Meal Prepping to Eat Healthy with a Demanding Schedule

Photo By Jason Ragucci | To-go eating made healthier.  



Courtesy Story

Fort Liberty Garrison Public Affairs Office  

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Written by 2nd Lt. Janice Kampsen, US Army Baylor Master’s Program of Nutrition Student
When it comes to lunch, what makes your mouth water?
Do you think of tender Filipino beef steak called “Bistek Tagalog” topped with sauteed red onions? Can you picture the beef steak lying on a beautiful bed of brown rice with a side of bright red side of freshly cut tomatoes? Or do you picture perfectly steamed broccoli and snap peas surrounding a bright red chili salmon lying on a bed of a wonderfully nutty quinoa? Both dishes are bursting with flavor and full of nutrients like Omega 3’s, antioxidants, proteins, and fiber. Does this sound like a dream – when in reality your lunch is filled with convenience or fast foods that are low on nutrients?
Then meal prepping may be the answer for you. Meal prepping means preparing a batch of meals ahead of time so that those foods are easily accessible during busy days.

Why meal prep?
Spending just one day a week on meal prep could set you up for a week of healthful eating. Meal prepping can allow you to pop open the refrigerator door and grab one of your meal prep containers and “Voila”, lunch to go that is nutrient packed. Meal prepping is a way to save time and regain consistency in your diet. By meal prepping, you may be able to offset at least one stressor from a busy work week.

Meal prepping tips and benefits
There is no specific way to meal prep because it is meant to be flexible based on schedule and lifestyle. Some key steps for meal prepping include:
1) Choose a Recipe: The most challenging aspect of meal prepping is choosing a recipe that incorporates the foods that provide the most benefits. Consider proteins that will hold their shape when cooked (e.g., chicken breast, chopped chicken, etc.) or vegetable choices that won’t get mushy and are best when microwaved. Starchy foods hold up well when used in meal prepping, choose whole grains (e.g., brown rice and pastas, quinoa, sweet potatoes, etc.)
2) Make your Shopping List: Choose foods that will provide you a variety of nutrients. Consider choosing foods that re-heat well. Creating a shopping list will help ensure you get all the foods to make your meal prep day a success.
3) Pick up some Containers: Choose containers that can be used to both freeze and reheat your foods. Choose containers that are air-tight, with a clear or light-colored lid so you can see what is in the container. Also consider if you want containers that allow you to fit in protein and up to two sides with partitions or if you want your foods to touch.
4) Clean and Sanitize: Clean and sanitize your containers prior to use. Also be sure you thoroughly wash any fresh fruits or vegetables you are adding into the meal pack.
5) Cook your Meals: Cook your meals using healthy oils and seasoning. Portion out your foods using appropriate serving sizes. Portioning appropriately is a great way to ensure you meet your nutritional needs without over-eating. Be sure to use a thermometer and bring all your foods to the appropriate cooking temperature.
6) Store your Meals: Once your food reaches the appropriate temperature, portion it into your clean containers, label the container using dry erase maker with the foods and date, then place it directly in the refrigerator. Avoid having your foods in “The Danger Zone” between 40 ºF and 140ºF for greater than four hours.
7) Large Batch Cooking: If meal prepping leads you to large batch cooking, consider freezing your meals to keep them fresh longer and allow you to add variety into your diet.
8) Re-heat and eat: Be sure you reheat your foods to the proper internal temperature prior to eating. The Center for Disease control recommends the following temperatures:
145ºF for beef, pork, veal, fish, and lamb
160ºF for ground meats
165ºF for all poultry
165ºF for leftovers and casseroles
Healthy eating when you have a busy or hectic schedule doesn’t have to add stress to your week. Meal prepping is a great way to ensure you can get in a variety of nutrient dense foods and avoid the need to choose less nutritious, convenience or fast foods that might leaving you longing for your dream foods. For more information on meal prepping recipes check out USDA’s Harvest of Recipes book at or check with a dietitian at your local military treatment facility for assistance.

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