Why meal prepping will change your life - and your waist

Why meal prepping will change your life - and your waist

By Mareya Ibrahim

When you have 5 mouths to feed, thinking about food is a full-time endeavor. 

Even though it’s a big part of my career, making from-scratch sauces and foraging for ingredients is not part of my daily routine – especially with voracious teenagers and athletes in the family. Forget about 30-minute meals.  When they start circling the kitchen like a pack of wolves, I’ve got 10 minutes tops before they start bearing their canines.

As the owner of two businesses, mom of 5 and designated family chef, meal prep has made a monumental impact on my sanity and the collective well-being of my family.  If mama doesn’t have it together, no one else will, either.

The success formula for any type of physique competition is 90% what you put on your fork and eating clean and macronutrient-balanced meals are much easier to control when you’re cooking at home.

A big part of my weekly strategy is creating simple hacks and lifestyle habits to save time and take the stress out of the process of cooking.  By picking one day a week to meal prep, you can significantly take a lot of time and tribulation away from the kitchen.  Like the saying goes: fail to plan, plan to fail and when it comes to something as important as food to a chef and nutritionist, I couldn’t stomach the idea of a frozen meal existence or worse, the default drive-thru. I want to control portion sizes and where the ingredients come from.  I want to know how much sodium and fat are going into my meals.  I know all too well that if you eat to thrive, you help your body and brain to function at their best and that’s where we can make the biggest impact on our health three times a day. 

With that, here are my top 10 favorite meal prep strategies to help get you ready for clean eating success: 

  • Get a plan and shop with a list. It’s tough to go into the store and wander the aisles if you don’t have a roadmap.  If you have an idea of what you’re going to make during the week, you’ll never be caught with your pantries down.  Write down what you plan to make each day and then build your shopping list.  You can also use this to shop online so you have all your staples ready to go at the press of a button.  If you’re not sure where to start, download my free week meal plan and shop from the list – I’ve already done the work for you. This will help save you money, too.  You can modify for dietary needs if you’re vegan or have any particular allergies or food preferences.

  • Double or triple the batch. Half the battle of cooking is shopping and getting the ingredients out of the fridge and pantry. Making two or three batches of the same dish is a breeze.  Stews and soups, baked meals or banana bread are all perfect candidates for this strategy and leaning into your freezer for a homemade meal that’s already made is smart, time saving hack.  It also will serve you well if you have a late day of work, are traveling or have kiddos at home that eat twice as many meals as you and can easily pop food into the oven when you need a break.  It’s the ‘rainy day’ approach that makes this so savvy.

  • Have the right tools for the job.  Being equipped with the ‘right stuff’ in the kitchen will make your preparation much easier and more efficient.  Aside from the essential sharp knives, easy-to-clean and chemical-free cookware, muffin and loaf pans and scissors for cutting herbs, these are my top 5 must-have kitchen appliances for quicker meals:
    - A powerful blender for smoothies, soups and sauces
    - A good food processor for nut butters, spreads like my Grilled Artichoke Hummus and dips like my Sundried Tomato White Bean Dip and to scoop into or top your dishes
    - A spiralizer for making veggie pasta noodles
    - A pressure cooker for fast stews and one pot ‘set it and forget it’ meals
    - A toaster oven for melting and crisping

  • Stock up on shortcut staples. There are items that might take a long time to prep but are nearly as good to buy already pre-made that will save you time cooking and are easy items to throw into a salad or soup, or whip into a dip or sauce.  These include:
    - Aseptic low sodium broths and stocks
    - Canned beans (I love cannellini, garbanzo and black beans)
    - Artichoke hearts
    - Roasted red peppers
    - Canned seafood like sardines, salmon and white anchovies
    -Nuts like almonds, walnuts and cashews

  • Pre-wash your produce. Being a plant-based person, fresh produce is the cornerstone of my diet and for everyone, it gives the benefit of a wide variety of color, texture, flavor and freshness to your meal prep. But washing produce takes time and if you rinse it with water in advance, it can make it go bad faster.   I created eatCleaner® to not only help you eat cleaner, safer produce but to help it last longer.  It’s not like water.  Bring your produce home, wash it with eatCleaner® and store each item in a sealed container – like a salad bar in your fridge.  Your greens, berries, root veggies and anything else you clean will be ready to eat when you are – and just watch how much longer it lasts and how much more your family eats.  You’ve now made your produce more convenient to eat, without spending a lot of money on all the pre-washed produce that often is questionable when it comes to freshness and safety. You can find it online at eatcleaner.com or at retailers like Albertsons, Vons and Stater Bros. We even make a Seafood + Poultry Wash that’s ideal of taking the ‘stank’ off of shellfish, the slime of chicken and tenderizing it into juicy submission.  

  • Pre-cook proteins and grains. I like to pick a couple of proteins and a couple of grains to cook off during my meal prep that can easily get incorporated into a taco or burrito, to make a bowl or salad, a wrap, a stir fry or a baked dish.  Hardboiled eggs, baked salmon, a whole roasted chicken are all standbys that my family loves are versatile in a wide variety of dishes.  For grains, I love the pressure cooker for brown or black rice, barley, quinoa or millet for a high-fiber base to basically a million different variations.  The barley makes a wonderful breakfast cereal, steeped in coconut milk and topped with chopped nuts, dried dates and a sprinkle of chia seeds. And you can always top a quick stir fry with a fried egg for a meal in less than 5 minutes.

  • The One-Sheet-Wonder pan meal. I owe this hack to my dad.  Way before sheet pan meals took over Pinterest, I credit him for this amazing strategy for the simple reason he created it.  “I don’t like a mess in the kitchen.” The key to this is picking ingredients that cook evenly at once.  For proteins, shrimp, thin fish fillets and cuts of steak all work well.  You can follow the same lead for plant-based proteins like tempeh and canned beans.  Add quick-cooking veggies like diced bell peppers, onions and garlic and you have oven-baked fajitas in no time. I recently made a one-pan paella with plant-based sausage, cauliflower rice, shrimp, roasted red pepper and spices and it was the BOMB.

  • Stock up on sauces and spices. You’ll never get bored with your staples if you vary up the seasoning. Load up your spice cabinet with flavor blends so it’s one and done.  I love the grinders from Melissa’s Produce for this because they come out fresh and just in the right amount. One time, those beans are Mexican flavors and another time, they’re Mediterranean – or a fusion of both (my favorite).  I also love making my freezer flavor bombs.  Just take an old school ice cube tray, fill each compartment ¾ of the way with EVOO, grapeseed oil or avocado oil, add fresh herbs like rosemary and chopped garlic, a grind of your favorite seasoning and freeze.  Then pop out a cube to add to veggies, proteins and grains and POW – instant, concentrated flavor and fat in one step.  Romesco, salsa, pesto, hummus and olive tapenade are always around in my kitchen for easy, flavorful meals and sidekicks for veggies.

  • Pound it out, chop it up. The thinner the cut, and the smaller the dice, the faster the cooking time.  If you have a thick chicken breast, butterfly it, then pound it thin with a kitchen mallet and BAM – you’ve cut your time in half.  The same goes for potatoes, root veggies and other produce that might take a little more time to cook.  Shredded carrots will always cook faster than chunks.  If you make the pieces smaller, less surface equals less time cooking and more time enjoying.

  • Defer to veggies. When it comes to getting meals made faster, vegetables are almost always going to cook quicker than their animal protein and starchy counterparts.  Noodles made from zucchini or yam noodles cook up in about 2 minutes and tossed with a ready-to-eat pesto and some toasted pine nuts get dinner on the table in less than five. A stir fry featuring cauliflower rice, bite-size broccoli, bok choy and baby corn with pre-broiled tofu or tempeh and a pre-made sauce gets the meal on the table in about 6 minutes.  Even if you’re an omnivore, pick 2 days a week where you eat more of a plant-based diet and reap the benefits of a more nutrient-dense plate, easier digestion and more energy, too. 


Recipes can be found in Mareya’s book, “Eat Like You Give a Fork: The Real Dish on Eating to Thrive.” (St. Martin’s Griffin) available at eatcleaner.com.

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