Meal Planning: Tips, Tricks and Recipes

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Written by: Heather Gerrish, RD

The TLAG group has been focusing as of late on meal preparation and planning out weekly grocery trips, meals and snacks with great success! This post is to help alleviate some of the common stressors related to meal prep and how to navigate how to plan out and effectively execute a meal plan for the week. This will incorporate some of the basics we have previously spoke of but also might spark an idea to do something different from your normal routine. Meal prep does not have to be a day long event, or even hours. It can be as simple as pre-portioning snacks for the week or boxing up portions of a leftovers to have later on that day. Meal prep is what you make it, and the same is true for what you put in to meal prep is what you are going to get out of it. If you spend all day preparing meals for the week then you can know with confidence that you will have easy, healthy options to choose from. On the other hand, if you opt to not plan out your meals or prepare in this way, the chances of making a quick, convenient choice that might not be within your specific goals is much higher.

We want to teach you habits that will not only help you achieve your personal health goals, but also set you up to create routines and habits that you can take with you and use for the rest of your life! Meal prep is one of those tools that can help alleviate some of the weekday stress of cooking a meal and help to manage portion sizes and reduce the tendency to reach for something out of convenience that might not be the healthiest option.

Finding recipes that you enjoy and that are packed full of wonderful nutrients (I’m talking about those fruits and veggies!) as well as incorporate a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates will help support your goals in being active, having more energy and pursuing lifelong healthy lifestyle habits!

Here are some simple ideas and recipes to think about when you are preparing your meals for the week:

1: Pick your protein

  • Focusing on this main component seems to be slightly easier to adapt and change when including other factors in a recipe. Other components can be slightly easier to modify and change in terms of flavor profile and integration in to a dish. Also, focusing on lean sources of protein will help with recovery and ensuring that you stay full and focused throughout your busy week of training!

2. Vouch for those veggies

  • I am a huge fan of colorful, robust, flavorful vegetables in any dish. I specifically like to reach for vegetables that are in season if I can (and they tend to be slightly more economical vs. out of season veggies), but also including frozen vegetables can be a way to still integrate variety without breaking the bank. Frozen vegetables are often “flash frozen” and contain comparable amounts of vitamins and minerals vs. their fresh counterparts. I always suggest it’s better to have SOME vegetable source than nothing at all.

3. Choose your carbohydrate source

  • If you can, opt for whole grains (this choice includes more vitamins, minerals and fiber than grains that are have the outer husk removed - think white bread, white rice etc).

Meal Prep Tips and Tricks:

Excellent Equipment:

Once you have an idea of what you would like to prepare for the week, playing with flavor and diving in to recipe creation can be a fun activity to learn more about cooking and preparing meals at home as well as customizing your menu to your liking!

Recipes and More:

Instant Pot Baked Chicken 101

Time: 30 min

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Ingredients:

  • Frozen or fresh chicken breasts (2-3)

  • Ground Garlic, Italian Herb Seasoning, Pepper to taste

  • Water (if using Instant Pot)

Equipment: Instant Pot (or can be prepared in an oven, adjust time to ~ 35-40 min or until internal temperature of chicken has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit

Uses: Protein base for meals - very versatile and easily adapted to be incorporated in a dish or alone as a main focus for a meal. Pair with whole grain (quinoa, brown rice) and a serving of the Varied Vegetable Medley for a simple weekday meal or mix it up and slice for a midday chicken salad!)

Nutrition Focus: Lean protein (1 serving ~ 3 oz of baked or grilled chicken provides around 20 grams of protein. This is an excellent source and can be easily incorporated into a variety of dishes.

PREP STEPS:

  • Thaw chicken under hot, running water or in refrigerator on bottom shelf (food safety!). If using frozen chicken in Instant Pot, adjust time accordingly (add on 5 minutes at a time to ensure internal temperature reaches 165). If raw, skip this step.

  • Season chicken breasts as desired with garlic, Italian Herbs and pepper.

  • Prep Instant Pot by adding in ½ cup of water per 2 chicken breasts prepared (if using an oven, remember to preheat to ~ 350 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Gently place seasoned chicken breasts in Instant Pot (or on baking sheet if using an oven)

    • Instant Pot: 15-20 min, done when internal temperature is 165

    • Oven: 35-40 min, done when internal temperature is 165

  • Let cool and divide in portions for meals throughout the week

Bananas for Breakfast: Banana Protein Pancakes

Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 ripe bananas

  • 1-2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (optional)

  • 1 cup almond flour (white flour can be used as well, equal ratios)

  • 2 eggs (vegan - vegan egg substitute or sub with additional ⅓ cup almond flour

  • Non stick pan spray (I used coconut oil spray for Trader Joe's)

  • Equipment: pan, whisk or large mixing spoon, medium size mixing bowl

  • Uses: Easy breakfast, cook ahead for busy morning or prep on a weekend for a pancake swap loaded with extra nutrients, fiber and a sneaky source of fruit.

Nutrition Focus: Added fiber and substituting added sugar for a natural source (banana). Additional nutrients: Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Potassium

PREP STEPS:

  • If using frozen bananas: microwave for 1-2 minutes until soft

  • Smash bananas using a fork or spoon while added in almond flour and spices, ensuring that the bananas themselves are well incorporated in to the mixture with limited clumps.

  • Add in 2 eggs, incorporate in to banana/flour mix

  • Prepare pan or skillet with non-stick spray and portion out roughly 2 tbsp of batter on to skillet.

  • Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes (time will vary depending on stove - keep an eye out and check throughout to reduce the chance of burning)

  • Flip! And Repeat

  • Serve with sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon and a piece of whole fruit or applesauce for a filling meal. Don’t forget that these pancakes have an added source of protein in the egg and include a sneaky serving of fruit!

 
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Brown Rice, Kale and Curry Chickpea Grain Bowl:

Time: 50-60 minutes  

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans of garbanzo (chickpea) beans, drained

  • 4 cups of fresh kale (cut in to 1 inch pieces, no stem)

  • 2 cups Brown rice

  • Seasoning: curry powder, ground ginger, salt, ground black pepper, turmeric, ground garlic

  • Olive oil (and spray olive oil) - you will use ¼ cup for kale and mist for beans

  • Optional: nutritional yeast

Equipment: Instant Pot, Convection Oven (home grade), two medium sheet pans, tin foil, measuring cups, two mixing bowls, spatula

Uses: quick combo for lunches or dinner, easy to incorporate in other meals as well - rice as base carbohydrate, beans as protein and kale as a super vegetable.

Nutrition Focus: Foundation for future meals that emphasize whole grains, vegan source of protein and increased nutrient density (kale!) to create a wonderful, hearty bowl packed full of flavor, macro and micronutrients and will keep you energized and focused for hours!

PREP STEPS:

Garbanzo Beans:

    • Drain beans (drained liquid is called aquafaba and can be used as vegan substitute for eggs in baked goods, custards and a wide variety of other dishes. Find out more here: aquafaba)

    • Dry beans on paper towel to remove any excess moisture.

    • Mist with olive oil (I like to use a Misto or you can use store bought, spray olive oil)

    • Toss with 1 tsp of each: curry powder, ground ginger, salt, turmeric and ground garlic

    • Prepare 1 sheet pan by covering in tin foil (also makes clean up a breeze!)

    • Place in oven (do not preheat this time) and set temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit

    • Check every 10 minutes to toss (I found using a spatula to roll the beans one way or another was sufficient to prevent any burning)

    • Continue check cycle until a total of 40 minutes at 425 is reached or the beans are crispy (but not burnt) on the outside.

Kale:

    • Prep kale (wash, cut in to 1 inch pieces and de-stem)

    • Toss with ¼ cup olive oil, 2 tsp salt and 2 tsp ground pepper

    • Prepare second sheet pan with tin foil and arrange tossed kale so that no pieces are overlapping. Each section should have it’s own area on the pan - if you need to, recruit another sheet pan and repeat this step. I made mine in batches, but you can always be more efficient with time!)

    • Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, checking midway to toss

Brown Rice:

    • Prep 2 cups of brown rice by rinsing with cold water, drain excess

    • Place rice in bowl and add 2 cups of cold water (fresh), let soak for 10 minutes

    • Prep Instant Pot or Rice Cooker (I used an Instant Pot for this recipe)

    • Pour rice and water in to instant pot and use “pressure cook” function for 5 minutes

    • Leave on “L:00” or the warm function for 10 minutes without letting pressure release.

    • After 10 minutes, release pressure and check - if aldente, add in ¼ cup water and repeat steps (pressure cook for 5 minutes and warm for 10) until rice is fluffy and to your liking.

Optional: nutritional yeast for flavor and added source of B12

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Danielle Gray