Tag Archives: meal prep

All my best food tips (so far) for easy healthy meals!

tips for easy healthy meals

So New Year, new you? Thinking of quitting sugar, quitting processed food, eating more real food, trying gluten-free, grain-free, or going Paleo? I’ve done all of those, and while I’ve landed on a real foods, mostly-veggies-and-meat formula, I’ve collected quite a few tips that work for a wide variety of healthy diets.

Making the switch from convenience food — whether from restaurants or frozen meals — to a whole-foods/real food/homecooked lifestyle does have a learning curve, but once you learn a few tricks and practice them until they become habits, it’ll be a breeze!

Set yourself up for success by trying a few kitchen stocking and ingredient tricks. Here are all my best “tips for eating healthier” and “meal plan” posts:

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Stocking your freezer for easy meals (without committing to specific recipes!)

freezer meal prep; meals

They say if you have healthy food on hand, you’ll eat it. But that’s not necessarily true. Faced with nothing but “ingredients,” it’s often tempting to just order pizza or go out.

meal prep; ingredients

And let’s be real: we’ve all chosen that road more than once! But if you keep those ingredients in an easy-to-use form, it increases your odds of actually cooking at home!  I’ve written before about 30 things I always keep on hand for easy healthy meals, but this post is going to focus on what I keep in the freezer, with some tips and how-to’s.

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20-day diet prep plan: Day 3 — Ingredient prep

ingredient prep, + why i like it better than meal prep

how to chop an onion

If you didn’t get groceries yesterday, do that today. Doing ingredient prep before the first day of your new diet is probably the best thing you can do to start off strong. I like it better than prepping full meals, because it opens up more flexibility on a day-to-day basis. And it’s not as time-consuming on the front end, while still saving you time when you fix your meal.

You don’t have to do it all at once; do it over two or three sessions if that works better for you. Do you like company in the kitchen? Invite some! Prefer solitude? Put on your favorite music and tell everyone else to stay outta your way!

Ingredient prep suggestions:

  • Chop enough onions to last you two to three days. If you’re not already adept at dicing an onion, here’s a how-to from SimplyRecipes. Dicing onions would be a good thing to practice and get comfortable with, because this is the first step to just about every savory dish.

cubed roasted sweet potato - whole30, paleo

  • Nuke one or more sweet potatoes, and dice them.
  • If you’ll be using hamburger: Cook up some hamburger, and/or form it into individual patties; store both in the freezer. Divide the cooked hamburger into one- or two-serving baggies for quicker, easier thawing.

bacon-egg-salad-oh-500

  • If you’ll be using cooked chicken, and you didn’t buy it already cooked: Roast some, grill some, or cook some in the crockpot.  Divide the cooked chicken into one- or two-serving baggies for quicker, easier thawing.
  • If you’ll be using bacon: Cook a batch in the oven.
  • If there are any spice mixes you want to make, mix those up. (My taco seasoning mix.)
  • Hard boil some eggs, if you want to use them in your menus. (This handy glass egg timer ensures that your eggs are cooked just right, every time!)
  • Making salads? Make one or two salad dressings. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to find links to my sugar-free dressing recipes.)
  • Chop parsley and put it in a baggie in your freezer. Squeeze most of the air out. It keeps for weeks, and it’s easy to grab a tablespoon or a handful, as your recipe requires. No more chopping, no thawing needed.

Optional bonus task to start your new way of eating: If you’re doing Whole30, going Paleo, or drastically reducing the amount of sugar and carbs you’re accustomed to, you might want to subscribe to the Whole30 Daily – 31 days of support and encouragement in the form of daily emails ($14.95). Every day you’ll receive an email newsletter from Whole30, telling you what to expect at this point in your journey, and how to cope with it. I found it really helpful and encouraging, especially through the first two weeks, which can be rough!

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ingredient prep, + why i like it better than meal prep

20-day diet prep plan: Day 14-B – The grocery list

grocery list for quick easy meals

Two weeks to New Year’s!

Okay, Saturday and Sunday, you’re going to be doing some more experimenting in the kitchen, to help you prepare for the new, healthy way you’re going to be eating starting January 1!

I’m going to walk you through a couple meal templates (the soup method and the hash method) that will open up new possibilities for you, for healthy meals that are easy to throw together in a matter of minutes. So today, tonight, or early tomorrow, you’ll need to go grocery shopping.

grocery list for easy healthy meals

The grocery list

  • 3 medium white or yellow onions
  • 1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 large bell pepper – red, yellow, or orange
  • 1 large or 2 smallish zucchini
  • 5 oz. (or more) pre-washed baby spinach (or pre-washed and chopped kale, if you like kale)
  • 1 or 2 32-oz. cartons of good quality chicken stock. Don’t buy the cheapest option: read the labels, and buy the one with the most protein.
  • salsa of your choice, preferably sugar- and corn-syrup-free
  • spaghetti sauce of your choice, preferably sugar- and corn-syrup-free (or homemade marinara, if you have it on hand)
  • eggs
  • taco seasoning mix (or make your own)
  • Italian seasoning mix (or make your own)
  • olive oil or coconut oil
  • already-cooked meats of your choice (see below)

for the grocery list; wholly guacamole minis

 

optional:

  • Wholly Guacamole minis
  • any other vegetables you especially like, that come frozen: green beans, carrots, etc.
  • spiralizer, if you want to make zucchini noodles. I like this one, which you can also get at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but there are other brands.

Meats

Get two or three of these meats that you’d like to experiment with:

  • Already-cooked chicken. Make your own, or pick up a couple roasted chicken breasts or several thighs from your grocery store deli.
  • Diced ham; buy one thick slice and dice it yourself if you can’t find already diced.
  • Sausage, whatever flavor(s) you like. They can be pork, turkey, or chicken. Bulk sausage cooked and crumbled; link sausage cooked and diced.
  • Cooked, seasoned hamburger
  • Pulled pork, if that’s something you normally make and have in the freezer
  • Bacon; cook up a pound in the oven. Then chop into about 1/2″ pieces. No need to break out a ruler!

If you want, go ahead and cook/prep all your meats.

how to chop an onion

You can also dice up the onion and put it in an airtight container in the fridge. (If you want to save that for later, that’s fine, too.) If you’re not already adept at dicing an onion, here’s a how-to from SimplyRecipes. Dicing onions would be a good thing to practice and get comfortable with, because this is the first step to just about every savory dish.

Tomorrow, we start cookin’!

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grocery list for quick easy meals

The grocery list shown in the image above is available as a printout at designsponge.

Meal prep: Beef and sweet potato freezer burritos – with diet-specific options

meal prep: freezer burritos

meal prep: freezer burritos

Freezer burritos are one of the handiest things you can have stashed in the freezer, for easy meals or snacks any time! They were my go-to lunch last year while I was on my way to losing 33 pounds. Back then, this was a plain ol’ beef, bean and cheese burrito recipe, but I’ve since modified it to accommodate Paleo and other diet restrictions. I’m providing notes here so you can make it as traditional or as Paleo as you like it. It’s very customizable!

First, a few notes about the ingredients…

The tortillas. If you’re not gluten-restricted and you want the easiest option, just pick up your favorite brand of soft wheat tortillas from the store. Or better yet, stop by your favorite locally-owned Mexican restaurant and get a to-go order of tortillas.

If you’re eliminating gluten and/or grains from your diet, pick up your favorite ready-made gluten-free tortillas, or try this crepe-like recipe from Stupid Easy Paleo (this is the one I use), or this egg-free, cassava-flour based one from Eat Heal Thrive.

Beans vs sweet potatoes. There’s some debate as to whether beans are really good for you or not. The Paleo/Whole30 camp says that the proteins in legumes may mimic some of the body’s proteins, potentially kicking off auto-immune issues. To make a Paleo version, I swapped out mashed sweet potatoes for the same texture — and I ended up loving the sweet note they bring to the dish.

Here’s a nutrition comparison of the two (their fat and calorie profile are similar, so I left those out):

nutrition; sweet potatoes vs refried beans

Note that the sweet potatoes are higher in sugary carbs and lower in protein, but that they have tons of Vitamin A, while beans have none. (If you’re using the crepe-like tortillas, you’ve omitted a good deal of carbs right there, so it’s still not a carb-heavy dish.)

Feel free to use whichever you prefer for taste or nutrition — or maybe get crazy and use both!

The cheese. Feel free to include cheese if it fits into your healthy eating style. Omit it if it doesn’t.

The bell peppers. These are here to add fiber and Vitamin C. There’s really no downside to them, unless you just hate them (or can’t eat nightshades).

The meat. I believe that hormone-free, antibiotic-free red meat is a good thing. (I am from Kansas!) If you have an aversion to beef, feel free to sub ground turkey or another protein of your choice.

The salsa. Use your favorite. To keep it healthy, check the label to make sure there’s no sugar or corn syrup.

The taco seasoning. Sure, you can buy some ready-made. But check the label to make sure there’s no sugar, maltodextrin, corn starch, or other unnecessary fillers. Cheaper and healthier: make your own.

The guacamole. While not essential, it makes a nice visual finish, as well as adding flavor and healthy fat! If you happen to have some homemade, by all means use that! However, I usually just keep some Wholly Guacamole single-serve packs in the fridge; one is the perfect size to spread over a couple burritos.

Finally, a note about servings: Because there are so many variables in this recipe, I can only give you an approximation of how many burritos it will make. I get six or seven; your mileage may vary. Also, once you’ve made it once or twice and tuned into how you like to make it, you can certainly double or triple the recipe to really stock up.

Beef and sweet potato freezer burrito recipe

1 or 2 T. olive or coconut oil

1 small (or half a large) yellow onion, diced

1/2 large red bell pepper, diced

1 pound ground beef

1 medium sweet potato, already cooked and diced

(or sub half a can of refried beans)

1 cup of your favorite salsa (or more, to taste)

2 teaspoons taco seasoning (or more, to taste)

3/4 cup shredded cheddar or monterrey jack cheese (optional)

several 6″ tortillas

 

Dice peppers and onion, and saute in olive oil until they are soft. Leave in the pan but push them off to the side.

freezer burritos in the making

Brown the ground beef, drain excess fat if you want, and add in the taco seasoning; stir it all together till spices are distributed. Then add sweet potatoes (or beans) and salsa, and stir till evenly combined. Taste, and add salsa and/or taco seasoning till you’re happy with the flavor. Remove from heat.

Lay out several squares of waxed paper or parchment. These should be two or three inches wider than the diameter of your tortillas, and long enough to wrap around one two or three times. Lay a tortilla on each. Spoon the desired amount of filling down the center of the tortillas, in about a 2″-wide line from one edge to the other. Sprinkle with cheese, if using. Roll the burrito into a tube; no need to fold in the ends. If your filling isn’t sticky enough to hold the tortilla closed, secure it with a toothpick.

freezer burritos - roll 'em up

Then wrap the paper around it. Again, no need to fold in the ends. Repeat till filling is all used. Place wrapped burritos on a cookie sheet or other flat surface, setting them down in such a way that the weight of the burrito holds the paper in place. Then place this in the freezer till the burritos are firm.

freezer burritos, ready to go in the freezer

Then put them all into a large plastic baggie and return to the freezer.

To reheat a burrito, remove the wrapper and place seam-side-down on a plate, and microwave for 30 seconds. Then turn it over and microwave till heated through. I use the “reheat” button on my microwave; every machine is different, so experiment to find what works for you, and make a note of that. Be sure to remove the toothpick before topping with guac!

Make up a batch of these on the weekend, and you’ll have healthy, easy lunches — or dinners, or snacks — on hand for a quick, few-minute meal!

 

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beef + sweet potato freezer burritos

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New to eating gluten-free? Or thinking of going Paleo?

Check out my 20-Day Countdown to a New Way of Eating!

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