16 Apr

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Meal Prep Edition


Meal Prep! We’ve all heard these two words too many times to count and they often come with a sense of panic and procrastination. Who really wants to spend their entire Sunday in the kitchen? As I’ve stated in our previous recipe blogs, (here, here, here and here), meal prep does not need to be fancy and time-consuming in order to be appetizing! In this article, I include a few ways to cook smarter, not harder. I will also be adding tips to ensure you can make it a long-term habit regardless of how busy your schedule becomes! 

Positive Mindset

The first most important determinant when it comes to meal prepping is your mindset. As a coach, I can always tell whether or not someone will be successful based on the language they use. If they look at cooking as something they have to do with a feeling of drudgery, oftentimes it just doesn’t get done. Therefore, the first step is to change your verbiage by replacing the words “have to” with “want to” or “get to” - you’ll notice an immediate shift in your demeanor. You can use this tip with anything in life from working out to cleaning your house. Next, it is crucial to get a deeper understanding of why cooking in bulk will benefit you. Instead of looking at the negatives, spend your time focusing on the positives by understanding how this habit will support your goals and efficiency throughout the week. 

Efficient Shopping

Just like cooking your meals, grocery shopping doesn’t have to be stressful. There are tips you can follow to ensure your shopping is not only fast and efficient but that you leave the store with items that give your body the fuel and energy it needs rather than those that cause fatigue and sluggishness. 

  • Balanced meals consist of proteins, fats, starchy carbohydrates and vegetables. Be sure you have all of those included in each of your meals for the week. 
  • Make a list of the items you need based upon the meals and snacks you plan to eat. An example list may include chicken, bison, eggs, bell peppers, okra, broccoli, sweet potatoes, brown rice, avocados, and coconut oil. Simple enough, right?
  • Stick to the outer perimeter when shopping unless you need spices or other items specifically on your list. Most of your perishables will not be found within the aisles of the grocery store. By ensuring you stay away from the inner aisles you are also ensuring that you don’t come home with a bunch of processed sugary foods.
  • Don’t go to the grocery store hungry! When you go to the grocery store on an empty stomach it’s easier to find yourselves grabbing things that aren't on your grocery list. It may not sound like a big deal, but when you find yourself roaming the candy and snack aisles, it could mean buying things that don’t support health and energy balance.

Easy Meals

You do not NEED to create elaborate meals that take hours to prepare and cook. Sure, if you enjoy cooking and have the time, then go for it! But for the purpose of this article, we are going to talk about easy and efficient ways to prep your meals for the week while still tasting great. How do you make a balanced meal easy? To keep it simple, focus first on the star of your plate - the protein! We like to cook at least two different proteins each week. As an example, this week we chose chicken and steak while last week we chose chicken, salmon, and venison. 

Next, focus on your vegetables which can be easily interchanged week to week to add some variety. This week we choose asparagus and kale whereas last week we chose broccoli and green beans. To keep it simple, we cook most of our vegetables the same - oven roasted and seasoned with salt. Don’t spend too much energy chopping either; it’s not necessary and can take up a lot of time! 

Next is your starchy carbohydrates; Because this is all about simplicity, we'll focus on the sweet potato alone. We cook these in the oven for 90 minutes on 425 and to mix it up a bit, you can change how you choose to garnish it. Below, I’ll include three different ways you can eat your sweet potatoes. 

As for a fat source, you can add some slivers of avocado or use coconut or avocado oil to cook with your vegetables. These meals will all include protein, carbs, fat and can be mixed & matched so it does not feel like you are eating the same thing over and over again. 

Now let’s talk about recipes! These won’t be your typical recipes that include a lot of fancy steps but more-so a guide on how to cook your meat, vegetables, and sweet potatoes easily and how you can create variety day-to-day. We are going to assume our readers do not have a grill for inclusivity reasons but if you do have a grill, grilling your meat is definitely an option! 

Protein 

Chicken Thighs or Breast

  1. Place skillet on high heat
  2. Sprinkle with your favorite seasoning! Salt and pepper work great here, or you can mix a few spices together and even purchase a premade mixture such as a poultry seasoning. 
  3. Place chicken on skillet over high heat and sear for one minute covered
  4. Flip chicken and cook for ten minutes covered on medium heat
  5. Turn off stove and let sit for another ten minutes

Salmon

  1. Pre-heat oven to 425
  2. Rub 1 tbs of avocado oil on your salmon and sprinkle with salt and pepper
  3. Cook in the oven for 10-12 minutes depending on the thickness of your filet
  4. Check the temperature! Fully cooked fish measures at 145 degrees Fahrenheit but through trial and error, we like taking it out of the oven around 125 degrees. The salmon will continue to cook through as it sits on the counter and it won’t taste overdone.
  5. You will want to eat your salmon fresh but if you are saving leftovers, those should be consumed the following day.

Vegetables 

Baked Broccoli

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Slide the heads off the stems; this can be done quickly and doesn’t need to be perfect. Chop them up into as little or big pieces as you would like!
  3. Place broccoli florets onto a baking sheet and coat with a thin layer of avocado oil
    • Disclaimer: I am all about efficiency. The spray cans of avocado oil are the easiest and fastest way to coat the vegetables, but of course, you can pour a few tablespoons of avocado oil or coconut oil on top as well. You do not necessarily want to use olive oil because it will go rancid at high temperatures. Remember that the coconut oil will leave a sweet coconut taste; some people enjoy that, though I personally prefer avocado oil for my veggies.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes
  5. Before you eat you can add salt for flavor and as an added bonus you can sprinkle some toasted almonds on top with a dash of soy sauce
    • Disclaimer: Salting BEFORE you sit down to consume your vegetables rather than when you are cooking them will keep them fresher for longer as leftovers! 

Broccoli in a Pan

  1. Heat wok or pot over medium-high heat
  2. Slice the heads off the stems; this can be done quickly and doesn’t need to be perfect. Chop them up into as little or big pieces as you would like!
  3. Add broccoli to the wok or pan then pour in ¼ cup water and cover with a lid
  4. Let cook for 7-12 minutes, mixing occasionally. The amount of time cooked depends on your taste - if you like crispier broccoli, cook for less time whereas if you like them softer, cook them longer.

Asparagus

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Cut the ends off the asparagus and place on a cooking sheet
  3. Spray with Avocado oil 
  4. Put in the oven for 20 minutes
  5. You can add a squirt of lemon juice and salt on top when you are ready to eat! 

Okra

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Slice okra into ½ inch cubes and place on a cooking sheet
  3. Spray with avocado oil and sprinkle 1tbs garlic powder on top
  4. Place on the oven for 20 minutes
  5. Add salt when you are ready to eat! 

Have you noticed that all of these vegetables are prepared almost identically? That is no coincidence, as most vegetables can be cooked similarly while still providing you with a variety of textures and flavors. It’s so easy it’s almost embarrassing! I even keep the oven at the same temperature in case you want to cook several vegetables at the same time. Keep in mind that you may have to add 5-10 minutes to the cooking time if you are cooking more than one thing in the oven. 

Sweet Potatoes 

Sweet Potato Fries

  1. Preheat oven to 425
  2. Peel sweet potatoes (if you prefer.) In our household, we never peel them regardless of how we choose to cook and eat them. It’s not only a hassle that takes too much time but the skin has added benefits if eaten!
  3. Slice 2 large sweet potatoes into 1x3 inch wedges 
  4. Place sweet potatoes in a large bowl and toss with a generous amount of avocado oil, ½ tsp pepper, ¼ tsp paprika, ¼ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp sea salt
  5. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook for 18-24 minutes
  6. Enjoy!

Sliced Sweet Potatoes

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Chop potatoes horizontally ½ inch circular slices
  3. Toss in avocado oil with 1 tsp salt
  4. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until soft but not mushy

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Place sweet potatoes in the oven for 90-120 minutes
  3. You can garnish several different ways to add a variety of flavors
    1. Salt and Kerrygold Butter
    2. Just salt if you are dairy-free - simple but flavorful 
    3. Cinnamon for a sweeter taste
  4. Mix well and enjoy

Rice

First off, if you do not have an instapot go to Amazon and order one right now! We cook rice weekly and the instapot will have it ready in ten minutes with the click of a button. You can make your rice fresh when you are ready to add it to a meal or cook in a bulk to save for later. You can also make a variety of stews and meals that take no time at all. If you are someone who seems to always be pinched for time, an instapot is worth the money! 

If you do not have an instapot, most rice calls for a 2 to 1 ratio of water to rice (except for sushi rice which is a 1 to 1 ratio.) Add rice, water and a pinch of sea salt to a pot and place over high heat to bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling turn down the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 20-45 minutes. If you are cooking white rice, you will need to cook for 20 minutes, whereas brown rice will take 45 minutes. Be sure to review the directions on your package prior to cooking.

As you can see there is a variety of protein and vegetable options with different ways to spice up your starchy carbs. My husband works over sixty hours a week and I am raising a three-month-old, so our time is very limited. As our lives have changed, so has our efficiency in the kitchen! Just because we find ourselves busier than ever before, does not mean we have to sacrifice fueling our bodies with the nutrients it needs. Cooking in this manner makes it possible for us to do our jobs well and not spend hours in the kitchen. Below is a sample grocery list as well as 5 different meals you can create with the items you have purchased and cooked. The amounts you decide to purchase will depend on your family size and how many leftover servings you want.

Groceries

  • Chicken Thighs
  • Salmon
  • Sweet Potatoes (4-8+)
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus 
  • Okra
  • Spinach
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Olive Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Sliced Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Coconut Aminos
  • Sea Salt
  • Cinnamon
  • Pepper
  • Garlic Powder
  • Paprika

Meal 1: 

Chicken Chopped Salad: In a bowl, mix chicken, spinach, 1 hard-boiled egg, sliced almonds, ½ sliced avocado, 1 Tbs Olive oil, 1 Tbs Dijon Mustard, 1 Tsp fresh lemon juice. Enjoy!

Meal 2:

Salmon Over Rice with Broccoli: Add salmon and broccoli over ½ cup rice in a bowl. Add sea salt and 1 tbs coconut aminos mix together and enjoy!

Meal 3:

Salmon with sweet potato fries and a side of Broccoli.

Meal 4:

Chicken Thighs with mashed sweet potatoes topped with 1tsp cinnamon and a side of okra.

Meal 5:

Chicken Thighs with mashed sweet potatoes topped sea salt and 1 tsp Kerrygold butter and a side of Asparagus. Top your asparagus with a touch of lemon juice and sea salt.

Obviously you can mix and match as you wish, but here are a few easy ways to cook your protein, vegetables, and starchy carbohydrates that taste delicious but have enough variability to avoid the infamous pallet fatigue. You have probably heard that 80% of your success comes from nutrition and behavior - this is true! Unfortunately, so many coaches and trainers are only focusing on fitness alone, which accounts for a measly 20% of your success. 

If you are looking for more guidance in nutrition in order to support your hard work in the gym and/or any specific goals you may have, contact a Central Athlete coach today! We work with individuals all over the world in a personalized and holistic manner to ensure each person is receiving the guidance they need and the results they want! 

In Health, 

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