Learn How to Meal Prep with Smart Meal Prep for Beginners

Make busy weeks easier with healthy meal prepping tips from a nutritionist.

Learning to prepare meals ahead of time is a healthy lifestyle game changer, but learning how to get started can be intimidating. Get helpful meal prepping tips from nutrition expert, Healthy Eats contributor and bestselling author Toby Amidor from her newest cookbook.

Smart Meal Prep for Beginners talks about 5 meal prepping steps. What are they?

1) Choose when to prep: Select one or two days to meal prep. Sundays work better for most folks but another day or even two days during the week or weekend may work better for you.

2) Decide which meals to prep: Smart Meal Prep for Beginners has 6 meal prepping plans you can follow or you can select healthy recipes that work for you. Part 2 of my cookbook provides recipes you can swap in any meal plan.

3) Go food shopping: After selecting your recipes, go through the ingredients while sitting in your kitchen to create a shopping list. That way you can double check if you already have some of the ingredients and won’t waste money buying ingredients you already have,

4) Prep and cook: A smart meal prep is an efficient one. For each meal prep days, I provide the order in which recipes should be cooked and when to start the recipes to help you be most efficient with your time. After starting meal prepping a few times, you start to get the hang of it.

5) Portion and pack: All preps end with portioning and packing so you can easily grab and go.

What are some meal prepping dos and dont’s worth keeping in mind?

Do flag healthy recipes you love.

Don’t leave everything until the last minute.

Do work with your schedule.

Don’t overprep.

Do freeze extras for a busy week.

Don’t divide and portion meals later.

Successful meal prep relies on good for storage containers. What kinds do you like to use?

I like multi-compartment containers for meals that have several types of foods, but I also love using mason glass jars for salads and overnight oats. This is what works for me best, but if you like single compartment containers, then go for it! You also have to take transportation into account—do you travel by train, car, or even bicycle. Give your containers whirl to see how they stand up to your mode of transportation. Do what works best for you.

What are 5 staple ingredients to keep on hand for smart meal prepping?

My must have ingredients include:

-Low sodium canned beans: I can cook them in a chili, use in a soup, or toss them over a salad.

-Quinoa: This high protein whole grain is my go-to with most any lean protein

-Greek yogurt: I love Greek yogurt as a grab-and-go snack, low calorie baking substitute, or to make a delicious parfait.

-Olive oil: Whether used as a dressing or to cook with, olive oil is a healthy fat that can get the job done.

-Eggs: I keep hard boiled eggs in my refrigerator at all times. This way if I need a protein all I have to do is just grab-and-go. I also use eggs to bind my burgers or meatballs, and love to make single-serve quiches with them.

Could you share your favorite recipe with us?

Turkey Meatballs with Carrots over Zucchini Noodles

Serves: 4

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Zucchini, carrot, or another spiralized vegetables makes a terrific low calorie and low carb substitute for grain pasta. However, you can always opt for whole wheat spaghetti or any type of alternative pasta like quinoa, bean legume, or rice. Just follow the directions on the manufacturer’s label for appropriate cooking times.

For the Turkey meatballs:

1 pound of ground turkey (90% to 94% lean)

2 medium carrots, shredded

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 cup whole-wheat panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons of olive oil

4 servings (6 cups) of Zucchini Noodles with Lemon Vinaigrette (recipes below)

4 servings (2 cups) Chucky tomato sauce (recipe below)

For the Zucchini Noodles:

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 medium zucchini, or 6 cups precut zucchini noodles

Special equipment


For the Chucky Tomato sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled plum tomatoes

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup basil leaves, cut into thin strips

To make the Meatballs:

In a large bowl mix together the turkey, carrots, onion, garlic, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Shape 1 heaping teaspoon of turkey mixture into a ball, and place it on a large plate. Repeat with the remaining mixture to make about 20 meatballs.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs and cook, covered, turning the meatballs occasionally until browned on all sides and a thermometer inserted into the meatballs reads 165 degrees F, 15-18 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a clean plate.

Into each 4 containers, place 11/2 cups of Zucchini Noodles with Lemon Vinaigrette and top with 5 meatballs and 1/2 cup of Chunky Tomato sauce

Storage: Place the airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To freeze, place the turkey meatballs and tomato sauce (without the Zucchini Noodles with Lemon Vinaigrette) in freezer safe containers and freeze up to 2 months. To defrost, refrigerate overnight. To reheat, microwave uncovered on high for 2-3 minutes, Alternatively, reheat the entire batch of meatballs and sauce in a medium saucepan on the stove top. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until heated through 10-15 minutes.

To make the Zucchini noodles:

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and zest, olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper

Using a spiralizer, make zucchini noodles and add to the bowl with the lemon vinaigrette Toss to combine.

Into each of the 4 containers, place 1 1/2 cups noodles.

To make the Chucky Tomato Sauce:

In a medium pot over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the whole and crushed tomatoes, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes as they cook. Stir in the salt, pepper, and basil.

Nutrition information (per container): Calories:458; Total Fat: 28g: Saturated fat 5g; protein 29g; Total Carbs: 27g; Fiber: 6g; Sugar: 13 g; Sodium 992mg

Photos and recipe courtesy of Toby Amidor, MS, RD Healthy Eats contributor and author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners

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