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August 10, 2021

Smart and Easy Meal Prep

by Doris Nicolas-Mir, MPH, RDN, LDN, CDCES

Work smart, not hard when it comes to meal prep! It’s easier to create healthy eating habits today where healthy foods are readily available. You do not need to find recipes, make a list, go to store, cook meals and pack lunches all at the same time. When you put it like that, it does seem overwhelming and can drive us to order or pick up food too often. Here are some tips to break it down and help you can make these habits

1. Plan

    • Use a list. A grocery list app (e.g. list ease) or keeping a running list in the notes section of your phone can be helpful since most of use have our phone with us when we go to the store.
    • Add ingredients to your list when you realize you are out of something you use frequently this will help save time and extra trips to the store.
    • Assess ingredients needed for meals you know are going to eat that week – breakfast, lunch, dinner & snacks.
    • It’s certainly fine to plan for treats or snacks as needed but the majority of the list should reflect what you want to be eating on a regular basis.


2. Buy

    • Shop from the list!!
    • I highly recommend buying produce as prepped as possible. It is money well spent! Clients commonly report that the convivence is a main reason they are not choosing healthier foods. I agree that it can cost more money to buy pre-prepped produce, but it is unlikely to be more money than frequently eating out or meal delivery.
    • Also note that it does not have to be made fresh to be healthy. There are some packaged or frozen items that can be used to cut down on time and make a meal much healthier than you could buy out. Remember there is a large middle ground when it comes to foods and it does not have to be just “good” or “bad.”
    • Things that might cut down on prep time include:
      • Salad stuff that requires minimal effort: washed & chopped lettuce or spinach, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, sliced mushrooms, sliced bell peppers, canned diced beets, bagged raw broccoli florets, canned beans, canned corn, frozen edamame, berries, etc.
      • Frozen vegetables: if they are no pre-sauced or seasoned, they are just as healthy as fresh. Keep several bags on hand. In addition to steaming them, they can be roasted or sauteed.
      • Fruit: pre-sliced melons, strawberries or pineapples in containers, pre-sliced apples and pre-made individual fresh fruit cups to grab & go
      • Frozen fruit: mixed & strawberries for smoothies & acai bowls, blueberries for topping oatmeal or yogurt, mango or pineapples for snacking
      • Quick carbs: low sodium canned beans or corn, baked potatoes for microwaving, and quick cooking brown rice/quinoa,
      • Quick proteins: hard boiled eggs for salads or snacks, low sodium canned beans for soups, salads, bowls & tacos, frozen edamame for a stir fry or snack, low sodium tuna canned in water, already grilled and sliced chicken for wraps or salads or liquid egg whites for quick scrambles
      • Frozen proteins: keeping protein in the freezer can be a good thing to keep on hand. You can buy fresh raw chicken breast, lean beef or fish and freeze yourself or keep frozen meatballs or seafood on hand.


3. Prep / Pack

    • Make it a routine to carve out a specific time each week for the task of prepping & packing.
    • Find time that works for you. Some weeks, it may have to be 5 min here and there but ideally, there’s a time of day and week that you can get into the habit of performing certain tasks.
    • Wash, dry, chop or slice produce. Ingredients are then ready to go for cooking or snacks are ready to be grabbed for eating.
    • Pack food in plastic bags or Tupperware containers and place them front and center in the fridge. Veggies….not in the back of the veggie drawer.
    • Examples
      • Make it a habit to use the 30 min after you are done shopping & unloading groceries on the weekend. Unload items straight into colander for washing or counter for chopping. Wash and prep salad ingredients or just make a large salad you can eat off for the week.
      • Prep for 15-30 min each night as you clean up from dinner. Load leftovers into meal size containers and into the lunchbox for the next day. Place any meats that need to be thawed for upcoming dinners in the fridge. Pack lunches and snacks to grab and go in the morning
      • If you work from home, take a standing break in the middle of the day to prep for dinner or start components of the meal to reheat later. Cook rice or quinoa, roast potatoes or veggies.


If you would like more tips on meeting your health wellness goals, schedule an appointment with an Avance Care Registered Dietitian by calling 919-237-1337 option 4 or schedule online at


Doris is a registered dietitian at the Clayton and Knightdale Avance Care locations.  She loves helping others meet their nutrition and wellness goals. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and exploring North Carolina with her family.

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