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Back-To-School: Meal Prep

By: Mayra Patino – Dietetic Intern with Georgia State University

Back to the routine? With summer coming to an end and the busy schedule returning, days can seem longer and shorter at the same time. Whether you're a stay-at-home parent or working most of the week, making time to cook dinner or prepare lunch every night can be challenging. The thought of being in the kitchen for hours after such a long day can feel discouraging; however, providing nutritious meals to your family is always on your mind. Consider meal prepping! It allows you more free time while getting a healthy meal on the table.

Let's make a plan!

Preparing for the week can be an efficient way to get back a few minutes for yourself or your family. Have a game plan that will kickstart your week. First, start with a list of recipes you would like to prepare throughout the week. Knowing what you want to make will help you make a grocery list and ensure you have all the ingredients you need to execute your plan. Whether you're deciding to meal prep for dinner or lunch, adding a few easy steps can make meal time much more rewarding.

We can all save some time

With an already tight schedule, you may think that meal prepping will take hours away from your day, but it doesn't have to. With tactful planning, only a couple of hours devoted to preparation can make your week run much more smoothly. Choose your two best days during the week to spend time in the kitchen. On those days, you can cook grains and protein sources such as lentils, quinoa, rice, chicken, and turkey ahead of time and freeze them for lunches or dinners. Wash, dry, peel, and cut fruit and vegetables such as broccoli, celery, carrots, mangos, and pineapple to add to your breakfast meal or pack them for quick snacks.

When storing chopped produce,  determine the best method for keeping quality and flavor lasting longer. If you'd like to substitute fresh produce for frozen or canned goods, go for it. Frozen has the same nutritional value as fresh and usually comes pre-cut. Canned items are also a good substitute. They contain preservatives that make them shelf-stable, so remember to check your nutrition labels, 5% or less is considered low, and 20% or more is considered high. Try looking for a % Daily Value of closer to 5% or less of sodium, added sugar, and saturated fat.

Tour your kitchen

Take a look at your convenient appliances that you might have stored away and pull out items that will make meal prepping a breeze. If chopping vegetables takes longer than you want, pull out your hand or electric food chopper for your fresh produce and quickly chop up onions, potatoes, and bell peppers. Start meal prepping with your slow cooker if you have one at home. These recipes usually require tossing ingredients into the pot and allowing them to sit and cook. Work on a second recipe to save on time. Have an air fryer at home? Cut cooking time and oil when air frying your meals. Cutting protein or vegetables into small pieces allows for quicker cooking. Throw rice into your rice cooker and return when it's hot and ready. Do you have any helpers at home? Task your little ones with easy meal prepping duties such as making overnight oats as a breakfast option.

Making life just a little bit easier

Being a parent comes with many responsibilities, hence the busy schedule, but you know your family deserves tasty and nutritious meals. Meal prepping can add variety to your meals, minimize outside spending, and improve diet quality for the whole family. Whether you're preparing meals for the entire week or just a few days, meal prepping will make like just a bit easier. I encourage you to try these tips and see if meal prepping is for you!

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