Incorporating healthy, plant-based meals has its benefits, yet keeping up with the work of cooking healthy meals from scratch can be taxing. Between work, family, social obligations, and extracurricular activities concocting vegetable-centric, fortifying, and nutritious meals oftentimes falls to the bottom of the to-do list. Success relies on preparedness. Setting aside time every week to shop and prepare healthy meals in advance helps remove the temptation to eat that three-month-old frozen pizza that’s been sitting in your freezer. As nutritionist Teddy Kim states: “People aren’t really addicted to crappy, processed foods. People are addicted to convenience.”
Benefits of Prepping Your Meals
Preparing meals for the week has many hidden benefits. Being able to eat healthy on the fly increases healthy eating habits and offers a level of control over your mind, body, and spirit.
1. Weight Loss
If you’re looking to kick a couple pounds or maintain your current weight, preparing is a key factor. The Harvard School of Public Health states: “A busy schedule is one of the top reasons why people choose quick takeout meals, which are often calorie-laden and a contributor to expanding waistlines.” Instead of opting for take-out or pre-packaged frozen meals, you can simply reheat a nutritious meal that has already been prepared.
The process of shopping for meals in advance can also illuminate bad eating habits. Be conscious of how you feel when you create your menu. Are you leaning toward more carb-heavy recipes? Is your grocery list heavy on the sweet side? Are you focusing on raw, plant-based ingredients or is it filled with packaged and processed items?
2. Financial Savings
Restaurants and pre-packed foods come with an extra “convenience” charge. By purchasing raw ingredients, you’ll find that you get more food for your money. It’s also beneficial to take note of shopping hacks. Navigate the grocery store by beginning in the produce section when your cart is mostly empty. Fill it up with anything that looks good! Also, look for discounts and special deals and always hit up the bulk bin aisles for nuts, seeds, grains, spices, and cereals.
3. Nutritional Balance for Mental Health
Prepping in advanced almost guarantees that you’ll be eating more nutritionally balanced meals. Providing appropriate nurturing leads to a healthy body, which helps reduce overall stress and positivity. The power of a positive attitude is incredible. Not only does it inspire a more active lifestyle, but “it makes it easier to make healthy food decisions.”
Making meals from scratch also creates a sense of control over bodily comfort. For those using food to regulate health issues — such as heartburn, acne, allergies, anxiety, depression, and even excess bloating — preparing meals in advance decreases the chance of ingesting a toxic or harmful agent.
Control over your body is an incredible mood booster and life-changing hack.
Planning Tips and Tricks
jarred salads image/Shutterstock
Becoming a prepper requires some education. Before embarking on a new preparation regime, make sure you’re supplied with the appropriate knowledge.
1. Plan Around the Space
Storage containers are generally a necessity for liquid-based meals such as soup, stew, and chili. With that said, they can be bulky and quickly overtake a small freezer. Therefore, take your prepping one step further and plan your meals around the space.
Take a few moments to get to know your refrigerator and freezer. Assess the space. Large drawer freezers are great for stacking and can fit a higher number of batches. Top mounted freezers offer less space and can become precarious when items are slick with frost. Depending on your freezer, invest in the right storage containers.
2. Storage Containers
Aluminum foil and parchment paper are great on-hand tools in the kitchen. Aluminum foil is great for storing foods such as raw dough and bread. Wrapping a layer of parchment paper between the foil and your food helps with the thawing process.
Ziptop freezer bags, found at grocery and sundry stores (think Safeway or Walgreens), are a go-to option for storing solids such as pre-cut vegetables, fruits, and leftover spice mixes. They are also great for space restricted top mounted freezers. Instead of stacking upward, lay freezer bags flat.
For unruly, large batch meals, think about investing in sturdy glass storage containers. The Creo Smartglass Baking collection is made of ceramic and tempered borosilicate and transfers straight from the freezer to the oven. Plastic storage containers should be a last resort. They have short-lived durability as the plastic tends “to break down over time, getting pitted, stained or cracked.” With that said, brands such as Rubbermaid, Glad, Ziplock, and Tupperware are cheaper options for short storage periods.
It’s also a great idea to have a few bell jars in the cupboard. These are great for transporting meals to work or storing broths and sauces.
3. Freezing Mulitple Batches
Super-Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles/One Green Planet
Consider cooking in bulk. Soups and stews are easy to make in multiple batches and retain their flavor after being thawed. Prepped ingredients can also be stored for easy access. Think about chopping up vegetables and starches in advance. Tough-skinned ingredients such as carrots, broccoli, beets, potato, and squash, are more resilient to freezing, while softer vegetables such as bell pepper, onion, tofu, and herbs tend to wilt and become unappetizing.
4. Create a Calendar
Prepping relies on an organized mind. With that said, even the most unorganized individual can become a prepper.
Begin with your calendar. Determine how many days you want to eat at home. Choose the meals of the day you want to prep for. Once you have a number, go back to your refrigerator and freezer. For meals that will be consumed within a couple days, store those in the refrigerator. Meals for later in the week, store in the freezer.
Best Foods for Refrigerating and Freezing
Refrigerating and freezing meals extends the lifespan of perishable foods and is a prepper’s planning paradise. By lowering the temperature of a food item, you are essentially inactivating food enzymes. These chemical compounds are attributed to the color, nutrients, and flavor of your food and, when frozen, halt the deterioration process.
With that said, there are certain foods that hold up to this process better than others.
For instance, spices. Certain spices, such as turmeric, lose their flavor and nutritious properties over time. It’s also important to thaw spices once as “condensation will be a problem each time the jar or bag of spice comes out of the freezer.” This moisture can reduce the quality of the spice. Here are six types of food that can be refrigerated or frozen along with recipes from the Food Monster App.
1. Soups and Stews
Liquid-based meals, such as stews and soups, are resilient to the freeze-thaw process and are great to make in bulk. They also hold up great in the freezer for an extended period of time. They are a simple, hearty option and can be paired with other side dishes.
2. Chili Concoctions
Chili is extremely filling due to its traditional ingredients of hearty ingredients such as beans, heavy sauces, and spicy chilies. These dishes can also be personalized or made ad hoc and specialized for those with allergies.
Focus on veggie and bean-rich recipes such as While Bean and Forest Mushroom Chili, Caribbean Jerk Chili, Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili, Oil-Free White Bean Chili, or Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Chili.
As classic as it gets, the casserole is a freezer friendly meal. Casseroles are generally made to serve four to six people, therefore think about refrigerating a couple pieces for the week and then freezing the rest for emergency meals later on.
Steer clear of the calorie-laden recipes by focusing on dairy and meat-free options such as Comforting Kale Pesto Pasta Casserole, Vegetable Au Gratin Casserole With Oregano-Bean Puree, Moroccan Chickpea Bake, Ratatouille, Butternut Squash, Portobello, Spinach Casserole with Sausage, or Scalloped Potatoes With Seitan Bacon.
Bread is a surprisingly resilient option as it generally retains its signature fresh quality after being thawed. It’s also a great option for bread-based breakfast meals such as Cinnamon-Sugar Monkey bread, Zucchini Blueberry or Pumpkin muffins, or even the classic Eggo-gone-vegan, Cornbread Waffles With Pulled Jackfruit.
5. Broth and Sauce
Broths and sauces are great items to have on-hand in the refrigerator or freezer. They are great additions to basic recipes and have a long shelf life when stored appropriately. As a prepper, try stocking your freezer with this oil-free, vegetable-based vegan broth, as well as a few tasty sauces such as Homemade Spicy Red Wine Tomato Sauce, Vodka Cream Sauce, or this Homemade Hot Sauce.
6. Veggie Patties
Building a burger is easy and delicious when the ingredients are prepared ahead of time. Cook a stack of veggie patties on Sunday and enjoy your favorite vegan burger all week long. Simply thaw, grill, and serve!
Try a few of these meat-free, lentil-based burger recipes: Red Lentil Burger, Featuring a Yummy Secret Ingredient, Black Pepper Burgers, Walnut Lentil Burgers With Cauliflower Puree and Red Onion Relish, or Sloppy Joseph’s by downloading the Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Pexels/ Pixabay