requires thinking ahead, meaning you have to think about meals and snacks you plan to eat for at least a few days and deciding how much time it would take for you to prepare ingredients, cook, and store the food once you’ve cooked it. Think about how many dishes you plan to prep and cook ahead and estimate how long it would take to do it. For example, if you plan to meal prep a full meal with a main protein source plus 2 sides, then you may need to plan for at least a couple hours to do it. You can also just prepare ingredients a couple of days ahead and store them in the fridge or freezer until it is time to cook your meal. For example, you can cut up stir-fry veggies a day ahead if you plan to use it for dinner but don’t have enough time to chop and cut up ingredients right before dinner.
2) Forgetting to use time-saving kitchen gadgets or equipment. Most of us have kitchen gadgets to help with saving time when meal prepping; however, they often get tossed in the kitchen cabinets or drawers and forgotten. Immersion blenders can make quick work of puréeing tomatoes or other veggies when making soup; a garlic press can quickly crush garlic, while an egg slicer can be used to make even slices of boiled egg or even small avocados. Check your kitchen cabinets for these or any gadgets you may have forgotten you have and USE THEM!
3) Making a dish from a new recipe without reading the ingredient list and directions ahead of time. If you love to cook, it can be a lot of fun to try new recipes out, but not reading the recipe and thoroughly understanding what ingredients and cooking equipment you need as well as how long it takes to prep and cook it can cause frustration. If you are new to meal planning, prepping and cooking, first try out recipes with fewer ingredients and requires fewer steps to prepare.
4) Using a main ingredient too often. Chicken, for example, is a very popular and easy to cook protein source; however, if you use it too often, like say, 4 days in a row, you or your family can get burned out on it, even if you prepare it different ways. When making your grocery list for the week, include a variety of different protein sources, including plant-based options.
5) Planning and prepping more meals than you have storage for. Eating healthy can make you very excited about trying to meal prep to help with controlling portions of meals or saving time. That excitement can lead to advance prepping too many dishes at once or too large of a quantity to store and freeze properly what you cooked. Before you prep and prepare a big batch of food for storage, first determine how much space you have in your fridge or freezer to store what you plan to cook. Doing so will prevent wasting the food you so lovingly prepared.
Avoiding these mistakes will make meal planning and prepping less intimidating. Truth is, meal planning does not have to be “choosing recipes for the week ahead” as America’s Test Kitchen defines it; it can be as simple as thinking about what lunch to bring to work the next day and prepping it the night before or making a list of and purchasing ingredients for a couple of days’ worth of meals to feed your family. However you do it, make meal planning and meal prepping a habit and do your best to be consistent about it. You may even find it fun!