Happy Halloween!!! This has always been one of my favorite holidays. Growing up, my family had more skeleton decorations stored in the attic than Santas. My dad would spend weeks building an elaborate haunted house in our garage, and the whole neighborhood would line up to go through it. Oh, the memories. Sadly, I’m not doing anything to celebrate tonight because I’m lazy and didn’t plan. No costume, no party. Since I don’t a cute festive picture to post, here’s an old one (last year) of me and my poor dog who I forced into a sheriff outfit:
I seriously pity my future kids.
Annnnd moving on. I’ve been writing a LOT this week. On Tuesday, I decided to build the blog out into something more valuable for people who care about their health. The response was bigger and more positive than I expected (which is AWESOME), so I got a little post-happy. Time to dial it back. After this post, I’ll probably only write once or twice a week (mos
tly because I don’t want to flood anyone’s inbox — I know it can get annoying). I wanted to add one more update before the weekend hits specifically because I had someone ask for more lunch recipes, and for me, the weekend is the best time to prepare/plan meals for the upcoming week. Prime opportunity to give you people a few handy meal prep tips that you can put to use this Saturday/Sunday!
What Makes a “Good Lunch”
Lunch is equally as important as breakfast or dinner, but I think it’s the hardest meal to plan. I’ve scoured Pinterest and Googled for “clean lunch ideas” about a million times, but I can never find anything that looks good enough. A recipe that is “good enough”:
- won’t taste gross by Friday, even if prepared on the Saturday before
- is easy to package
- can be quickly reheated in a microwave
- has lots of high-quality nutrients to fuel me through the 2PM slump
- isn’t a frozen, processed, pre-packaged meal
When I first started on this health kick, I used to bring frozen meals, yogurt, and fruit for lunch every day until I realized that Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine just can’t compare to a homemade lunch. I got rid of every single box when I realized the beauty of eating REAL FOOD. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my diet. I encourage you to take a couple of hours and try weekend meal prep this weekend. Yes, you can find the time, and you can make room in your fridge. I know it sounds daunting, but it’s doable and 100% worth the effort.
Where to Start? Plan it Out
Pick a day when you’re less busy. Find 30 minutes to sit down without distractions. Write down 2-3 different meal combinations that sound tasty to you, each containing the following:
- a complex carb source (brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, etc.) — I take about 1/2c.
- a lean protein (chicken, tilapia, ground turkey, etc.) — I take 4oz.
- a vegetable (ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES!) — I take 1-2c.
If you want to plan a few dinners while you’re in the zone, go for it. My dinner portion sizes almost the same, except I tend to go a little lighter on the carbs and increase my protein. Your portion sizes will differ based on what your body needs.
I rotate out my 2-3 choices throughout the week so that I don’t get bored with the same meal. Here’s what this week has looked like so far:
- 5 mini turkey meatloaf muffins
- 5oz. sweet potatoes (skinned, cubed, and boiled; topped with Mrs. Dash Salt-Free Fiesta Lime)
- 1.5c green beans
Tuesday+Thursday (literally eating this right now as I type)
- 4oz. Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken
- 1/2c. red quinoa
- 1.5c broccoli
In addition to the lunches, I also have a small mid-morning snack (protein shake, almonds, 2 clementines) and a mid-afternoon snack before my 5:30pm workouts (nonfat Greek yogurt, Stevia, and blueberries). I bring all of this to work in a little bag every day.
I packed more elaborate lunches this week because I spent all day Sunday cooking in my mom’s nice kitchen, but some weeks are more simplistic. I’ve gone as easy as buying a bag of frozen chicken fajita meat from HEB, cooking it up in the microwave, dividing it out into 4oz. portions with 1/2c. brown rice, 2c. broccoli, and some stone ground Dijon mustard on top, and voila — that’s my lunch. Some people take leftovers from the night before, but I’m picky and don’t like having the same exact thing two days in a row.
You really don’t have to over-think it — I tend to focus my creative efforts on cooking fun dinners — but the fundamentals of planning and eating a good lunch is critical. Don’t sabotage all of your hard work for a crappy sandwich and bag of potato chips. I promise you, it’s NOT worth it.
Grocery Shopping and the Prep Process
Once you’ve written out your meals, make a list of what you need to make them all and hit up your grocery store. When you get there, avoid the aisles in the center (which have more processed goods) and stick to the outer perimeter (which has more whole foods). EXCEPTION: Since I eat so much broccoli, I tend to buy the giant frozen bags. Way easier.
When you’ve finished your shopping and get back home, unload your goods and get to it. Just get it done while you’re already in your kitchen. Don’t put it off. My regimen looks like this:
- Unload all groceries and make sure counter tops are cleared/wiped down (OCD tendencies mean I can’t cook unless my space is nice and clean)
- Set up an assembly line with your tupperware containers, baggies, and/or whatever else you use to pack things up
- If you’re making stuff in a slow cooker (which I highly recommend), dump all your ingredients in and fire that baby up first — it takes the longest, but it does the work for you!
- If you’re marinating any chicken/meats, prepare those and put them back in the fridge until they’re ready to cook
- Boil a large pot of water over the stove and cook your carbs in one big batch. If you’re doing two separate carb sources, cook them at the same time on separate burners (quinoa and sweet potatoes both take 10-15 minutes to boil)
- While your carbs are cooking, fill a large, microwave-safe bowl with your frozen vegetables and add a little water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 8-10min. on 50-60% heat
- While your carbs AND veggies are in works (lots of multitasking here!): if you’re packing a mid-afternoon snack (like yogurt or cottage cheese), measure it out into enough servings for the entire week. I take mine in cute miniature mason jars :o)
- If you have a significant other/bored roommate/child hanging around, put them to work. Have them count out almonds and bag them up into enough individual portions to get you through the week
- If you marinated chicken, preheat your oven and cook it (35 minutes at 350 degrees)
- If you’re taking ground turkey, cook up a pound on the stove and season it with cumin, pepper, and some Mrs. Dash (or a trusty dry Ranch seasoning packet)
- Fill each tupperware container with 1 serving of carbs + 1 serving of veggies
- Once your protein source is finished cooking, weigh it out on a kitchen scale and add 1 portion to each container
- Group your tupperware and snacks together for each day and store them in your fridge. DONE!
It might look like a lot typed out here, but the 2-hour investment that you make will save you some serious time, money, calories, and stress for the entire next week. Once you go through this 2 or 3 times, you’ll have it down to a science. I’ve gotten into a routine with my meal prep, and I love it. It keeps me centered, and it’s my “me” time during the week where I know I’m doing something really great for myself.
The hardest part is actually committing a few hours and doing it for the first time.
If you decide to try this out (which I hope you do!) and have questions or troubles, feel free to comment on this post or email me. I love helping people, and I sincerely believe that going through this regimen brings real success. The start of my weekly prep and meal planning was my identifiable turning point — if I had to pick one singular event where I’d say I finally “got it down” and felt like I had my eating under control, my first weekend prep would be it.
Lunch Recipe: Slow Cooker Turkey Chili (with Pumpkin!)
If you’re a fan of good old-fashioned chili and have fallen into the October-November pumpkin craze, set aside a few minutes to make this over the weekend. It’s hearty, flavorful, and packs SO well. This makes a pretty big batch, so you can easily freeze half and save it for later. I think the taste actually gets better as the week goes on, so this is totally safe to take on Thursday/Friday.
Serves: 6-8 (depending on portion size: mine were each about 2c.)
Cook time: ~5hr., 5min. (5 min. hands-on + ~5hr. in slow cooker)
– 2 lbs. 99% fat free ground turkey
– 1 can (28oz.) diced tomatoes (no added salt)
– 2 cans (15oz./ea.) black beans (no added salt)
– 1 can broth (veggie, beef, or chicken will work — no added salt)
– 1 can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin PIE)
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 2 large sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed)
– 4-5 cloves of garlic
– 1 jalapeno, diced
– 1 tbsp. Cumin
– 1 tsp. Oregano
– 2 tsp. Chili powder
– 2 tsp. Paprika
– Salt and Pepper
– 1 tsp. Cinnamon
– 1/2 tbsp. Cocoa powder
– 1/2 tbsp. molasses (optional)
- Cook onion, garlic, and jalapenos in a skillet over medium heat until tender. Add to slow cooker
- Throw your ground turkey, cumin, oregano, chili powder, paprika, salt, and pepper in the same skillet and cook until brown. Place turkey in slow cooker
- Add all additional ingredients into slow cooker; stir to combine
- Cook for 4-6 hours on medium/high (or 8-10 on low)
- Top with fat free sour cream, avocado, and/or lime juice to serve