Meal Prep in 4 Steps

Struggling to plan your menus each week? Or maybe you’re just looking to change up your meal prep game? The guide I’m sharing this week is a great starting point for building a meal prep in less than 4 steps! In addition to helping you create more balanced meals, this guide can help you keep your grocery bill down and your trips to the store short!

Each week when I’m thinking about what I want to make, I typically start with what protein(s) I’m going to use in my meals. When it comes to choosing a protein that week you can either a) pick a favorite or b) check your local grocery store ads to see what’s on sale. I tend to the do the latter as it keeps my meals preps interesting while also allowing me to put together meals that are affordable (I’m working with a grad student budget here).

For those that are vegetarian/vegan/plant-based you can use a similar approach. Instead of building your meal prep around a protein source (as plant-based proteins are much more affordable), buying produce that is in season and on sale that week will help keep your grocery bill down and help you plan your menu!

This guide focuses on creating complete meals, meaning that they have the following components –

  • Protein
  • Grain/Carb
  • Vegetable
  • Sauce (flavor and/or fat)

Thinking about each of your meals as “complete” can help you achieve more balanced eating habits. That’s not to say that ice cream for dinner can’t fit once in a while, but for the MOST part focusing on creating meals with these 4 components can keep you feeling full and energized throughout your day! I think the diagram below demonstrates exactly how complete meals digest in our bodies and give us that energy and satiety.

Essentially what this graph describes is different food groups and how long it take’s our bodies to digest them. This just means that certain food groups because of their macronutrient breakdown influence our hunger in different ways. Take fruits for example. Great source of natural sugars, vitamins and fiber. But when it comes to a meal, if you had only fruits in say a smoothie with no protein or fat, you’re likely going to feel hungry in an hour. To combat that, we look to adding other food groups to make a more complete, satisfying meal. If we’re using a smoothie as an example, think about it as it’s components.

  • Fruit = carbohydrate
  • Yogurt or cow’s milk = protein
  • Nuts or nut butter = fat
  • Spinach or kale = vegetable (optional)

By creating a smoothie that hits more than one food group, you’re more likely to feel satiated and energized until you have either a snack of your next meal a few hours later.

I’ll share a few of my favorite pairings below but feel free to print off the following handout to have in your kitchen for the next time you head to the grocery store and are planning your meals! Remember, you can’t go wrong with the combinations you create so mix and match your favorites to create a meal you love!

Click here for a printable version

Emily’s Favorite Combos –

Animal-Based Proteins

  • Honey Mustard Chicken = Chicken + Roasted Potatoes + Roasted Carrots, Bell Pepper and Beets + Honey Mustard
  • Stir Fried Pork and Veggies = Pork Loin + Brown Rice + Stir Fried Onion, Broccoli, Pepper, Zucchini, Yellow Squash + Teriyaki
  • Korean Beef and Rice = Ground Beef + White/Brown Rice + Steamed Broccoli and Frozen Veggie Blend + Spicy Mayo and Teriyaki (for beef)
  • Pesto Chicken and Pasta = Chicken + Whole Wheat Thin Spaghetti + Tomatoes + Spinach + Pesto
  • Shrimp Tacos = Shrimp + Tortillas + Romaine Lettuce, Bell Pepper + Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing

Plant-Based Proteins

  • Greek Chickpea Salad = Chickpeas + Israeli Couscous + Tomatoes, Roasted Onions and Olives + Dill Olive Oil Dressing =
  • Southwestern Taco Bowl = Black beans + Quinoa + Tomatoes, Onions, Romaine Lettuce, Roasted Sweet Potato, Salsa and/or Guacamole + Cheese
  • Thai Buddha Bowl = Tofu + Quinoa + Roasted Sweet Potato + Red Cabbage + Red Bell Pepper + Thai Red Curry Sauce