After posting this image on my facebook page…
….and slightly ranting about not making excuses about eating healthy…cough…I promised that I would do a Food Prep post with some simple throw-together recipes to help out those who are runnin a lil short on time but still want to nourish their bodies with healthy, yet yummy, foods.
But before I start this post, I just want to say a few things to add to my lil rant.
This is not to judge!
I feel like too many people make too many excuses on why they ‘can’t’ eat a healthy, fueling and nourishing meal EVERYDAY.
Lets take a look at some of the common ones shall we….
- It takes too long.
- It costs too much
- Healthy food is bland and boring
- I can’t cook
- Too much effort
- Fast food tastes better
- I hate cooking
So I hear all of these all too often and, to be honest, I think they all stem back to “I don’t want to make the effort” because if it really mattered to you, you would find a lil time to fit in some prep time so that you could eat well. I’m sorry if that sounded harsh, but it’s my own opinion. I currently work 2 jobs and I eat 6 homemade meals EVERY DAY and somehow my lil self manages to still eat real, whole foods that provide my body with fuel to get me through my workouts and my long days. I also love everything I eat, so it’s totally possible to make it work even when you are running around like a crazed person!
So with all that in mind I will stop with the negativity and bring on some tips and recipes that I hope will help to change your outlook on food preppin. A big goal of mine is to show people that healthy eating is not hard, it doesn’t have to cost a million dollars and it can actually taste good!
So without further ado, here’s my attempt to portray all that to you in one post. L-E-G-O
The Easy Steps to any good Food Prep
- Ensure you have basic staples in your pantry. These will give you the foundation to work with and are mostly ready to go when you need them. Of course, when I say staples, I’m still talking about whole foods. These would be your vegetables (fresh and/or canned), canned proteins (like tuna perhaps), pre-bought carbohydrate sources, spices, oils, vinegars, etc.
- Determine what you need to prep. Figure out what extra foods are in your budget and make sure to have those on hand for your prepping. Then think about what you like to eat during the week and/or make a meal plan. This will provide you with some guidance as to what things you might want to prep early. You will need protein and carbohydrate sources (veggies are included in this list) to prep for sure, the fats are not that hard to add later in the cook process for the most part. Make sure you include the foods that you really like as much as possible so that you will enjoy your meals!
- Determine what you like. Spice up your life! This includes style of food preparation, flavourings (spices, herbs, sauces, etc), cuisine types, etc
- Pick a day and time to do some basic food prep. This prep will build the foundation of your meals so that you have the majority of your meal components already good to go.
- Have some Go-To recipes. These should be ones that are easy to make, quick and pack in as many nutrients and things you love as possible. I will post some of my top go-to’s and some sites that may help you out with some recipe inspiration a lil later in the post!
Okay that’s it! Doesn’t sound too hard right? Well, now I’m going to break these down a lil bit and show you how I follow these steps while also giving some tips on how to make it as easy and smooth operating as possible! As I mentioned, I will provide some of the ‘recipes‘, if you want to call them that, for some of my favourite go-to’s.
1. Ensure You Have Basic Staples In Your Pantry
My cupboards and fridge ALWAYS have these staples:
- Low sodium canned skipjack tuna (lower mercury than albacore)
- Probiotic New Zealand whey protein powder (not necessary for everyone!)
- Liquid egg whites (free-run as much as possible)
- Free run, organic eggs
- Bulgar wheat (I have Bob’s Red Mill, organic)
- Organic brown jasmine rice
- Oats (I use Quaker)
- Beans and lentils (dried and canned, if canned, no salt added)
- Green veggies (brussel sprouts, broccoli, asparagus when it’s cheap, leafy greens)
- Bagged salad mixes (Dole)
- Tons of spinach
- Salad veggies (peppers, cucumbers)
- Squashes (I mix them up but will always have a kabocha on hand and one other variety like buttercup)
- Sweet potatoes (I swap between Japanese purple sweet taters, with regular to now purple fleshed and skin sweet potatoes)
- Onions and garlic
- Fruits like bananas, apples, berries (frozen or fresh), unsweetened apple sauce (mostly for baking)
- 1 or 2 Ezekiel products including their breads, wraps and english muffins (eaten 1-2 times per week)
- Nut butters (most are homemade, my go to peanut butter is my homemade crunchy)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
Dairy (NOTE that I’m lactose intolerant):
- Unsweetened almond milk
- Goat yogurt (I use 2.7%, plain)- mostly for baking
- Goat cheese (I have blue menu light)- I eat on occasion, mostly for my boyfriend
- Plain 0% Greek yogurt- for my boyfriend
- Balsamic and apple cider vinegar
- Mustard (Frenches)
- Chia seeds
- Tons of spices and herbs
- Questbars (I’m an addict okay ;-))
- Sriracha (best hot sauce, but use in small amounts due to sodium)
Remember that these are MY OWN STAPLES. Make sure to include your own favourites in your list to always have on hand.
2. Determine What You Need To Prep
For my basics, I know that I will need PROTEIN! Protein is the most important thing for me to have cooked on hand to make my life easier. These are my protein sources of choice:
- Chicken breast. I go through TONS of these, no joke…it’s kinda bad lol
- Fish. I absolutely LOVE fish. I try to buy wild as much as possible but sometimes I cave and buy farmed because that is all I have access to at my grocery store (ie. trout varieties). Current favourites include trout (fattier fish), tilapia, haddock, and tuna (canned, low sodium options). If I can squeeze a pricier one into my budget that week I may splurge on scallops (rare treat as they are $$) or a moderately priced (generally on sale) white fish such as marlin or swordfish.
- Ground turkey/chicken. I used to buy it more frequently but then I learned that extra lean ground chicken/turkey contain both white AND dark meat. Sadface. So, I have switched over to buying higher quality organic, ground chicken or turkey BREAST MEAT when it is on sale, which is every couple of weeks.
- Beef. I don’t eat that much beef, but it’s not because it’s not yummy or great for you because it is both of these things! I just like to buy good quality beef when I want it so this means I wait for the sales on organic, free range extra lean ground beef OR if I have some room in my budget, I will go for my favourite game meats such as bison instead.
For my carbs, I tend to cook those as I go as I like them to be fresh (when it comes to veggies) and easy to measure out (grains). They usually don’t take long anyways. Feel free to bulk cook your starches and vegetables if that helps you out and you aren’t picky like I am. Here are my preferred carb sources:
- Sweet potatoes. (generally eaten as my post-post workout lunch)- various varieties (normal, purple, yams, etc)
- Squash. I love squash and tend to rotate this with more starchier carbs. My favourite is kabocha, but I also love buttercup and plan on trying new varieties as they come into season.
- Oats. My favourite meal by far is my protein oatmeal in the morning. Cooked in the microwave, I have a bunch of recipes for my bowls here.
- Bulgar wheat. My newest carb addition for dinner. It’s easy and fast to cook, tastes good (nutty kinda) and gets some grains in me.
- Brown organic jasmine rice: Generally only eaten on leg day when my carbs are at the highest point. Fast to cook, smells amazing and just easy.
- Veggies: I love them all but tend to stick to the green varieties for their alkalizing properties and I have just come to love their taste! Favourites include leafy greens (swiss chard is my fav), broccoli, brussels, mushrooms (not green but good for ya!), asparagus and the occasional beet or two (love them, but because of the sugar I keep them saved for leg day generally).
- Fruits: I’m a fruit lover at heart but I tend to keep these around my workouts as that is when their natural sugars are most usual for my body. Bananas are my go to as they fuel my muscles with the carbs they need for my tough workouts. Berries and apples also make their rounds (mostly on rest days) and the occasional other seasonal fruit (peaches, nectarines). My fruit is almost always eaten as a nice hot and ooey gooey mess in my morning proats.
3. Determine What You Like
Cooking preparation styles
- Chicken/beef/turkey is mostly grilled via my George Foreman Grill
- Fish is most often baked in my toaster oven/oven
- Veggies- either roasted (sweet potatoes, squashes, brussel sprouts are always roasted, broccoli, asparagus sometimes) with a small amount of olive oil or lightly sauteed with onions and garlic in a lil bit of coconut oil (greens). Salads are an exception obviously, they are raw but I throw in some roasted veggies ALWAYS. It’s good, try it out!
- Grains: Cooked on the stove as per package directions (oatmeal done in microwave) in water. I try to soak as many of my grains as possible as this helps with digestion and makes them fluffier when they cook up.
Don’t leave your food high and dry or your won’t like it! It’s really NOT hard to toss in some spices and herbs and they will make a huge difference in the satisfaction you will get from your food! My favourite herbs and spices include:
- Cinnamon. Major staple in my house. Oats and snacks generally get a heavy handed shake from the cinna-jar
- Chili flakes and Powder. Always a staple as I like my food spicy! I prefer chili flavouring over cayenne and tabasco
- Curry. My newest obsession.
- Rosemary. All of my roasting gets tossed with dried rosemary.
- Basil. Used to be my favourite but isn’t used as often anymore unless I can nab some fresh and make basil pesto (used for a thick spread on fish generally)
- Garlic. Staple for sure. All saute’s get some garlic in them. Great for cleansing the body and immunity!
- Mrs. Dash salt-free spice blends. OMG these are amazing! I season almost all my proteins with them and even the occasional veggie dish. My top favourites are the chipotle and extra spicy blends.
4. Pick A day And Time To Do Some Basic Food Prep
If you want your meals to come together as easy as possible, you need to have some basics on hand. These basics are generally those things that may need a lil bit longer cooking time or things that you want to just want to have ready to throw into a container and go. Take 1 to 2 hours out of your week to help yourself out would ya? Here’s some things that you can easily prep in that allotted time and simply wrap up and keep in the fridge.
- Starches like rice, grains, quinoa, oatmeal can easily be cooked in large volumes during your prep time and be kept in the fridge for days. All you have to do is scoop out your portions as you need them.
- Vegetables can also be done in advance. Like your veggies roasted? Roast a huge batch and keep them in the fridge. Sautee some greens early to keep for 2-3 days. OR If you’re like me and want your vegetables freshly cooked, you can just ensure that you have what you need on hand and/or pre-chopped so that they are easy to access when it’s time to cook’em up.
- Proteins can be cooked early and kept in the fridge for a few days. The time frame that you keep them in the fridge is up to you and your comfort level, but in general I will keep cooked chicken anywhere up to 5-6 days (is that bad? lol) and fish up to 3-4 days (rarely lasts that long as I eat it up :-D). Beans, lentils and other legumes can be cooked up and kept for a few days as well (if they are dressed, the time is less). In general though, meats/poultry can be kept for a lil bit longer (when cooked) than seafood.
- Snacks can be prepped during this prep time as well. For snacks, your choices will depend on the amount of time you have to prep taste preferences. Here are some snack options that are in order of time it takes to prep.
-Yogurt/cottage cheese with a low glycemic fruit (berries, apples, etc). Choose plain dairy options (low sodium for cottage cheese) as they are not loaded with sugars. Also, watch for high levels of preservatives and chemicals. Sometimes 0% is not always best. If you are lactose intolerant like me, you can try out goat or coconut yogurt
–Veggies and dip. Simply prep your vegetables (peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, etc) and make a quick dip like hummus (blend 1 can no salt added chickpeas, garlic, cracked black pepper, tbsp or two of lemon juice, tbsp or two of tahini (optional) and enough olive oil or water to get it moving and smooth).
–Smoothies. If you are a smoothie lover, they can be perfect, nutrient dense option for a meal or snack and fairly quick to put together. Really short on time? Make some smoothie packs in your prep time (chop your fruits/veggies and portion them out into baggies with any other smoothie add ins) that you can just grab, blend and enjoy. Check out here and here for some inspiration and tips.
–Homemade goodies. These will take a lil bit more of your time but the options are endless. Homemade protein bars (like ones from here), healthy bites (like here or here), muffins or quick breads (like my muffin experiments here and here), etc. Beware of high sugar items, even those with natural sugars as they can spike insulin and leave you feeling hungry quickly. Keep the higher sugar options (like the energy bites, goodies with dried fruits, etc) for pre-workout snacks and keep your other snacks lower in sugar and higher in protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
5. Have some Go-To recipes.
Okay here is where I will give some of my go-to’s when it comes to quick cooking. Your go-to’s should be recipes that you enjoy, are quick and easy to assemble and/or cook and are balanced nutritionally. When you are really short on time, these will be your savior to get a healthy meal on the table (or in a container to go) that you don’t have to put much thought into. Below I have put some of my favourite easy meals. Remember that you don’t have to use the same spice pairings or methods as I do, they are just what I’m diggin currently. 😀
For me, this is my high carb (slightly lower fat) day, so it’s a given that there will be a higher carbohydrate starch (brown rice), a lean protein and a green of some kind. This picture in particular takes me about 15-20 minutes to assemble, but could be less if I wasn’t picky about my greens being freshly cooked.
1. Get your brown rice cookin. While that is cooking you can make your greens.
2. First, preheat a pan with a lil bit of coconut oil on medium heat. While you’re waiting for the pan to heat up, chop some beets into cubes, toss them in a steamer pot and nuke for about 5 minutes. Chop garlic and onions. Measure out greens (I used swiss chard), separate leaves from stems and chop the stems up.
3. Pan hot? Add the garlic, onions and chard stems to your pan and sautee (stir around periodically) until nicely browned (about 2-3 minutes). Now your beets should be done. Add those and the chard leaves to the pan with some water (few tbsps), stir and pop a close-fit lid on the pan. Turn the heat down a lil bit and just watch to make sure the liquid doesn’t all dry up and cause your greens to burn. Not to fret though, you have a few minutes to burn…
4. Your brown rice should be done (when the water is all gone) so toss that in your container. Throw in 1/2 a can of low sodium tuna (or the whole can if you don’t care about variety or don’t have another protein on hand) and some pre-prepped chicken breast.
5. Check on your greens, all the liquid gone yet? Yes? Add about 2 tbsp more water to the pan, stir and add whatever spices you like. Right now I am adding chili flakes and powder, curry powder and sometimes turmeric, but do what you like. Stir to distribute the spices and pop that lid back on. When the water is all gone again, dump that in your container too and you are DONE
- Steam your beets before you add them to the pan or they will take forever to cook
- I don’t flavour my rice with any spices because I love the smell of the brown jasmine rice but feel free to season as you please
- REMEMBER you don’t have to use anything that I did (If you hate swiss chard, don’t use it, etc). This is simply a guide
- Don’t fret if this seems intimidating, I know that not all people actually like or cook often. The speed of this will come with time
- Prepping your rice early (and/or your veggie side dish) would cut the assembly time virtually to nothing so keep that in mind for your busy days
2. Typical Training Day Dinner
I LOVE fish and choose it often. My method of cooking my fish is super quick and easy so it works in a time pinch and is something I always look forward to. As my carbs have been on the rise lately, I have also been adding a starcher carb to some of my normal training days as well. On the other days, I like to have my favourite carb, which is roasted squash of some kind. Here, the choice is bulgar wheat. I have also added a nice helping of healthy fats to this dish to balance it out as the fish is very low in fat.
1.Get your fish cookin. Here I have tilapia which I season with whatever spices I want (typically some form of Mrs. Dash, chili flakes and maybe some lemon juice) and throw in my toaster oven at 350 bake for about 15 minutes. They are thinner fish so they cook fast. NOTE you can use your regular oven too, same settings but the time may be a bit different as its a larger space to heat.
2. Get your bulgar cookin. It’s 1:2 bulgar to water/stock/liquid just like rice. Once again, you have some time (not as much as the rice) to prep some other things.
3. Get your greens prepped!. Preheat a pan with some coconut oil on medium heat. While that is heating, chop onions, garlic, broccoli and whatever other veggies you want. Here I think it was only broccoli because I ran out of other options. Plop those into the pan when it’s heated and sautee.
4. Your bulgar will probably be done while you are sauteeing your veggies, so take that off the heat. When the onions and garlic are fragrant, like the chard dish, add a few tbsp of water to the pan and pop a lid on it to let it steam. This will soften the hard stems of the broccoli.
5. Depending on how done you like your fish, it may be done here, so take that out of the toaster oven (or oven). Is the water all dried up in your greens yet? Yes? Again add a few more tbsp of water to the pan, add your spices and pop that lid back on until the water is absorbed again. Unlike the chard, which wilts fast, continue to add water and put the lid on until the broccoli is softened to your liking.
6. When everything is done, plunk it all into a container and top with avocado (or healthy fat of choice) and you’re good to go.
- If you don’t want to use your oven for one lil piece of fish, bulk cook your fish. Don’t like fish? Use another lean meat.
- Once again, prepping your starch, veggies and protein would have cut this time to basically nothing.
- Green veggie pairings that I like: broccoli&zucchini, broccoli&asparagus, chard&asparagus, chard&mushrooms
This is my favourite fish, with my favourite side dishes! Baked steelhead trout with roasted kabocha squash and a side of sauteed chard, asparagus and cremini mushrooms. Ermagawd, I look forward to meals like this!
1. IF YOU HAVE NOT PREPPED YOUR FISH, get’er in the oven first. When I buy trout, I buy a slab of it and cook it all at once so it will be done and I can portion it out as I go. I don’t have to worry about it being in the fridge too long because, like I said, it’s my favourite and goes quickly. I seasoned it here really simply here with chili flakes, dried rosemary and lemon juice. If I have homemade pesto on hand I will choose that as pesto on fish is amazing! Bake the fish at 350 degrees until it flakes or until your desired doneness (generally about 15-20 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish).
2. While your fish is cookin, chop up your squash, throw it into your steamer pot and nuke for about 5 minutes (until soft). While that is microwaving, get your greens ready to be sauteed. Chop up garlic, onion and your choice of veggies (I used asparagus, the rest of my swiss chard and cremini mushrooms).
3. Preheat a pan on medium heat with some coconut oil. By this time you squash should be done, toss that on a pan with a lil olive oil and dried rosemary and toss either in a toaster oven like me, or the oven at about 400 degrees.
4. Your pan should now be heated by now so you will toss your garlic, onions and chard stems into the pan and sautee those until the onions are translucent. Add your asparagus and mushrooms and sautee a lil more. Finally, add your chard leaves, a few tablespoons of water and like the other greens, pop a lid on that pan to allow for the steam to soften the veggies.
5. Check your fish. Is it done? Take it out of the oven. Hows your water level in your pan? Dried up yet? Yes? Put another few tbsp of water in the pan and whatever spices you like. I use my regular favourites (curry, turmeric, chili powder), stir and pop that lid back on.
6. Once the liquid is all absorbed, take off the heat and dump into your container. Take your squash out of the toaster oven/oven and add that to the container and finally top with your portion of fish. Delicious!
- Prepping your fish early will save you the time it takes to prep and bake the fish. Your fish should keep in the fridge for up to 3-4 days (or whatever you feel comfortable with).
- Prepping your veggies during an earlier prep time will also cut down cooking time, I just prefer to cook these as I go because I’m picky and demand them freshly made 😛
- More resilient fish like trout and salmon can also be steamed if that’s a style of cooking you like. Place an inch or two of liquid (stock, wine, whatever floats your boat) in a pan with some spices/herbs. Heat the pan so that your liquid is simmering (the liquid is bubbling gently, not boiling) and place your fish in the pan. Pop and lid on it and allow it to steam until the fish is cooked through (ie. flaking with a fork). Steaming makes it super tender and moist. Need simple flavour ideas? Try using fish stock for the liquid with a squeeze or two of lemon juice and adding rosemary and chili flakes. OR try the fish stock, lemon juice and dill if you are a dill-salmon person. Experiment!
OKAY wow that was a super long post but I hope that it is useful for those who are a lil more cooking shy. Cooking is not hard, it’s simply something to practice so that you can get more comfortable with it and learn what foods work well together based on your personal tastes. And hey, maybe you will actually start to enjoy the process of cooking like I do.
I will end this post with three final words of advice….
1. USE SPICES! Don’t leave your food bland or you will not enjoy your food. It takes two seconds to shake some spices on your food and you will like it that much more trust me!
2. Make sure you keep some variety or else you will get bored (plus variety is better for getting different nutrients!). Switch up your protein, carbohydrate and fat choices to keep yourself interested.
3. PREP IN ADVANCE! Take 1-2 hours and just do it! If you know you will be busy, help yourself out a lil bit and bulk cook the things that you can keep in the fridge for a few days. If you have the food already there and waiting, you will be more likely to use it over grabbing something packaged.
AAAANNND….I also want to give you a few sites to check out that have some really great food preppin tips and some easy-peasy meal and snack ideas/recipes.
- Lindsay over at The Lean Green Bean has an awesome Sunday Food Prep post every week where she displayed what she made to prep herself and her hubby for the oncoming week. She also highlights a few of her readers who send in their own personal prep! Check her latest food prep post out here.
- Britt over at Britt’s Blurbs does a weekly meal plan and prep post to show you how you can plan out your weekly meals and also how you can prep some food early to make those meals come together smoothly. Her latest Meal Plan blog post is here.
- Kim over at Not Consumed put together a nice list of tips, links and recipes that make food prep a lil easier. Check it out here.
I hope you enjoyed this post! I really want it to be a tool/aid to my readers. Let me know what you think in the comments as you know I love hearin from ya! 😀