I love it when my readers tell me what they want to read about. You spoke up, so here you go: a post about food prep! Many of you follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jenaleisha) or Instagram (@jenaleisha) and ask for recipes and tips when I post pics of my Sunday afternoon food prep adventures. Food prep is such a crucial step to setting yourself up for success, and it’s even more successful when you take the time to write out a menu and shopping list for each week before hitting the store (this saves me money and helps me avoid splurging on snacks that look good but that I know I don’t need). I find that when I dedicate an hour or two to food prep on a Sunday afternoon, my week goes so much more smoothly. I have meals and snacks pre-packed in Tupperware so I don’t even have to think about what I’m going to eat for lunch. Before I leave for work each day, I just grab my Tupperware and go. This saves me the time of having to think about it, and it helps me avoid the potential disaster that happens when you think, “What should I have for lunch?” when your stomach is growling and you’re pressed for time. Trying to make healthy decisions when you’re hungry and late is like going to the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, credit card in hand, and telling yourself you won’t buy anything. There’s a chance it might work, but come on now…we both know how that’s going to end.
There’s so much to talk about with food prep. I could share a million tips and recipes, but I’m going to start off sort of simple and just tell you what I always have in my pantry or fridge and why. So without further ado, here’s Phase 1 of food prep: keeping the right foods in and the wrong ones out!
Cardinal Rule of Food Shopping:
Make a list and STICK TO IT. Cheetos are not on the list. Put them back on the shelf and walk away!
Now what IS on the list?
Meat: I always have lean protein on hand, usually in the freezer
- Chicken breasts – I buy these in bulk and use a kitchen scale to cut them into 3-4 oz. portions and freeze individually when I get home. It’s cheaper and you can just take out as many as you need when you need them.
- Frozen raw shrimp – peeled and de-veined because ain’t nobody got time for that.
- Any kind of fish – since I’m usually cooking for 1, I buy the individually vacuum-sealed pre-portioned fish filets and just take one out of the freezer when I want it.
Breakfast: Jordin and I love to have breakfast for dinner, so I always have an abundance of breakfast foods on hand, including:
- Egg whites
- Steel cut oats
- Sprouted whole grain bread – I like that this bread is kept in the fridge or freezer because when you’re just one or two people, finishing an entire loaf of bread can take quite some time.
- Plain, whole grain Cream of Wheat – I buy plain and add my own flavor with raw agave, stevia, peanut butter, berries, Craisins, etc. This is typically healthier than buying the flavored packets with lots of added refined sugar.
- Frozen homemade protein pancakes or waffles – I make a big batch when Jordin and I are in the mood and we never finish them all. I cook all the batter, then wrap each leftover pancake individually and throw them into a gallon size freezer bag. When we want them, we warm them up in the toaster oven.
- Greek yogurt
- Fresh fruit
Snacks: for me, planning snacks strategically is of the utmost importance. I don’t always want to have to cook or even prepare or assemble something. Knowing that about myself, I make sure I have many grab-and-go options available.
- Quest bars
- Raw almonds
- Vegetable crudités – already cut and ready to eat items like baby carrots, sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes. If I need to cut something like broccoli, cauliflower or celery, this is usually part of my Sunday food prep.
- Hummus – made from chick peas, it’s a good source of protein and is typically low in fat
- Reduced fat cheese – string cheese or individually wrapped snack-size cheddar, Monterey jack, etc.
- Seed crackers – I find them very filling and delicious dipped in hummus or peanut butter (just watch your portions on the spreads…2 tbsp is the recommended serving size).
- Fresh fruit – another part of my Sunday food prep is washing and portioning all fruit, i.e. cutting up melons or fresh pineapple, etc.
- Various types of peanut/other nut butters – if you have to ask why I need various types, we can’t be friends. But the short answer is that nut butters are a good source of protein, tend to fill you up, and taste good on everything i.e. in oatmeal, on toast, in/on pancakes, in protein shakes, on apples, celery, crackers, stirred into plain Greek yogurt, or a dollop on top of a microwaved Quest bar for a guilt-free dessert.
- Whey protein powder – choose one that is high in protein and low in fat and sugar. I use this to make a quick shake with almond milk in the morning because I don’t eat breakfast until I get to work about 2.5 hours after waking up. This is a good way to jump-start my metabolism as soon as I rise. I also add it to oatmeal, pancake batters and yogurt for an extra dose of protein on my big training days.
- Frozen spinach and other frozen veggies – because sometimes I don’t feel like waiting 20-25 minutes to steam or roast veggies. You can throw frozen spinach in just about anything for an easy serving of greens and some volume.
- Frozen berries – for when you don’t have fresh ones on hand. They’re good in oatmeal, yogurt, protein shakes, cereal, or on top of pancakes/waffles.
- Unsweetened almond milk – I’ve never been a fan of regular milk, but I’m a huge fan of almond milk and coconut milk (or even better: coconut almond milk). I use it just as I would use regular milk, like in cereal, oatmeal, protein shakes, etc. Just make sure to get the unsweetened kind in order to avoid all the extra sugar.
- Dry beans – the whole soaking overnight thing intimidates some people, but not me! Dry beans literally make themselves and have just a fraction of the sodium you will find in canned beans. Soak overnight. Wake up. Rinse and dump them in the crock pot with some low sodium chicken broth, a chopped onion, some Sazón (yeah the white girl went there) and maybe the bone from a Sunday ham or turkey drumstick for a little extra flavor.
- Brown rice – I buy the boil in bag kind that takes 10 minutes or the individual cups that take just 90 seconds in the microwave.
- Quinoa – a good substitute for rice and a great source of whole grain and protein. I like it hot as a side dish or as part of a cold salad (more on that in a later post)!
- Chia seeds – they’re low in calories, high in nutrients and can be tossed into anything. Some of my favorites: Greek yogurt, oatmeal or cream of wheat, biscuit/pancake/waffle batters, or sprinkled on top of some fresh pineapple or berries.
- Various flavored extracts – I like coconut, vanilla and rum the best. Extracts are powerful (a couple of drops will do) and are a great way to elevate flavor without adding calories. I use them in batters, baking mixes, oatmeal and Cream of Wheat.
- Salt-free seasonings – Mrs. Dash is my go-to for salt free seasoning blends. I also always have cinnamon on hand and put it in just about everything. Like extracts, spices add flavor without adding calories.
- Reduced sodium chicken broth - I use this to make pasta, rice, quinoa, and various sauces. It's got more flavor than water and is still low in calories and fat free.
Well, that's how I get started: with a well-stocked fridge and pantry. In future posts, I’ll share some of my favorite recipes and tips on how to make food prep less time consuming and more efficient.