How to Meal Prep on the DASH Diet
A nutritionist explains how meal prepping on this popular diet can make your life in the kitchen so much easier.
Making dietary changes can be hard, especially if it means changing how you use your kitchen. The key to adhering to a new way of eating isn’t just about the specific dietary recommendations — it's all about how you prepare for it. The sweet spot for healthy eating success is found where a solid program meets meal prep. My brand-new cookbook DASH Diet Meal Prep for Beginners is all about how to turn this solid program into something doable for you and your family. Here are my top tips for meal prepping on the DASH diet.
What Is the DASH Diet?
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (aka DASH) program was created out of work from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) back in the 1990s. The goal was to treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension) by eating a wholesome diet. The primary focus of DASH is a healthy lifestyle, with limited amounts of sodium and consuming foods that are nutrient-dense. The core of the eating pattern is around whole foods including fruits, vegetables, grains, lean proteins, and low-fat or nonfat diary. Many processed meats and precooked proteins or grains have added sodium, so these foods are recommended in small amounts. This approach in turn naturally increases nutrients that also help lower blood pressure, including calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Similar to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, DASH also recommends limiting saturated fat intake and added sugar. These guidelines are in line with recommendations to help prevent other diseases, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. DASH also has staying power: Not only has it been researched for several decades, it has consistently been ranked among the top diets by nutrition and health professionals by US News + World Report.
Why Meal Prep Makes The Difference
Make-ahead meals as well as putting forethought into what you will eat for days and weeks ahead is the cornerstone to long term adherence to a healthy lifestyle. That said, flexibility is just as important. Meal planning and meal prep should fit your lifestyle and teach you strategies about food and cooking, so you can stick to your healthy eating goals when not following a meal plan to the letter. A good set of meal plans should not “tell” you what you’re allowed to eat, but give you guidance on how to adopt better habits.
Whether your goal is weight loss, reducing blood pressure, improved general health (or all three!), incorporating meal prep strategies into your daily life can help make your adherence to the DASH diet a long term success. Unlike many other diets, DASH is easy to follow, includes all food groups and promotes real food; you can shop at your regular grocery store and make small adjustments to the foods you love to make them more DASH-friendly.
DASH Diet Meal Prep In Action
Meal prep requires some extra time on the front end, but the reward is more manageable days ahead! To help make things easier, read through your meal plan ahead of time, make a plan of attack for how to prepare the recipes for the upcoming week and, of course, map your shopping list before you head to the store. DASH Diet Meal Prep for Beginners maps out all of these elements along with tips and tricks for getting it all done. Here is an example of Week 3 on the Dash Diet (above), plus a recipe from this week – Rainbow Slaw (below).
Get the Recipe: Rainbow Slaw
This healthy meal prep salad that will last in the fridge for a few days. In addition to uber nutrition cabbage, a few extra ingredients contribute even more antioxidants, fiber and of course, flavor. Take some help from the store and buy “coleslaw mix” without dressing which is shredded cabbage and carrots.
Prep time: 10 min
Makes 8 cups
Serving size 1 1/3 cups (6 servings)
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp nonfat plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp honey
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3/4 tsp celery salt
14 oz bag coleslaw mix
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow pepper, diced
1/4 cup thinly sliced red inion
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, honey, rice vinegar and celery salt. Whisk until well combined.
Add the coleslaw mix, tomatoes, pepper, onion and parsley. Gently toss until the dressing is evenly distributed.
Serve or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Nutrition per serving: Calories: 78; Total fat: 4g; Saturated fat: 1g; Cholesterol: 4mg; Sodium: 205mg; Carbs: 10g; Dietary fibers: 3g; Sugars: 6g; Protein: 2g
Excerpted from the DASH Diet Meal Prep for Beginners reprinted by permission of Alpha, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Dana Angelo White
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.