Meal prep for beginners: How to prepare healthy ingredients to create delicious meals
Preparing healthy ingredients can save you time and help you create delicious and balanced meals!
To most people just the phrase meal prep can be intimidating. It sounds like a lot of work and finding the time to prepare meals ahead of time is not easy. True meal prep encompasses a detailed food plan and usually contains multiple recipes. When you are first starting with the GOLO for Life Plan, you are probably making a significant number of changes, so we don’t want to add a whole new way of cooking to that list.
Rather than stressing over recipes and hours of prep, we suggest that you focus on ingredients that can be easily combined to create balanced meals. What you are really doing is simple food prep, which takes a fraction of the time and makes planning meals during the week much easier.
Plan and Shop
Plan your shopping list based on the foods you want to prepare, the number of people you are cooking for, and your budget. Make sure to review sale ads before you shop to help determine what you will make for the week, and don’t forget to take an inventory of what you already have so you don’t buy unnecessary items.
When shopping, prioritize nutrition and buy quality proteins first, then fruit and vegetables, and finally, inexpensive carbohydrates such as beans, rice, and potatoes. Be sure to buy foods from all four food groups to make balanced meals.
Cook Once - Enjoy All Week
You don’t have to be a chef to pre-cook foods so that you have delicious, prepared meals all week. Since you are starting out with fresh whole foods that aren’t processed, they will already taste good. Follow these simple steps to create your building blocks for the week.
You can prepare as much or as little in advance, but remember, having cooked foods available will allow you to create a balanced, healthy, and delicious meal in minutes.
Whatever you plan on cooking for the week, it’s a good idea to keep seasoning simple. Salt and pepper are fine to bring out flavors but remember to use salt sparingly. Olive oil is best for sautéing, and you can add a pinch of garlic for additional flavor if you like. Food tastes better when seasoned in stages, so you can get creative with spices and sauces when you put your meals together.
Vegetables are the most time-consuming food group to prepare, so we encourage you to cook a large quantity in advance so that they are available and ready all week. We recommend you roast your vegetables for maximum flavor and to save time. Roasting vegetables is easy, healthy, and requires only a few ingredients. The intense flavors you get by roasting vegetables can make a simple meal seem gourmet and special, with no recipe needed.
Follow these simple instructions to roast your vegetables:
- Wash and dry vegetables thoroughly. Veggies like carrots and potatoes may be better if you peel them.
- Put vegetables in a large bowl and lightly coat with olive oil.
- Spread on baking pan in one layer and sprinkle with a small amount of sea salt or other spices.
Note, you can roast different vegetables on the same pan together. Just be aware that some vegetables may cook faster than others and may have to be removed at different times.
You can roast vegetables at different temperatures for different results:
- Lower temperature (350º-375º): Adds sweetness and cooks evenly to round out flavors.
- Higher temperature (385º-425º): Caramelize or ‘oven-fry’ vegetables.
Suggested vegetables for roasting include, but are not limited to: carrots, mushrooms, green beans, asparagus, onion, fennel, beets, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Wash and cut items like lettuce, cucumbers, and other vegetables you would like to eat raw. Place in containers and refrigerate to grab and go easily.
Proteins include meats, fish, eggs, cheese, and yogurt. It’s very important to eat enough protein to keep insulin levels steady, which helps to keep you fuller longer.
When shopping for meat, make sure to buy the leanest cut available.
Chicken, turkey, pork, beef, bison, venison, and lamb.
Pre-cut meat into individual portions. Each portion should be about the size of a deck of cards (3 oz). Season lightly and sauté on stove top, bake in the oven, or slow-cook in a crock pot with a small amount of water or stock until thoroughly cooked.
Note: cooking time will vary depending on the amount and thickness of the meat.
Fish and Shellfish:
Salmon, cod, bass, shrimp, and scallops.
Good options for seasoning fish include sea salt, lemon, lime, ginger, butter, or olive oil. Fish cooks quickly and is easily prepared by either broiling, grilling, or sautéing.
Cooking and peeling hardboiled eggs ahead of time will make taking them on the go easier and can complete a balanced meal. Cook eggs for 10-12 minutes in a pot of boiling water. Cool in an ice bath or run cold water over them to make them easier to peel. You can keep them whole or chop some for quick additions to salads.
Purchase quality cheese and pre-cut into 1 oz. cubes or small slices.
Buy plain yogurt in a large container and portion into ½ cup servings.
Healthy carbohydrates include grains like pasta, rice, oatmeal, beans, lentils, fruits, and potatoes. Carbs are an essential food group and should not be eliminated.
All of the carbohydrates that GOLO promotes are healthy and necessary for the body to function properly. Preparing these foods in advance can save hours each week.
Keep in mind that it takes the same time and effort to cook one serving of rice or oatmeal as it does to cook six.
Grains include but are not limited to: brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and pasta. Most grains cook similarly. The grain is put into a dry pan, water or broth is added, and then simmered until the liquid has absorbed into the grain.
Pasta is different because more water is used in the cooking process and not completely absorbed.
Cooking times will vary depending on the grain. You can safely cook grain in larger batches, and grains can be served hot or mixed into salads or soups. Follow the directions on the package for specific cooking time.
Beans and Lentils:
Beans and lentils are easy to cook, cost-effective, and nutritious. You can use canned beans if you don’t want to cook them. However, you will save money buying dry beans in bulk.
If you use canned, make sure to thoroughly rinse and drain before use.
Dry beans need to soak for a few hours or overnight to shorten cooking time. Adding onion or bay leaves to your beans or lentils will add flavor as they cook.
Like grains, beans and lentils can be served hot or added to salads and soups. Follow the directions on the package for cooking time.
Dice and roast on a sheet pan with a touch of olive oil, salt & pepper.
Rinse fruits well and dry. If you choose to cut your fruit, make sure to store in airtight containers. Grapes & berries are easy grab and go items. Separate them into individual servings and store them in Ziplock bags.
Pack and Store
Now that you have your GOLO foods pre-cooked, make sure everything is stored safely and conveniently.
Store your foods in different containers that you can easily recognize. Some foods can also be stored in plastic bags to save space. If you’d like, put a label on the container with some of the ideas you will use that food for.
Once everything is stored, you will have quick and easy access to healthy, basic foods so you can put together GOLO meals in minutes.
If you only cooked enough for a few meals, that’s okay! You will still save time and will only have to finish your meals with one or two food groups.
Using your pre-cooked GOLO foods
You will now be able to create balanced GOLO Meals with your precooked foods. Remember to follow the guidelines on the Smart Card that comes with the GOLO for Life Plan to portion your meals appropriately.
Ready, set, prep!
Remember to do what works best for you, take it slow, and enjoy the extra time you have during the week!
Need some food prep inspiration? Login to your account at GOLO.com and click on Healthy Eating
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