Oak Forest resident Amy Lucas says planning your meals ahead of time comes with an array of benefits.
According to Lucas, a chef and dietitian who is an independent contractor with Nutrition in Motion and has been consulting with individuals since 2015, meal prepping and planning saves money and time, makes it easier to eat healthy, decreases stress and allows a person to get more done with less effort. During this time of stress, meal planning for the upcoming school year might be the best plan of action.
Meal planning is writing out what you want to cook and meal prepping is preparing the food for when you want to cook and eat it.
If someone is new to meal prep and planning, Lucas said starting is easy.
“I would start with just writing down some of your favorite dishes, then from there, you’d want to map it out,” Lucas said. “What’s already in your pantry, what do you want to eat and what do you need to get from the store?”
When prepping, Lucas recommends finding dishes that use the foods you already have in the fridge, freezer and pantry so that when you go shopping, you can save money and not waste what you already have.
Some people prep for the whole week on Sunday and others break the week in half and prep twice. Sometimes that entails cooking on those prep days, but others cook fresh every night.
“Consider chopping all your vegetables and then cooking them fresh each night,” Lucas said.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed if someone is new to meal prep and planning. It’s important to work at your own pace.
“Start with 2-3 recipes and then add more as you get better at preparing meals,” Lucas said.
Lucas also said a mistake people often make is over-prepping by planning their meals for all seven days of the week. This doesn’t leave room for unplanned interruptions from kids, working late or just not wanting to cook, which results in wasted food. So start with prepping for 3-5 days and adjust as needed.
Breakfast is a meal that Lucas said is probably the easiest to prep, but often forgotten about.
“Have breakfast ready to go or a quick reheat,” Lucas said. “Protein muffins, boiled eggs peeled and kept in the fridge in water, yogurt, fruit and granola parfaits, egg bakes, overnight oatmeal or oatmeal you simply reheat and add fresh fruit as a topping.”
For kids’ lunches, you can do away with Lunchables and make bento boxes with lean protein, cheese, fruit, veggies and crackers.
“Include items they enjoy and sneak in a few healthier options like chocolate hummus with apples,” Lucas said.
Lucas said all her clients are different. Some love cooking fresh and others hate cooking in general. It’s all about finding what works for you, your family and your schedule.
If you want to skip figuring it out on your own, Lucas can help. Visit her website, chefcraftednutrition.com, for more information on meal plans.