Four Ways to Save Time on Meal Preparation

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I received a free sample courtesy of Nate's Meatless for review. All opinions and content are my own.

I've talked about meal prepping and how important it is before, and I really believe it. As I get busier and busier (working forty hours a week, on top of nine credit hours and a long commute doesn't leave a lot of free time), it gets harder and harder to eat healthier. Although meal planning is a favorite of mine for staying on track, it's hard to justify even a couple hours a week to my food (although that would totally be a worthy use of my time, don't get me wrong.) Instead, I've been finding ways to eat healthier, all while saving a little time.

Make a list.

If I go to the grocery store without a list, it's pretty much a train wreck. I end up wandering aimlessly around the store for much longer, spend a lot more money and don't buy as many healthy foods. You don't have to have a rigid list (if you see something that you want, you can pick one up, assuming it's not entirely ridiculous) but having a general idea of what you're going to buy really helps. Also, it helps you not forget items you're out of and save yourself from making extra trips to the store.

Adopt a meatless Monday mentality.

While meat is great for its protein and other nutrients, let's face it: it isn't the most time-effective food. You either have to cook within a day of buying it or buy it frozen and defrost it. A lot of the time, you end up having to marinate it or prepare it some other way, and then you have to have it in the oven for at least half an hour. On top of this, it doesn't last as long as leftovers as some other foods, so  you end up having to prepare it more often. It's also not as great if you're always on the go, because you have to keep it refrigerated.

A simple way to save some time preparing meals is to eat a couple vegetarian meals each week. Foods like beans, nuts and even eggs are a lot more convenient to prepare than meat and often last a lot longer. One of my favorite things to pack for lunch is a caprese salad: I simply layer tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil over a ton of spinach and it is so delicious.

Eat mini meals...with a twist.

A popular method for increasing your metabolism is eating six small meals instead of three large ones. While the effectiveness of this eating style is debatable (it keeps you releasing insulin all day long, which can promote fat storage), I like to take the basic idea of it and mix it up a bit. I'm not a big meal person and I would much rather snack throughout the day, so what I've found works best for me is to pair a few "snack foods" together as a meal. For example, I will eat hummus with celery and carrots, Greek yogurt, almonds and an apple. This way, I stay satisfied, while getting healthy fats and protein, as well as a serving each of fruit and vegetables. It saves me time because instead of having to prepare a main dish, I simply throw a couple of quick snacks together out of the fridge. (It's also super great on the go because a lot of snack foods are purse/backpack friendly and won't go bad if you carry them around without refrigeration for a couple hours.)

Freeze it

There are a lot of things I love about frozen food: it lasts longer than in the fridge and a lot of the time it is cheaper too, even when the food isn't in season (think frozen berries.) It also can help you save a ton of time and eat healthier if you utilize it right.

One of my favorite meal prep tricks in the world are smoothie bags. I get a bunch of bananas, a bag of spinach and ziploc bags. Then, I chop up each banana and put it in a bag. I add some spinach and store it for later. Then, when I'm ready for my smoothie, I add whatever fruit I'm in the mood for (fresh or frozen), almond milk and occasionally some extras like oats or chia seeds. It saves a lot of time in the morning. (A lot of people put everything except for the milk in their smoothie bags, but I like to have more options in the morning.)

While a lot of premade frozen foods have a bad health rep, more and more companies are releasing healthy, delicious options to try. Recently, Nate's Meatless sent me a sample of their meditterean bites and I have to say: I was so impressed. They're a lot like falafel, but they're not fried or breaded, which is an added bonus (especially if you have gluten intolerant family members like I do.)

They also taste amazing. I was a little apprehensive about the flavors because they seemed like weird combinations (I love garlic and pesto on their own and I love falafel, but I didn't know if I would like them together...I was wrong.) The sweet potato ones were my favorite (think of the most delicious falafel equivalent of sweet potato fries...that's what they taste like.) Now, I've never liked anything jalapeno flavored, so the southwestern bites were not for me, but my mom, a non-hater of jalapenos, did a non-biased taste test for me and said they were good (so if the smell of jalapeno poppers or pepper jack cheese doesn't make you want to leave the room, you'll probably be just fine eating them.)

The bites do come with a tzatziki sauce, which I tried a tiny bit of, but they are also great (and dairy-free) without it. Overall, they're a great option for when I want to just throw something in the microwave for a little bit (they take less than a minute to cook) and go on with my life.

I did a little sleuthing to see where these are available (partially for you guys and also for myself because I can definitely see myself buying these once I run out) and since it's an organic, GMO-free brand, I mostly saw it being carried at organic markets (mostly mom and pop shops, as well as Whole Foods and some Natural Grocers and Sprouts). In some cities, I even saw them being stocked by Food Lion and other big grocery chains.

What are your favorite tricks for healthy eating?

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