Monday, January 13, 2014

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
$3 a meal for a perfectly portioned menu that also saves on time and energy. Here's all the advice you need for this lifestyle.

Yesterday I helped to cook a week of lunch and dinner for 2 people with $60 in under 3 hours, including a trip to the grocery store! This is the meal prep lifestyle and my friend Emmanuel Sean Peters is an expert. Instead of making excuses, Sean sets aside a little time to plan for a healthy and budget-friendly week. Here's how you can do it too.

Every Sunday and/or Monday Sean will post a picture of five lunches and five dinners, all packaged in containers, on instagram. The picture sums up its value - if you're tired, busy or lazy, you can just reach for a perfectly portioned meal - like the healthier, cheaper, and homemade answer to the convenience of Lean Cuisine. Even if you just don't like to cook, you can consolidate your work by taking care of it all at once. It just requires a bit of discipline. Sean told me that even the time he came home late on one prep day and cooked past 1 am, he was pleased to have prepared for the week.

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
Sean thinks it strange to be called an "expert," but his hundreds of followers on instagram wouldn't agree. After posting pics, he always shares recipes and advice for recreating the dishes.

When Sean started the #mealprep lifestyle in the spring of 2013, he was already into fitness, cooking and healthy eating. On off days, he would try to find nutritious options when eating out, but that meant justifying $10 or more for lunch to avoid deli traps. Cooking from scratch keeps processed foods out of his diet for $2.50 to $5 per meal. Sean is a PhD student in Electrical Engineering at Columbia University and noticed the added savings in his bank account at the end of the year. Portion control also means results from his fitness regimen are visible on his muscular frame.

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
Groceries for lunch and dinner meal prep came to only $60 - that's $3 per meal! And no packaged foods made their way into the menu plan as staples or snacks.

Sean's Trinidadian roots help him to #eatclean. Instead of using salt and fat to flavor dishes, he uses a lot of garlic and spices to make dishes like his specialty of chicken curry. Though he no longer can reach for mango or guava from backyard trees, all of his shopping is done between the produce and meat aisles of the grocery. The difference between his cart and those around us at the Harlem neighborhood's Best Yet Supermarket was stunning. The only plastic before these 20 meals were cooked was from a bag of brown rice and bags of pre-washed spinach. These sensible shortcuts help Sean to avoid extra work to clean or cut vegetables and make the process go faster.

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
Fruit for the week was included in the $60 budget. Sean keeps it close at hand for afternoon snacks.

Sean's meals are always fresh and colorful - a good sign that they are diverse in nutrients - and the menu plan is always chicken or turkey for lunch and a lighter meal of fish for dinner. By avoiding pasta, salty and fatty additions like cheese also become less important. A consistent breakfast of oatmeal with peanut butter or protein powder keeps him full in the morning and instead of reaching for a vending machine, Sean always keeps fruit close at hand. By minimizing the food decisions throughout the week, you can eliminate stress from all the little choices and temptations.

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
Sean's friend Devon, a PhD candidate in Sociology at Columbia University, has replaced eating out a lot with joining the meal prep session. Dirty Rice (recipe below) was his suggestion from a family favorite.

If this sounds a bit redundant to you, remember these rules. Give yourself flexibility by prepping only five lunches and five dinners - that's four meals a week to cook something different or dine out. But make sure you're making something that you will not mind eating for five days. Experiment with new recipes on your day off so you don't commit to meals you will lose taste for. Spice it up with hot sauce or mango habenero sauce here and there so the flavors change a bit from day to day. And finally, cook with a friend. Extra help makes the preparation faster and more fun. If you want to try meal prep as a family, make sure everyone is on board and lends a hand.

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
These are intentional meals, not sad leftovers. Use the freezer to keep each box fresh until it's day has come.

Sean uses uniform, inexpensive containers to package the meals and everything is moved to the freezer to prevent spoilage. Each night a set of containers is shifted from freezer to fridge to be thawed in time for the meal. Some foods do better than others with this change of temperature - avocado is not recommended - and Sean factors in reheating the fresh vegetables. For example, you can under cook broccoli a bit so it finishes in the microwave. At the end of the week, everything is fresh and delicious - these are intentional meals, not sad leftovers.

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
The lunchbox always includes chicken or turkey and lots of veggies. Recipes for this menu are below.

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
The dinner box is always lighter and features a fish. This box includes baked tilapia with lemon, roasted and mashed sweet potatoes with honey and cinnamon, and spicy sauteed spinach.

This healthy, convenient, and waste-free lifestyle is taking root in Sean's friends and family. As we began to cook together his sister called to discuss her plan for the week. I too am going to pick up some of his discipline to make lunches for the week and avoid running across the street to pick up udon so often. If you think you're ready to try, check out Sean's instagram for more inspiration and click through the #mealprepsundays and #mealprepmondays hashtags. There's a whole community of #fitmencook and #fitwomencook who want to share ideas and encourage you to thrive with the #mealprep lifestyle.

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Shopping List for 10 Meals

Brown Rice
2.5 pounds ground turkey
1 medium red onion
1 bunch of scallions
Garlic
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
Cilantro
2 pounds carrots
3 bunches of broccoli


Dirty Rice - Brown Rice with Ground Turkey, Peppers, and Spices

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
Fresh veggies season these dishes instead of fats, creams, or salt.

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
Cooking for more than 2 people is difficult because of the sheer volume. With just two, each dish is scaled to make 10 servings.

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
Colorful and flavorful additions like these peppers make each meal something to look forward to.

#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
A final handful of cilantro brightens the dish and then it's done!

Measure 2.5 cups of brown rice, 5 cups of water, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a medium pot. Bring pot to a rolling boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer (without opening) for 40 minutes, making sure the water hasn't all evaporated.

Dice red onion, finely chop 8 cloves of garlic, and slice scallions. Cook vegetables with 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add turkey and cook for about 10 minutes until browned, stirring and breaking up chunks with a spoon. Add diced red pepper and yellow pepper, season with garlic powder, thyme, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper and cook for a few minutes longer. Stir in half a bunch of cilantro, finely chopped. Stir in cooked brown rice and adjust seasonings to taste.


Roasted Carrots
#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
Sean always lines baking pans with aluminum foil to help with cleanup. This quick step makes the whole task of the cooking session less burdensome.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Scrub and/or peel 2 pounds of fresh carrots. Slice lengthwise then cut into even pieces. Toss with garlic powder, salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast for about 30 minutes until fork tender.


Spicy Steamed Broccoli
#mealprep: Expert Tips for Easy, Healthy and Affordable Meals All Week Long
Pull the broccoli from heat a little before it's done so it can finish cooking when reheated in the microwave.

Wash broccoli and break florets into even pieces. Bring a pot with 1 inch of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Set broccoli in steamer basket over water, cover with lid, and cook for four minutes. Remove broccoli from heat and shock with cold water to stop the cooking process. Toss dried broccoli with garlic powder, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and olive oil.


46 comments:

  1. stumbled upon this post from your comment on the Kitchn! Thank you for the inspiration!

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    1. I'm glad you've found it helpful! Many of my recipes in the recipe index would work well for meal prep. Just no avocado ;-)

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  2. Wow that is amazing! I need to apply some of these tips to my meal planning.

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  3. Awesome! I wish I had a big enough freezer :D I actually love the idea of the roasted carrots, didn't know they freeze well. The meals look great, perfect with all those veggies. Thank you for sharing!

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  4. This is such a great idea! I showed my husband and he is super excited to do it!!

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  5. How many calories per serving is the dirty rice? Thanks!

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    1. Hi Rita, the recipe above makes 10 servings of about 1 2/3 cups at about 425 calories per serving. Most of the calories come from the ground turkey, so you can adjust the amount there to control.

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    2. Okay, thank you Robyn! I made this recipe today and its so delish. As a busy mom, this will make a great 'plan ahead' meal for the week. So glad I found your blog!

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  6. Hi! I just made your meal plan from up above. We are loving it! Can you post the recipes and shopping list for the other meal (tilapia, sweet potatoes, and spinach)? If you have more of these or a link to some groups of them please let me know. I love how you have the yummy recipes and shopping list right there. Fool proof! Thanks!

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    1. So glad you enjoyed! And thanks for the notes on the shopping list - I'll try to use that format more often when posting about meals. There are lots of recipes in the Recipe Index with many more coming. I just posted a delicious and super easy meal of Spicy Sichuan Noodles with Turkey, Kale and Peanuts. http://www.runawayapricot.com/2014/03/healthier-dan-dan-mian-spicy-sichuan.html

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  7. brussel sprouts, cauliflower and heartier veggies like red cabbage, brocolli "slaw" etc hold up really well if there were an option to have a non-heated veggie side ... i love blanched cauliflower forets w soy sauce and red pepper flake

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    1. Great ideas! I really like different textures and temperatures with my meal, so two small containers instead of one that goes from freezer to microwave sometimes works for me. My Jerk Chicken Meatballs would be delicious with one of the slaws that you mention. http://www.runawayapricot.com/2014/03/glistening-like-beyonce-jerk-chicken.html

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  8. I am going to try some, an aside you can get the steamer bags, 10 for under 4 dollars that's how I pack meals and microwave them.

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  9. Great concept--love the idea of cooking ahead. Definitely will try this--the recipes look yummy. Since I found out years ago how harmful microwaves are, I haven't used one since 1992. I'll probably package the meals in foil or glass dishes that can be reheated in the oven or toaster oven.
    As an aside, when we experimentally stopped using our microwave for a month (I was wondering how I would survive without it!) we were amazed at how much better the food tasted. Haven't looked back and never regretted giving it up. See http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/05/18/microwave-hazards.aspx for more info. To your health! :)

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    1. I posted a reply similar to this. Microwaves are really, really bad.

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  10. This is one of the most thorough examples of meal preps I've seen-, from costs to recipes. Excellent post, thanks for sharing! :)

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  11. I want to do this so bad! I am trying to eat healthy and this is a way to have an excuse proof day! lol =) My question is though, how much should i make for 1 person and only for my lunch and maybe a snack before dinner. I like to eat a family dinner with my 2 boys and my fiance.

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  12. cut everything that's written up there in half that's how much you should do for one the recipes and everything is meant for two :)

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  13. This motivate me to eat healthy. Smart idea and thanks for sharing.

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  14. I'm in college and living in my own apartment this year so I was so excited to read this post. Making meals ahead of time is perfect for me since I can bring them on the go to class or the library. I've already made this recipe twice and I'm loving it! Thank you!

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  15. Can you get the recipes for the fish/spinach/sweet potato dinners that are in the pictures? Looks great!

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  16. How much of each of the spices do you add? "garlic powder, thyme, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper"
    like, equal parts?
    - Rowan

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  17. The shopping list says it's the ingredients for 10 meals, but all I see are the ingredients for the 5 lunches. Where are the shopping list and instructions for the baked tilapia, roasted mashed sweet potatoes, and spicy spinach?

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  18. Your food is inspiring!!! I wish you blogged more about additional meals. I ran across this on pinterst.

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  19. I wanted to say THANKS for your post and meal ideas. I tried your turkey meatloaf for myself and my husband this past week. It was a big success. I have a blog and wrote a post all about it (crediting you and linking back to your Instagram site). http://erin-allthatglitters.blogspot.ca/2014/05/a-week-of-lunches.html
    Thanks again can't wait to see what you come up with in the future.

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  20. I don't follow instagram, but would definitely sign up for this awesome meal planning idea! In instagram does he post the recipe and shopping list? Thanks!

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  21. Great idea. Just the inspiration I need. My only problem however is the microwave - it zaps too many nutrients in the heating process. What is the feasibility of reheating on the stove?

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  22. Not sure I see the recipes for the dinner boxes just the lunch ones...:-/

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  23. This has been a motivating site to finally prepackage meals....Thanks so much for taking the time to share your information....

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  24. Made this tonight and loved it! Now I don't have to think about lunch all week… Thank you!

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  25. Excellent article! I'm truly inspired.

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  26. Love this site. ..just what I was looking for

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  27. I saw your blog and have been trying our meal prep for a week as well. Would love to get your opinion on how I did healthylivying.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/meal-prep-first-timer/ :)

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  28. do you have the recipe for the fish, sweet potatoes and spinach?

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  29. Will try this next paycheck. Is there somewhere where the recipes for other meals are at.

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  30. Could you please post the roasted and mashed sweet potato recipe!!!

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  31. how do I find Sean on Istagram?

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  32. Found this via Pinterest and am so excited to try this. I do this for breakfast with frozen smoothie bags (defrost night before in fridge, add liquid morning of so the bags take up less room in the freezer) but I wasn't really sure where to get started with "real" meals.

    Thank you for the lists, for taking the time to write it out, and including pictures! Love pictures! :)

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  34. Do you just split between 10 meals, or do you measure it?

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    1. Hi Traycee, we just used a scoop or spoon to divvy up the portions. You could measure, but I do not believe the portion control needs to be precise. - Robyn

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