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Some people only view meal prep as a means of being economical with time and money. Those aspects of meal prep are significant. If you’re going through such an effort, you may as well make it healthy, too.
The types of meals you prep will depend on your dietary needs and preferences. What might be healthy and tasty for someone might be considered unhealthy or disgusting to someone else. So how do you know if your meal prep is healthy?
- Is Meal Prep Healthy?
- How to Make Your Meal Prep Healthy
- Related Questions
Is Meal Prep Healthy?
While I know that meal prep saves you time and money, it can be really healthy, too – if you plan it that way. When you plan your meals and pay attention to the ingredients, you can start to make healthier choices. Doing so will help you plan healthy and nutritional meals for yourself and your family.
Since I’m not all nutritionists or dietitians, I might not know what “healthy” means. In addition, what you think might be healthy could be laced with additional sugar, allergens, or unhealthy fats.
So, making your meal prep healthy requires a conscious effort on your part – no one else. That includes knowing your dietary needs, researching, reading labels, and using healthy cooking methods.
How to Make Your Meal Prep Healthy
For illustrative purposes, let’s consider the humble potato. Potatoes can be boiled, mashed, baked, fried, and sauteed. Each cooking method will determine how healthy the potato will be; however, how you season or dress the potato will also change things. For example:
Potatoes boiled in their skins are healthy in moderation. Yet, peeled, boiled potatoes with dollops of butter, mayo, and lots of salt are less healthy.
Learning how to prep healthy meals isn’t as difficult as it might seem – thousands of sources offer wholesome recipes ideal for meal prepping. By making a few changes in how you prepare your food, you can make a big difference in its nutritional value. Additionally, if you know you’ve been eating healthily, you can appreciate the occasional treats so much more.
Know Your Dietary Needs
The first step to knowing how to prepare healthy meals is to consider your health and dietary needs.
Suppose you know you’re borderline diabetic, for example. In that case, your meals should include more complex carbohydrates to give your body sustained energy. Unfortunately, sugar is hidden in so many products, and you might unwittingly be worsening your health by consuming hidden sugars.
I know people who struggle with their weight because they have an autoimmune disease that requires a lot of heavy medication, including weekly chemotherapy treatment. In these cases, it’s best to see a dietician determine the best diet for your needs. Initially, I started on a vegan, anti-inflammatory diet, and then they started losing muscle mass. So, I’ve chopped and changed a bit, and they have to eat more protein.
Only some people have the luxury of seeing a dietician, I know. However, you’re on your way to healthy meal prep by researching and planning balanced meals.
Meal Prep Balanced Meals
A balanced diet means finding the correct ratios of macronutrients for you. So what are macronutrients (or macros)? They are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that my body needs in large amounts to function. For my diet, I must aim for around 50% carbohydrates, 30% protein (equivalent to 3.5 ounces), and 20% fat. However, this can differ according to your needs.
Each meal contributes to your daily macro intake. Carbohydrates are found in fruit, vegetables, cereals, and grain products. Protein can come from meat, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. Fat comes from animal and plant sources and should be kept to a minimum yet not excluded from a diet.
A balanced meal should include fruit or vegetables, a form of protein, a little fat, and a complex carbohydrate. By creating balanced meals, you give your body everything it needs to sustain you to your next meal or snack.
Additionally, eating balanced meals provides your body with regulated energy. It allows you to use all the calories on your plate. Unhealthy meals lend themselves to hunger, sugar spikes and crashes, and storing unused calories in the form of fat.
Compare Food Labels and Choose Wisely
When buying your groceries, you can start to make healthier choices by comparing the nutritional information labels on food items. For example, when looking at cereals, you can compare the amount of sugar and fiber in variants of the same type of cereal, e.g., cornflakes. The brand with less sugar and more fiber is the healthier option.
To appeal to more customers, brands advertise that they’ve enriched a product with vitamins and minerals. Naturally, one would think it’s a healthier option. However, it’s still wise to compare the sugar, fat, and calorie content of each serving with other similar products. Just because a tiny quantity of vitamins was added to a product doesn’t necessarily make it the better option.
Prepare Meals Using Less Fat and Sugar
You can make your meals healthier by how you prepare them, i.e., with less sugar and fat. Yes, fat and sugar do have a way of making things taste yummy. However, too many of them can lead to obesity and heart issues, which I’d like to avoid.
Air fryers are a fantastic way to cook food with minimal fat without losing flavor. Other ways to reduce fat usage during cooking are slow cooking, grilling, or roasting meat and vegetables. Alternatively, you can blanch or boil food items such as vegetables, rice, or quinoa and add a bit of fat and seasoning afterward.
Increase the Fiber Intake
Fiber plays an essential role in your diet. It helps to clear out your intestines with regular pooping. Regularly going to the toilet is vital to eliminate waste products and toxins that could poison your body and stink your breath. Nobody wants to smell that.
Eating fruit, vegetables, and whole grains with each main meal is the best way to include fiber.
Drink Lots of Water
In conjunction with fiber, you should include lots of water in your diet to keep your system flushed. Some say eight glasses of water a day is ideal, though others say up to 16 glasses a day if you’re very active.
While you might not be able to drink 8 glasses of water a day (let alone 16!), you can include more water in your prepped meals. Some examples of foods that will contribute to your daily water intake include homemade soups, smoothies (use water instead of milk or yogurt), apples, cucumbers, watermelon, lettuce, cauliflower, and carrots.
Is It Difficult to Prep Healthy Meals?
Preparing healthy meals is not difficult. It just requires more effort on your part. For instance, comparing product labels in the shop will take getting used to, yet with practice, it becomes easier. Regarding food preparation, raw produce will need more preparation in your kitchen. However, when a product is bought in its whole or natural form, there’s more chance of it being healthier.
Will Healthy Prepped Meals Turn Bad Fast?
Depending on the contents of a healthy prepped meal, it should last in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 days if in an airtight container. While food laced with preservatives will last longer, it is not considered healthy. If you’re worried about food turning bad, prep freezable meals or employ a shorter meal-prep cycle.
Will You Lose Weight With Healthy Meal Prep?
You can lose weight with macro-friendly meal prep if you plan and eat healthy meals and avoid treats, alcohol, and junk food. If you plan your meals, so your calorie intake is less than your calorie expenditure, you should lose weight. You can monitor your calorie intake, nutrients, and macros using a calorie-counting platform.
Meal prep can be very healthy, using healthy ingredients and cooking methods. If you plan your meals effectively, you can ensure your diet is nutritionally balanced according to your needs. Additionally, by storing prepped meals carefully, you will find they won’t turn bad quickly and will remain healthy and tasty.
Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.