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  • Dr Thor Conner

Dr Thor’s Intro to Meal Prep.

By now my readers have learned about the importance of eating healthy, fresh food, and many of us have made a commitment to a balanced diet. While that has been easier since the Lockdown when so many of us were stuck in our homes, it is now time to get back out there into the world and go back to work. Which means having to grab breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner on the quick. While there are plenty of take-out and fast-food options, they all have one thing in common: they are not the best food choices we can make.

Meal prep describes a flurry of activity a once or twice a week to prepare a large batch of meals to last for 4-5 days. Because you only cook a few times a week instead of every day, it’s a wonderful time saver. It is also a terrific way to eat healthier – you will be a lot less likely to hit the make unhealthy choices if you have a meal ready to go in the fridge, and it is naturally portion-controlled. Less expensive too, because cooking at home is cheaper, certainly less expensive than going to a restaurant for lunch.

So, if you are ready to save time and money while eating healthier, here is my advice for getting started.

Plan a menu. Decide what you are going to cook ahead of time. Pick a few recipes you want to cook for the week and put together a grocery shopping list. Then choose a time for when you want to cook. If you have basic to moderate cooking skills, in 2-3 hours you should be able to prep a week’s worth of lunches for 2 people, if you keep it simple (#2). You should also buy enough meal prep containers for all your meals. Ideally, keep these the same size to make it easier for filling, transporting, and storing.

Keep it simple. Don't overcomplicate your lunch, you can get fancier as you make it a habit. I would suggest you start with a protein, a whole grain, and 2-3 vegetables, and a fermented vegetable. It is nice to have variety, but it also takes a lot more time to cook different meals, especially if you are just starting out! One way to add variety without too much extra work is to alter sauces or toppings.

Use a simple formula to structure the meal. Weigh out your meals until you get a feel for the sizing. A typical box for my lunch will contain a 4 oz serving of lean protein, chicken, pork, fish, or tofu, on 3 oz of rice or quinoa. Then I usually add a third of a cup each of a leafy vegetable, a starchy vegetable, and pulses or beans. This combo can be varied in numerous ways depending on the sauce or spices you add and has good staying power in the fridge. See the chart below for the full list.

Cook efficiently. Cook multiple things at once! Make a sauce while your grain cooks. Bake chicken or tofu while roasting your veggies at the same time. Use a pressure cooker or rice cooker so you can do something else while your foods are cooking. Prep foods so they will cook faster—for example, dice potatoes or sweet potatoes before roasting, instead of cooking whole. These tips will really help you to get things done much faster.

Don’t meal prep too many meals. Do not meal prep more than 5 days' worth of food. Most of the food you will prep will not last more than 3 days in the fridge, so make sure you freeze the rest and take them out the night before or the morning before you want to eat them.

Use the right containers. The best choice containers of any made of glass. I prefer them to plastic containers for several reasons: You can easily see the contents; they do not alter the taste of your food; they do not get tainted by the food stored; they can be used in microwaves; and they do not shed a shower of petrochemicals into your food when heated, like plastic does. I use Ello Duraglass Glass Food Storage Meal Prep Containers rectangular 3.4 cup with a good locking lid (plastic, but you remove it for microwaving). I frequently set mine on the dashboard of my car in the morning for a passive solar heated lunch. If you do pick plastic containers, make sure they are BPA-free.

Use Mason Jars. Mason Jars are practical, durable, and cheap. The glass is microwave safe (without the lid) and can be cleaned thoroughly. For meal prep, we are mostly using wide mouth pint jars. They are the best at storing soups and stews as a good single serving. Breakfast is a snap to make grab and go the night before (overnight oats). Raw vegetables and fruits are best served with a jar. Put salad dressing on the bottom and the leaves at the top, so nothing gets soggy. A quick shake of the jar before eating ensures a good salad that will remain crispy for hours.

Keep your goal in mind. Having goals will help you to achieve results. Whether you are trying to save money, simply eat healthy food or lose weight, keep in mind the reason you are meal prepping! You’ll be less keen to opt for a takeout meal!

Dr Thor’s meal prep quick sheet.

  • Proteins 3-4 oz: Chicken, Lean pork, Fish, Fake meat, Tofu. Tempeh, Meatballs, Beef. Fake meat are processed meat substitutes like Impossible burgers and Quorn. Meatballs means any healthy sausage, meatball, meatloaf, fish ball, or deli meat. Mushrooms should be a part of this list, but they don’t fit a category, they are part protein, part vegetable, high in fiber and umami. Add some.

  • Starch 1/3c: Rice, any, Quinoa. Buckwheat, Millet, Barley, Legumes, Plantain, Noodles, Tubers. Legumes include beans and lentils and straddle the line between starch and protein. Tubers in this case are taro, Ube, gobo, yucca, Sunchoke, turnip, parsnip, and varietal potatoes. Noodles include pasta made from any grain or even made from Konjac.

  • Green Veg 1/3c: Leafy greens, Cabbage/choi, Broccoli/cauliflower, Summer squash, Salad/Chicory, Celery, Green beans, Asparagus. Leafy greens include kale, collards, chard, spinach, mustard, and arugula. Cabbage includes all forms of cabbage, Bok-choi, Nappa, and other tight leaved varieties. Broccoli includes cauliflower, Chinese broccoli, and Brussel’s sprouts. Summer squash is any form of zucchini, patty pan, or any other soft bodied squash.

  • Bright Veg 1/3: Carrot, Yam, Sweet potato, Hard squash, Avocado, Fruit, Beet, Nightshades, Radish. Hard squash or winter squash includes all hard squash, butternut, spaghetti, acorn, Turkish hat, kabocha, pumpkin and Delicta. Nightshades are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, and potatoes. Radish includes daikon, jicama, and all radish varieties.

  • Nuts n seeds: Pistachios, Macadamia, Pecan, Brazil, Walnut, Hemp, Sesame, Marcona almonds. Nuts and seeds can be a great addition, adding texture, flavor, fiber, and healthy oils. Add between a tablespoon to a couple of ounces, depending on your tastes (and which nut or seed you choose).

  • Ferments: Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Pickles, Chow-chow, Soy/Aminos, Yogurt, Chutney, Vinegar. We should add a serving of a fermented food to every meal to aid in digestion and boost gut flora.