If the thought of sitting down to write out complicated meals that require following intricate recipes and spending hours at a time in the kitchen, all to “prep” your meals for the week makes you want to strangle a head of broccoli, then you’ve come to the right place. Because that is not what this post is about.

This post is about spending just one hour or less of your free time in the kitchen, prepping a few healthy meals for the week ahead. Of course, cutting down on time means cooking in bulk and therefore eating some of the same meals twice in one week, something I’m totally OK with. So if  you’re ok with that too, then awesome! Let me teach you my ways.

[image via Pinterest]

So, some people like to go into full on chef-mode and plan out their grocery lists in anticipation of what meals they’re going to make for the week. But even that is too much work for me. I like thinking ahead, but not THAT MUCH ahead. That’s not to say that I don’t use a list when I go grocery shopping, because I do. (Or else I would just have a free for all and buy a million things I really don’t need.) But for the most part, my grocery list each week stays about the same, except for the rotation of different fruits and veggies.

And I’m only sharing my grocery shopping habits with you right now because going to the store and buying some food is the first, and perhaps most important, step in my meal-prepping process. So get ready. Our crash course is about to start!

Step 1: Go grocery shopping. Follow a list that includes your favorite fruits and veggies and any typical staple items. (Unless it’s a special occasion or you just REALLY want to, there’s no reason to buy crazy foreign things that you have no idea how to cook just because Dr. Oz said it was healthy or a news anchor reported it as a cure all for blasting belly fat. Remember, we are trying to make this easy. Not a time suck.)

My kitchen is typically stocked with the following:

Eggs
Almond milk
Greek yogurt
Bananas
2-4 types of fruit (apples, pears, oranges, strawberries, blueberries etc.)
2-3 types of veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, squash, bell peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, carrots, green beans, etc.)
Sweet potatoes
Tomatoes
Oats
Avocado
Cheese (usually feta or goat)
Leafy greens (switching between spinach, arugula, kale, etc.)
Nuts (usually almonds and/or peanuts)
Raisins
Tuna (sometimes)
Whole wheat tortilla wraps or whole grain bread
Olive oil
Whole wheat pasta, cous cous, or quinoa
1-2 types of legumes (lentils, black beans, kidney beans, chick peas, etc.)

Step 2: When you have about an hour or so to devote to the kitchen, get ready to cook! I usually do this on Sunday nights. Take all of the ingredients you want to use and lay them out on the counter.

The way I usually do this is by grabbing three or four veggies, two protein sources, and two complex carb sources. (This allows me to make large batches of two separate dishes that I can split into four meals. Obviously, if you need more than four on-the-go meals for the week, you’ll need more food and bit more time. For me though, four meals is was works.)

Step 3: If you’re using ingredients like rice, lentils, cous cous, quinoa, or pasta, get those on the stove first so that they’re cooked and ready to be mixed into your final meal concoctions.

Step 4: If you want to add some easy extra flavor to your dishes, grab a yellow or red onion and dice up a good chunk of it to use in each dish when you start cooking.

Step 5: Cut up all of your veggies and place each into a separate bowl. If you’re using a root vegetable like potatoes or beets, make sure to cook them beforehand. (I usually bake or boil them.)

Step 6: Decide on your ingredient pairings. Focus on creating balanced meals. Include a complex carb, a protein source, and at least 1 veggie in each dish.

Take the following for example:

This week I paired baked sweet potato (carb) with red lentils (protein) and cauliflower (veggie). (Click image for full-recipe.)

And brown rice (carb) with green peppers, mushrooms (veggies), and black beans (protein).

Step 7: Pick your spices! Take a look at your spice rack and decide which spices you’d like to pair with what dish.

Pro tip: Don’t over think this part. Use simple spices that you like. I don’t pretend to be a top chef. I just mix and match with the spices that I know I like.

Here are a few that I like to use together or on their own :

Turmeric & cumin
Turmeric and curry powder
Garlic powder and turmeric
Rosemary and thyme
Garlic powder and cumin
Oregano and basil
Chili powder
Curry
Garlic powder

(If you couldn’t tell, I have a little bit of an obsession with turmeric.)

Step 8: Start cooking!

Now, you can do this any way that you want, but I’ve got this part down to a precise science. Here’s how I do it:

  • In a frying pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and add a portion of the diced onion. Sprinkle in a few dashes of your chosen spices for meal 1.
  • Add in your veggies. Stir them around to coat in the oil. Let them cook for a bit (2-3 minutes) while sprinkling with a few more dashes of spice.
  • Add in your protein source. Stir everything around again and add some more spice, let it heat for a bit. (Side note: If you’re cooking with a non-plant-based protein like chicken or beef, you may want to toss that into the pan first in order to ensure it cooks for a long enough period of time.)
  • Lastly, add in your carbohydrate source (already cooked rice, pasta, potatoes, quinoa, cous cous, etc.), add a tiny bit more oil to coat, sprinkle in a few more dashes of spice, and heat for 2-3 more minutes, stirring continually.
  • When you’re done, let the dish cool for a minute or two and then dole out servings into individual air tight containers.
  • Your dish is done!

So that covers one dish. When I use this process I use enough of each ingredient so that I can divide the dish into two servings. I typically create two different dishes (so I go through this process twice) and end up with four healthy grab-and-go pre-prepped meals for the week. This takes me about an hour (including clean up time.)

Warning, when you’re finished, you’re sink will probably look like this:

And of course, if you need more than four meals for the week, it may require more of your time, and obviously more food. However, even if you need to devote more than an hour, I think you’ll find that setting aside the time is completely worth it.

Whether it eliminates the need of having to pack your lunch the night before, keeps you away from tempting takeout, or saves you from clawing your eyes out because the last thing you want to do when you get home from work is start cooking, you’ll feel a sense of relief and accomplishment (you did do something nice for yourself after all) and eliminate a lot of the stress that sometimes comes along with learning to adapt to and consistently follow through with a healthy, whole foods diet.

Do you pre-prepare some of your meals for the week? If not, do you think it would help make eating healthy easier?

Hungry Runner’s Favorite Quick-prep Recipes >> 

Spinach & Sweet Potato Mash-up

Brown Rice, Black Bean Mash-up

Spiced Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quinoa with Avocado

Spiced Brown Rice with Veggies and Black Beans

Quinoa Vegetable Medley with Mediterranean Dressing