By: Erin Kukura, MS, RD
UCSD Recreation Dietitian
Ever felt like you have too little time and energy to actually prepare more meals at home? Erin Kukura, UCSD Recreation’s Registered Dietitian shares her shortcut for meal prepping (bonus- it takes less than 1 hour each week).
Most of us don’t have time to cook for 3 hours on the weekends, nor should you have to! A great meal prep shortcut is to prep for a weekly “power hour” for only 30min-1 hour to prepare components of your meals for the week.
- Look at what meals you have planned ahead for this week, and break them down to various components (ie. grains, vegetables, and proteins if they’re cooked separately). For example, if you’re making burrito bowls, sheet pan salmon, pasta with chicken and veggies, and chicken with couscous and a Greek salad for that week you can break that down into the following components:
- Grains – Rice (burrito bowls), potatoes (sheet pan salmon), pasta, and couscous
- Protein – Beans (burrito bowl), Salmon, chicken (pasta + couscous)
- Veggies – roasted onion/bell pepper (burrito bowl), asparagus (salmon), broccoli (pasta), tomatoes/cucumber/salad (Greek salad)
- Start with your grains. Make the rice, pasta and couscous so they’re good to the go for the week. Cut up and roast the potatoes and start them in the oven for your sheet pan meal.
- Make the proteins. Marinate salmon and chicken and cook ahead of time. You can roast both on a sheet pan (may take varying cooking times) or use the slow cooker to make the chicken. Slow cooker is great because you don’t have to watch it and can let it cook on low for a few hours to get perfectly cooked chicken for the week!
- Roast/prep veggies. Cut up the veggies for your salad, roast the onion and bell pepper on the stove-top and add asparagus to sheet pan meal to cook. Broccoli can likely be added to the pasta directly when there are only 5 more minutes left of cook time.
- Don’t forget the flavor factor! Oftentimes, we get sick of eating the same thing because it’s bland. This is where using seasoning, spices, herbs, and sauces can really elevate your meal to make it flavorful and delicious!
- Once you have all your components made you can keep them separate and assemble for the meal when needed. For example, assemble rice, beans, cooked onion, bell peppers, and add in cheese, corn, avocado and salsa for your burrito bowl. Or, prepare everything together so it’s ready to go (ie. add pesto pasta sauce + cut up chicken to pasta). The great thing about this is although it takes up 30min -1 hr you’re really getting all the heavy cooking done at one time so your weeks is left with assembling meals together. You can also mix and match, getting some variety!Bonus tip – Oftentimes we go wrong with meal prepping by only making one meal to eat for the week ahead. Most people tend to get sick of eating the same thing after more than 3 meals so this is where making a few options helps to prevent meal burnout!
- There’s no right or wrong when it comes to meal prepping and it’s important to find what works best for you! Some weeks may be more successful than others and that’s ok. Sometimes, I use this tactic to prep items for lunches during the week but make my dinners the night of. But, if you ever find yourself spending 20-30 minutes preparing a meal, your future self might thank you if you took that time to prep a few more things to make your life easier later in the week!
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