Try This Method for Faster/Better Meal Planning & Prep

Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN

Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, providing education and support prior to and following weight loss surgery.

Who loves cooking from scratch every night and spending an hour prepping and cooking only one dinner? Hmmm... I’m willing to bet most of you scowled at the mere thought of doing just that. I will be the first to admit that I’m a dietitian who thrives on convenient food items. No, not the convenient foods most people think of like fast food. I’m talking about quick prep foods that are semi-prepared or fully prepared that I can use to make semi-homemade meals. I’m not negating the fact that whole foods are best. Still, in our current world, we don't have a ton of free time on our hands. All things considered, we need to identify healthy but quick-cooking foods to help us free up more time for family and friends and enjoy life. This life is short, right?!

Below I will share some tips on how to make grocery shopping a cinch. Pretty soon, maybe you won’t dread going! These tips won’t take care of your entire grocery list by any means but can be a great dinner and meal prep method. Most of the products I’m recommending are from Trader Joe’s, as many of their stores can be found nationwide. It’s also so simple to shop there. You can shop for comparable products in your local grocery store.

Try this shopping framework:

1) Shop for your proteins. Since protein is high priority following weight loss surgery, let’s start here. My favorites are omega-rich fish like salmon, cod, or tuna and lean meat like turkey and chicken. Look for these:

  • Trader Joe's turkey meatballs (frozen). These have minimal ingredients and are so juicy! They are also quick to cook.
  • Pesto Genovese chicken breast. I’m not even kidding when I say I make this weekly. It’s the best pre-marinated chicken I have ever purchased, and the whole family loves it! It’s juicy and tender and takes less than 10 minutes to saute on the stovetop.
  • Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon fillets. Pop these in the oven for less than 20 minutes. Season with salmon seasoning or whatever you prefer. Delicious!
  • Firm tofu. Tofu can take on the flavor of any dish you want to make, is a complete protein, and can be used in place of any animal-based protein. Tofu can be purchased in unflavored or marinated varieties and can be baked, sauteed, pan-fried, or cooked in the air fryer! Tofu is a great option for those who may not tolerate meats well following WLS.

2) Shop for your veggies. Although you likely won’t have a substantial amount of veggies with your meals after WLS, it’s essential to include veggies and a variety of foods in your diet. Try these:

  • Frozen or fresh broccoli. My easy trick to cooking broccoli is steaming it in the microwave. Put the broccoli in a microwave-safe bowl with a couple of teaspoons of water, cover it with Glad Press’ n Seal, and poke a few holes in the top. Place in the microwave for 3-4 minutes and check for doneness. The color should be bright green and fork-tender but not mushy. Add a squeeze of lemon for some extra flavor!
  • Frozen mashed sweet potatoes. These are so simple! Place a few frozen sweet potato pieces into a saucepan and heat for 5-6 minutes.
  • Ready veggies. This mix includes broccoli florets, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, kale, carrots, and snow pea pods. You can stir fry them stovetop and add any flavor you like with a sauce or vegetable seasoning.

3) Shop for your starches/grains (optional). Starches and grain products will also take a backseat to protein if you’ve had WLS, as they can be too filling. However, starches/grains do not need to be ignored completely. This food group can provide extra protein and fiber, not to mention quality complex carbs you can use to fuel your workouts. If you’ve had weight loss surgery, you should wait a few months post-op to try these, and try one bite to test tolerability. Many people have difficulty with rice varieties, but quinoa is generally well tolerated.

  • Quinoa duo with vegetable melange (quinoa with mixed veggies for us less fancy people). Heat on the stovetop for 5-6 minutes, and voila! Done!
  • Multigrain blend with vegetables. This one is packed with fiber and antioxidants. It includes barley which is known for its chewy consistency and nutty flavor. This is another staple in my freezer! The directions say to thaw before cooking, but I just put it in a skillet to heat for 6-8 minutes with a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Seeds of change organic quinoa, red, & brown rice. This one is not from Trader Joe’s but is widely available. It’s a parboiled blend of quinoa and red and brown rice. I had to include it because I buy this in bulk from Costco as it’s so simple to include in any meal as a base or side item. It’s microwave ready in 90 seconds and has such a good flavor!

4) So what’s next? You choose your combinations! Choose one from each category, and done! I love making power bowls and mixing what sounds good together, or you can plate them separately. Remember, following WLS, you want to prioritize the protein, so aim for 2-3 oz of protein when plating or prepping your meal. Add appropriate amounts of the other two choices and ensure the entire meal does not exceed 1 cup. This will help to limit your portion for the size of your stomach. These meals are also great for meal prep, and you can always interchange the protein. Happy shopping and prepping!

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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