How to Meal Prep for Beginners
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On this episode, Chuck Gaidica and Grace Derocha discuss how we can start meal prepping for the week ahead.
“We are spending so much money dining out and not in control of what we’re consuming. Why not save a little money, get some good food in and have fun in the kitchen?” – Grace Derocha
In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:
How to start meal prepping:
Start by taking inventory of what’s in our fridge, cabinets or pantry:
- Concentrate on creating meals based on what we already have at home. This will help cut cost on groceries and avoid wasting food.
Plan according to our schedule for the week:
- Sometimes our lives get in the way of getting good food in. If we know we have a busy week ahead, we can prep breakfast, lunch and dinner beforehand to avoid the pitfalls of takeout and delivery.
Make our grocery list:
- We took inventory. Now we know what we have on hand and what we’re low on. Time to outline our grocery list based on our meals for the week.
Tips, tricks and hacks:
- Start small
- Meal plan for one or two meals (lunch and dinner) that will last you two or three days. Don’t meal plan for a whole week if it’s too much at first. Take your time and find your rhythm.
- Stuck for meal prep ideas? Try this:
- For recipe inspiration, there are websites that generate recipes based on ingredients we have on hand.
- Similar base ingredients for different meals
- Choose meals that call for the same ingredients. This way it’s easier to divvy up items we’re prepping for different meals.
- Freezer meals
- If we’re making meals such as soups, chilis and stews, we can make an abundance of it and freeze portions for later use.
- Portion out meals for lunches on the go
- Dividing recipes into BPA-free containers are perfect for grab-and-go meals.
Meal prep recipes to kick start your meal plan:
- Overnight oats
- Mason jar recipes
- Slow cooker recipes
Chuck: This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast episode five. Coming up, we discuss meal prepping and how to approach it.
Chuck: Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. This podcast is dedicated to navigating how we all improve our health and well-being. We can all start with small healthy habits and we can implement them right now. I’m your host, Chuck Gaidica.
Chuck: Each week we will sit down with a certified health expert from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. We’ll be covering topics like nutrition. That’s what we’re doing today with Grace Derocha. Well-being, Cindy Bjorkquist will be joining us in future episodes and then also talking about stress reduction and Dr. Duane DiFranco joining us there. We’re intertwining a lot of those topics in all of these episodes, but we’ve got experts for each one.
Chuck: Today again we have one of the best with us, Grace Derocha. She is a certified health coach, a registered dietitian at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She’s also a blogger right here. If you found us by going to A Healthier Michigan, that’s where you can find her blog post as well. Maybe you’re familiar already. She’s a mom, two kids, a husband who keeps her busy as well, I’ll bet, master’s in business administration from Wayne State, a graduate of the University… or Michigan State University, right?
Grace: Chuck, yes.
Chuck: No, no, no. I got it right.
Grace: Go green.
Chuck: I got it right before. It came out the wrong way. MSU, Wayne State and you just have so much. You’re giving us all this good stuff. I feel like my probiotic gut is in better shape after the last episode just by talking to you. Hello, Grace.
Grace: Hi, Chuck. Thank you so much.
Chuck: How are you?
Grace: Your intros are just so … They make me feel really good about myself.
Chuck: You should feel good. I’m not even saying everything about you. You have a lot of stuff there to give us. Yeah.
Chuck: Meal prepping, we want to talk about this today because I’ve seen … You have five kids, right? We have five kids.
Grace: You have five kids.
Chuck: Well, I was saying like you, the people. When you have five kids, which is again my bad joke seven Canadian, when you have so many kids, you have got to think ahead of what you’re going to do. I’m blessed that I’m married to a woman who should have been Mrs. Organization 2009. She should have been the winner because she always kept us ahead. But you’re dealing with it personally as well, right?
Grace: Yeah. I only have two kids. But I think for anyone, kids, no kids, trying to figure out what’s my next meal going to be? There’s so many things. We’ve talked about so many things already. How to get the good nutrition in. Why should we be eating probiotics? Trying to avoid diets and live the healthy lifestyle for the long haul. To be honest, it does take a bit of planning.
Chuck: Yeah. Meal prepping is really more than just the making the list and the buying. Are you really into the prep ahead mode where I see this being talked about a lot, even making meals and then putting them in containers and freezing them or something?
Grace: Yeah. Yeah. I do like a little bit of batch cooking. I’m not as good as individualizing portions quite that way.
Chuck: Is that what I am? If I’m a hipster, I understand batch cooking?
Grace: Batch cooking.
Chuck: That’s what I should have said, right?
Chuck: Okay. I got it now. Okay.
Grace: Do I get to be a hipster?
Chuck: Well, you used the word. You used the phrase. It’s batch cooking. Okay.
Grace: Yes. Batch cooking. The thing is is that it feels and sounds overwhelming. It looks overwhelming. But really I promise you in the long run you save time. You save money. It puts you in the driver seat for your health with trying to make sure that we’re getting good, healthy nutrition in. A lot of times when we’re dining out and having convenience foods, they’re filled with extra additives and preservatives and simple things like too much salt because they’re adding it for flavor and as a preservative. Again, I know it looks overwhelming. Also when you start doing it, you get into a pattern. It doesn’t have to be a meal plan for the week. Maybe you do three days at a time.
Chuck: Isn’t it great that you can at various times of the year, especially in the warm weather months, when you’re doing … I love my Crock-Pot. Can I just say? Now, I don’t have that new real fast one, but I’ve got a Crock-Pot. We love using the Crock-Pot. When we do, we will be tempted to be more in the way of experimenting where we’ll throw in different vegetables and we’ll throw in stuff that, well, it looks like it would be good in pea soup, honey. Let’s try it.
Grace: Yeah, absolutely.
Chuck: It actually works out fine. Then you’re proud that, well, we’ve pulled that off.
Grace: Right. I’ll tell you this. Yeah, there is Crock-Pots or slow cookers. Then there’s the InstaPots that are pressure cookers.
Chuck: Right, that’s the new one. Yeah.
Grace: The new, fast craze. I have both of course. But I want to remind people you could still use your slow cooker in the summer.
Grace: You really can.
Chuck: Plus, for busy people, when you set this thing in the morning and you come back, or if at the holidays, if we’ve gotten a ham, we keep the bone and we do one bag of peas, two quarts of water and you add a little something something.
Chuck: You wake up in the morning and there it is.
Grace: Yeah. You can do that with, we talked about, oatmeal too. You can make an oatmeal. Put it in the night before. When you wake up, you have yummy, warm, delicious oatmeal.
Chuck: Meal prepping to you is any and all of the above of what we’ve just discussed?
Grace: Yes. All those things. I think there’s different ways that you can tackle that. I think one of the first things that you really want to look at is what do I currently have in my pantry, my refrigerator that needs to get used up?
Grace: Right? It’s funny. I think I’ve blogged about this before on the blog. There are different apps and websites that you can go to where you can type in what kind of food you have and it will spit out a recipe for you.
Chuck: No kidding.
Grace: Less waste and you’re using what you have already and you might not even need to take a trip to the grocery store.
Chuck: I went out to Google out in Ann Arbor for just a visit and a cool place, real cool space. But one of the things they do is they not only have a menu … They have a restaurant where I think everybody gets to eat for free. I’m pretty sure. It’s like they have baristas there, the whole thing. In their restaurant, I’m not sure if that’s what they call it, there’s also a flat screen monitor that shows how much food we didn’t waste today.
Grace: Oh, I love that.
Chuck: It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that. If you’re conscious of that, even if you’re not, you stand there looking at these numbers and you think, “Oh, yeah. They’re not throwing away anything.” That’s pretty cool.
Grace: Yeah. As Americans, we definitely have a lot of waste when it comes to food.
Chuck: All right. Encourage me. What would I have to get prepared for? I think we know why we should meal prep, but what are some of the things you think we should have and then how do we even get … You’ve got kids. I’ve got kids. Grandkids now. How do we get the kids involved so this becomes a family thing?
Grace: Yes. Definitely. First, take inventory. The next thing you want to do is then try to plan according to what you have and make your grocery list as well. Oh, I forgot a step. What you want to look at also is your schedule for the week, right?
Chuck: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Grace: Do kids have dance? Do kids have soccer? Do you have an evening event for work,
Chuck: Sure. A meeting.
Grace: … Or for life or a meeting where you’re not going to be there so that you can plan accordingly, right? Looking at when you might be dining out so that … I think sometimes doing that gives you even more motivation to meal plan because you know you’re dining out twice already that week. Whether it’d be because you’re looking at your budget and looking at your meal plan as far as nutrition and what that’s going to look like with your sodium or fat content for the week. It gives you that opportunity to take a step back and say, “Okay. The kids have soccer this time on this day. I have a meeting at this time on this day. What are we going to do to problem solve that?” It’s also like a connection point for the family. Again even if it’s just you, yourself, you still have that moment of clarification and of what is this week going to look like for me?
Chuck: I know that I look forward to those times where Susan has planned a meal. There are certain things I like. I know it’s got some other stuff in it. But like a green bean casserole. It drives her kooky that I love cold green bean casserole. But I love the idea that there are leftovers. That’s just one example. When you’re meal prepping, I love the fact that sometimes we’ll plan thinking, not maybe the next day, but the day after, we’ve got enough beef stew or something that came out of the Crock. We can go for two days on that. We don’t have to worry.
Grace: I know. I love that, too. It’s funny because I think it’s fun because after you do this for a while, you need inspiration.
Chuck: Yeah. Right.
Grace: You get kind of bored.
Chuck: Right. Right.
Grace: I try to name my days. Monday is either meatless Monday or sometimes I do Mediterranean Monday. Tuesday, taco Tuesday of course. But it doesn’t always have to be taco like Mexican flavored tacos or it could be … I make this awesome taco pie or maybe I’ve made Korean flavored tacos. I’ve seasoned the meat with different flavors. I think this, too, also opens everyone’s palate a little bit to try new and exciting things that you might not have-
Chuck: I’m sorry. When you’re naming things, is that catching on with Tom and your kids? Do they know it could be taco Tuesday?
Grace: Oh, yeah. Oh, we have it on the chalkboard.
Chuck: You do?
Chuck: Oh, that’s cool.
Grace: So everyone knows what we’re having. Sometimes I hear hoorays and other times I hear like wah, wah like complaints. Oh, I don’t want that. I’m like, “Well, you know what? It’s already on the chalkboard and you had a chance to pitch in.”
Chuck: Right, right. There’s a fun factor to it.
Grace: Yes. Absolutely.
Chuck: Which obviously can radiate out. Anything else that we should do in terms of getting ready for-
Grace: I was going to say the other days, like you mentioned, with leftovers, I call those days the remix when you remix something or maybe you make extra taco meat so you can have taco salad or nachos or taco pie on a different day. My mom did this. My sister and I … My brother is 10 years younger than I am so he didn’t have to do it, but it was kids cook Thursdays. That was the day that we didn’t have dance class or tennis or things like that and that was the day that we got to cook a meal for the family.
Chuck: That’s great.
Grace: Sometimes it wasn’t fancy but it was fun to be in control of that and have those moments in the kitchen with … My grandparents lived with us for a part of our lives, too, so they were in there with us. We learn different cultural foods at that time. Sometimes we just made peanut butter and jellies because that’s what me and my sister wanted. But it was still a very fun, interactive family way of having a meal together and getting in the kitchen.
Chuck: Good stuff. Then in your current life, are you planning ahead to the point where you said one day a week, maybe it’s a Sunday or a Wednesday so you can actually plan for the week?
Grace: Yes. It will be on Sundays usually, sometimes Saturday or a combination. Sometimes if I have more time … I just did this actually two weeks ago. I was prepping peppers and I knew that there was one day I was … Tom would be so happy that I’m telling the story because he was very grateful for this. I prepped some of the stuff that he was going to cook this deconstructed pepper casserole dish that I make and I prepped all his vegetables where I cut all the peppers, the onions and tomatoes so that when he had to prepare it, he just had to put everything together. It’s nice.
Grace: We’ve talked about the sodium in soups or processed foods. When I make soup or sauce or chili or stew, I usually make two to three times the amount because if I’m going to do it, I might as well make more. Then you can freeze the rest.
Grace: I have fun tricks for that, too. Sometimes I will freeze in muffin tins. Then once those are frozen, you can put two of those in a container and know that, two or three, know that that’s a serving that you could take to work.
Chuck: Oh, interesting. Even freezing your soup.
Grace: Already in that portion so that I don’t have to unfreeze and thaw the whole thing. Then Tom and I can have that and bring that to work. Same thing with sauces. I will divvy it up and make a few different things with it or I will just have it in batches so that it’s easily usable for the next time.
Chuck: You make a Crock-Pot full of soup. If you really go into it, full Crock, and then you’ve added enough veggies where that adds more fluid content, you’ve got the Crock-Pot that keeps on giving. It’s going to be a lot of soup. Whether you’re getting those containers from Gordon Food Service or whatever you do, you can keep that stuff, because we do it, and you prep ahead and you freeze them.
Grace: I’m a big fan of trying to do that and get ahead of the game.
Chuck: Well, on behalf of Tom and all husbands across the land, I appreciate the idea because some of us, it’s not just husbands, but some of us are organizationally challenged. I’m not in the kitchen all the time. I balance my wife’s cooking because I’m the guy who will season and taste.
Grace: That’s perfect.
Chuck: She will say, “I’ve got the Crock-Pot going with the pea soup, but I’m not going to do the finishing touches.” I’m the finishing touch guy.
Grace: I love that.
Chuck: But I’m also a taster. It’s just old school. It may sound gross to somebody, but you have to taste it to know.
Grace: To be honest, I have a tendency to cook a little bit more bland. I try not to add as much salt. I like to use different herbs and spices and that’s another thing, too. If you have a garden and you know it’s producing a ton of tomatoes, you can make those into sauces and salsas and different things that you can use for later, canning and jarring things.
Chuck: I like what you said, too, about checking out your fridge and the cabinets, the cupboards to see what you have left. There was a week where my wife came back, and for some reason, she just grabbed two bags of crinkle-cut carrots. Once you’re having one bag, it’s a dip in something. She just says, “It’s time to make soup.” I said, “Why?” “Well, because we have carrots.” The entire process was based around we have extra stuff we have to use. See, she’s in that mindset. Well, she’s the main shopper. She’s the saver of the fam. She saves and she said, “We have to. I don’t want to waste.”
Grace: Yes, absolutely. It’s funny because sometimes I create recipes that way. There’s tons of recipes on the blog, but I consider those for anyone just inspiration to look at it, maybe make it your own. I’ve done it before. I’ve made muffins where we went blueberry picking or something and then we had a lot of blueberries and apples. All of a sudden, we have all this stuff. I’m like, “I’m going to make this crazy fruit muffin. Let’s see what happens.” Now that’s the muffin …
Chuck: So it was great?
Grace: My kids are like, “That’s like Funfetti muffin but with fruit.”
Chuck: That’s great.
Grace: Sometimes that can inspire you to make something completely new and unique that could be the next family favorite.
Chuck: I know when I had a friend who was on one of the low carb type diets, high protein I guess would be the better to say it. I said, “What do you do for lunch when you’re at work?” “Oh, I just take a can of turkey chili. No beans. But I take turkey chili. It’s protein.” I said, “Have you looked at the side of that?” I’m not really a nut about it but I’ve now been taught as I’m looking.
Chuck: The sodium in a regular can of turkey chili is about 1,500 milligrams of salt. Two servings or something, it’s 700 a piece I think. I’m going by memory. Is it more?
Grace: I think it’s more.
Chuck: Maybe there are three servings.
Grace: I think the 1,500 is half the can.
Chuck: Come on.
Grace: For most of them.
Chuck: Well, okay. You know what? Because I think you do blow through your average, whatever the average is you should have in a day. I said, “You realize all the other stuff, if you were making your own, turkey chili in the Crock or a pan, do whatever you want, you have complete control.”
Grace: Right. And you could add vegetables. Oh, even if he was on a diet.
Chuck: Right, right.
Grace: Some crazy diet.
Chuck: Well, yeah, but tomatoes. That’s something-
Chuck: Let’s go back to the beginning maybe. We know we can work our way from one end of the funnel. You have a bag of carrots. You can change your whole week. I’ve seen it happened and it worked. From the beginning, just a few quick tips we can take away, including hacks, things we should think about doing for meal prep.
Grace: Check your inventory. Look at your week. Meal plan and get the family’s buy-in so they’re a part of the process and so they can chime in on what they can help with and batch cook if you’re making something that you can make a lot of at once and even take that batch cooking to the next level of not just freezing but freezing it in portions where it’s easy for you to take for lunch because, again, we are spending so much money dining out and not in control then of what we’re consuming. Why not save a little money, get some good food in and have fun in the kitchen?
Chuck: Think about this notion of being in the kitchen with your family or without, even if it’s just you. The mindfulness, you’ve already talked about this in previous episodes and I know Cindy will get into this a little bit more, too, in the next several episodes coming up after episode six. This idea that you’re finding quiet time, that you’re able to breathe, that you’re able to go ahead and eat a carrot. It’s okay. It won’t miss one in the Crock-Pot. There’s something to that, the helpfulness of it.
Grace: I think, too, we could also use our batch cooking. If you don’t have room in your freezer, that’s happened to me before, too, maybe you know a new mom that might want that. Maybe you have a loved one who’s sick, a family member who-
Chuck: We do that now.
Grace: Yeah, who is a senior that needs more home cooked meals. There’s a way to give back in the same sense as you’re learning how to cook.
Chuck: Don’t you always feel better when you have a cause bigger than self?
Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chuck: Who would think that the soup you make, the homemade soup would have the impact it could on somebody who didn’t know it was coming?
Grace: I know.
Chuck: You know? It’s just a little gesture but come on. How nice that is.
Grace: I know. It makes me emotional because I feel like food is love and we talked about food is more than fuel. Food can be love. Food can be giving.
Chuck: All right. Good stuff. Good to see you again.
Grace: Thanks, Chuck. Good to see you.
Chuck: See you next time. Don’t forget what you’re listening to right here. It is called A Healthier Michigan Podcast. It’s brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Chuck: If you like what you hear, you can check it out, including more from Grace’s blog and all the other good information. Ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast is where you can find us. You can leave a review, a rating. You could find all the episodes that will be coming now as we head through time. You can also go to iTunes or Stitcher to leave those reviews and ratings and get all the new episodes on your smartphone or use your tablet. Subscribe to Apple Podcast. You can go to your favorite podcast app or to Stitcher.
Chuck: Next week, we’re going to talk a little bit about how you can take actionable steps in achieving your healthy goals. What can you actually do that will get you moving? Then if you just practice them, just practice them, they turn into something great. We’ll see you next time.