Meal Prep 101

Meal Prep 101

“Don’t you get tired of eating the same thing every single day?” is probably the number one question someone will ask me once they realize how extra I am about prep.  The truth is, there are a lot of common misconceptions about meal prep, and it’s not nearly as difficult or boring as it’s made out to be.  Sundays have actually become my favorite day of the week because I get to catch up on my Well+Good emails (one of the only email subscriptions I actually read), bookmark some cool new recipes and food trends, and plan out my week.

I started meal prepping when I was an intern at my now full time employer, after quickly learning that the ‘go out and buy lunch with the team every day’ lifestyle wasn’t going to work for me.  It started with just lunches, then I slowly started incorporating breakfasts as well.  Fast forward one year to full time employment during my first busy season, and meal prep included breakfast lunch, dinner, and every snack in between.  It was definitely daunting at first, sometimes overwhelming, and consistently time consuming.  But now, after almost three years of experience, the process has become way more efficient and hardly feels like a chore anymore.  It didn’t take long to get to this level of efficiency, and anyone can do it!  This is going to be a long post, so I’m going to split it into three parts:

  1. First, I’m going to clear the air on some of the most common prep myths, by answering the often sarcastic/hypothetical questions people typically ask me when they find out my prep schedule
  2. Second, I’m going to offer a few pro tips that I wished someone had told me a few years ago
  3. Lastly, I’m going to walk you through an example of an entire week’s prep (with pictures galore)

Let’s go!

Myths Debunked

“Don’t you get tired of eating the same thing every single day?”

I love food.  You can ask basically anyone who’s met me more than once – I am the type who lives to eat, not eats to live.  The idea of eating the same exact thing for every meal every day is an absolute nightmare.  Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to be repeating meals and foods, of course.  But prep doesn’t mean filling ten containers with the same exact spread of rice, grilled chicken, and baby carrots.  That said, this question makes the bold assumption that I eat the same thing day-in and day-out, which I definitely don’t.  What I generally try to do is prep two different meats (generally chicken and a fish), and two different veggies.  I don’t box all of my meals for the week on Sunday, but rather I throw all of the like items in separate containers, and box my lunches every night for the next day.  It doesn’t sound like much, but having the option every night to mix and match makes a huge difference.  Also, I always keep salad fixins in my fridge, so that’s basically a third veggie option to add to the rotation.

“Do you ever go out and have any fun?” 

Seriously, these are the things people ask me.  Yes, I go out.  Yes, I have fun.  Yes, I can be spontaneous.  For me, one of the benefits of prepping my meals is that I then have the flexibility in a social setting more than if I had wasted most of my macros for the day on an unnecessarily high-cal lunch.  A lot of purchased meals are full of fats and carbs that can be easily avoided and recycled on something more fulfilling.  Even salads can be deceiving!  (Check the nutrition facts of that Chop’t salad before landing on Chop’t as a healthy lunch option at work).  By making your own lunches (and bfast and dinner), you are controlling exactly what you’re putting into your body, which is ideal for anyone who has fitness and general health goals.

How do you get enough food on Sunday to last the whole week? 

Ok, this question is very valid.  Generally speaking, my cooked chicken or turkey lasts all week without any problems.  If I prepare fish, I will either freeze it to have later in the week, or eat it all within a couple of days of preparing.  Cooked veggies typically last about half the week, so I try to finish those up by the end of Wednesday.  I also usually buy additional veggies that last the full week (aka my salad fixins, alluded to above), like peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers, so that I can use those once I’m all out of cooked veggies.  Fruit all has differing shelf lives, so I typically eat the more time sensitive fruits earlier in the week (blueberries, strawberries), and save the more resilient for later in the week (bananas, apples, citrus).  It also helps to have things like Greek yogurt, nuts, protein powder, oats, and nut milk on-hand for a quick and satisfying meal in a pinch if all else fails.

Some Pro Tips: 

Figure out a technique you’re good at and stick to it.  Don’t reinvent the wheel every week.  Are you really comfortable with baking your chicken in the oven?  Using a slow cooker?  Grilling it on the stovetop?  Do that every week then.  Obviously you can vary it up sometimes, but by doing something consistently that you are most comfortable with, you will become exponentially more efficient.  The variety in your prep comes with how you season your food, not necessarily the technique you use to prepare it.

Know your kitchen appliances, and make sure you have the proper gear.  I love to make my own nut butters, as well as baked goods as treats for the week, so staple appliances that I use every single week are my KitchenAid hand mixer and food processor.   I also recently got a Black + Decker slow cooker that I absolutely love.  It’s so important to have the proper tools in your kitchen if you want to conduct an efficient prep.

Have your grocery list planned out well in advance, and stick to one main grocer.  I have a note in my phone dedicated to prep ideas and my grocery list that I am incrementally adding to all week.  I have a list of staple items that generally don’t change from week to week (nut milk, Greek yogurt, eggs), and then a list of ideas that I stumbled on during the week that struck my interest to include in my prep.  Come Saturday or Sunday morning, I usually take these ideas, put the recipes side by side, see which ones have a few  main overlapping ingredients, and that’s how I narrow down my ‘ideas’ list into a list that’s reasonably executable.  Also, try to visit the same grocery store every week.  I fly through my grocery shopping in less than 20 minutes because I basically have the floor plan committed to memory.

Last Week’s Prep 

1 - all groceries
Yes, I recycled this image from the top of this post.

Prep officially begins at the grocery store.  The four main categories of necessities for the week are: protein, fruit, veggies, and snacks.  This week, my protein was chicken; my fruits were bananas, apples, oranges, and plums; my veggies were tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, lettuce, and cucumbers; and my snacks were cashews.  Already in my fridge/pantry were: Greek yogurt, almond milk, limes, and a sweet potato.

The first thing I do is prep my protein, because this generally takes the longest.  This week, I cooked my chicken with tomatoes and portabella mushrooms in my slow cooker.

2 - chicken groceries
Chicken (3.29 lbs), tomatoes, and mushrooms
3 - chicken groceries
It’s all about the angles, right?
4 - cut tomatoes
Quarter the tomatoes…
5 - tomatoes in slow cooker
…and layer them at the bottom of the slow cooker.
6 - chicken in slow cooker
Cube the chicken and layer it on top of the tomatoes.
7 - spices
The spices I used are pink Himalayan salt, cumin, paprika, chipotle chili pepper, and black pepper.
8 - meat spiced
As you can see, I use my spices generously.
9 - liquid aminos
Drizzle liquid aminos to your heart’s content.  (Alternatively, you can use soy sauce and/or sriracha)
10 - mushrooms in slow cooker
Mushrooms go on top.
11 - finished chicken
Five hours later… delicious protein for the entire week! 3.29 lbs of chicken purchased (aka prior to trimming) made 12 roughly 4 oz servings.

While the protein is cooking, I prep my veggies and snacks.  This week, I decided to go with salads, so since there were no veggies to cook, I prepped two snacks.  The first was homemade cashew butter.  The recipe for this is literally just blended cashews, and I was originally going to rewrite the steps here, but I enjoyed reading the how-to article that I found so much that I encourage you to read it as well!

12 - cashews
Beautiful, glorious, raw, unsalted cashews
13 - blended cashews
About 25 minutes later
15 - cashew butter in spoon
Creamy and delicious homemade cashew butter!

My next snack was inspired by the Tastemade Snapchat discover page, and was taught by Jen of @JustEatLife (Twitter) and @JenEatsLife (Instagram).  These candied orange peels were clutch this week, satisfying my sweet tooth in a [possibly delusional] guilt-free way.  Either way, they were absolutely delicious.  Get the recipe here.

16 - oranges17 - orange peels19 - candied peels

And there you have it, a week’s worth of meals.  So, a typical day this week consisted of two servings of chicken and salad; fruit, protein shakes, and Greek yogurt as breakfast/snacks throughout the day; and a few of the candied orange peels after dinner as some dessert.  Easy, right?

Did I answer your questions?  Leave me a comment and let me know!  Head over to my Instagram for even more recipes and advice, and message/comment anything you’d like to see more of 🙂

As always, stay fit and fab all!

18 - orange jar

Banana Avocado Brownies

Banana Avocado Brownies

You’re in the grocery store checking out the banana selection, and the bunch that has the nicest looking fruit has just one or two too many, but you throw it in your basket anyway because what’s too many bananas, right?  Then you move over to the avocados and choose a few of varying ripeness so you’ll have one ready any day of the week you might want one.  Sound familiar so far?  Fast forward to Saturday and you’re frantically Googling ‘recipes to use up overripe avocados and bananas,’ because time is quickly running out for your precious fruit.

Generally speaking, avocados are a great fill-in for fat-based ingredients (like mayonnaise, butter, or oil) in cooking and baking.  Similarly, bananas are a great substitute for sugar.  Since I had both, I decided I would try my luck at creating a recipe that uses them simultaneously.  #efficiency.

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(All ingredients not pictured here)

Thus, banana avocado brownies were born! I started by mixing together a mashed avocado and a mashed banana, because those were the two ingredients I knew for sure I’d be using.  Then I grabbed my cinnamon and vanilla, which are my go-to spices whenever I’m baking.  I considered adding a little nutmeg for extra flavor, or even something spicy to play up the savory flavor of the avocado to make a faux Mexican brownie.  I wound up keeping it simple, though, since this whole venture was an experiment to begin with.  I added eggs, which help in any baked recipe to bind the ingredients together, and baking powder to help the brownies rise.  And of course, a generous amount of cocoa powder.  I gave the batter a quick taste (eek raw eggs and all, don’t tell Mom!) and realized that one banana wasn’t going to be enough to sweeten the whole batch.  I decided to add honey instead of more banana, because I didn’t want the banana flavor to completely take over.  Since the batter was pretty wet, I also added some almond flour to thicken it up.  Lastly, and certainly not leastly, I added a generous amount of chocolate chips.

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And there you have it, brownies with only 10 ingredients that also incorporate your overripe fruit!  (See full recipe and instruction list below).

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Ingredients:

  1. One medium banana, mashed (100g)
  2. One medium avocado, mashed (100g)
  3. 2 large eggs
  4. Cocoa powder (3 tbsp)
  5. Vanilla (1 tbsp)
  6. Baking powder (1 tsp)
  7. Almond flour (1/2 cup)
  8. Honey (3 tbsp)
  9. Cinnamon (to taste)
  10. Chocolate chips (5 tbsp)

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients except for chocolate chips in a medium bowl.  You can use a mixer or mix by hand for this recipe.  Lightly grease a muffin tin (I used a mini-muff tin, which yielded 24).  Once baked, this is a light batter, so you have two options regarding your chocolate chips – if you stir them into the batter prior to baking (which is what I did) you will have to very carefully remove the muffins from your tin later on, as they might break where the chips change the consistency of the batter.  Your second option is to pour the batter into the muffin tins and then place the chips on top.  Bake for 12 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely before removing from the tins.

So you can make whatever size muffin/brownie you want, the macros for the entire batch of batter were: protein – 31; carbs – 141; fat – 66.5.  Just divide those numbers by whatever your recipe yields to get your macros per serving.

The ingredients can definitely be played around with, for example vegan chocolate chips instead of regular ones, or regular flour instead of almond flour. I’d love for you all to try this recipe and even play around with it and let me know what you create!

Stay fit and fresh, all!

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A Review of Max’s Protein Bars

A Review of Max’s Protein Bars

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My biggest passions are fitness and food, and when the two overlap I find myself on a insatiable quest for the most wholesome meals, snacks, and supplements.  Something that I am constantly looking for is a go-to protein bar that I can nom guilt-free and bloat-free.

I recently stumbled upon Max’s Protein Bars on Instagram (@MaxsProteinBars), and I was immediately drawn by the profile headline – ‘Naturally Powered Protein Bar.’  I’m listening, Max.  Tell me more.

In one of his posts, Max explains his frustrating search for a protein bar that would fit his wholesome diet regimen while also delivering enough protein to fuel his active lifestyle.  As a result, Max’s Protein Bars was born.  The ingredients in each of the three available flavors are all unprocessed and recognizable, and the mix of macros very favorable.  I obviously had to try them.

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Let’s get to it, shall we?

Dark Chocolate and Cranberry

dark choc and cranberry

Macros – P 17; C 23; F 8.  Ingredients – Whey protein concentrate, honey, cranberries, coconut oil, dark cocoa powder, gluten free oats, apple juice concentrate, dates, and flaked almonds.  

When biting into this bar, I first noticed the very rich flavor of the dark chocolate.  The cranberry flavor takes a bit of a back seat to the powerful cocoa, but it’s definitely still noticeable, adding a nice layer of flavor.  There’s also no protein flavor or aftertaste, and you can taste the honey a little bit.  Regarding composition and texture, you can see cranberry bits and the almond flakes dispersed throughout the bar. The bar itself is dense and smooth, and most of the texture in the bar comes from the almond flakes.   I would say it falls right in the middle of a wet bar and a dry/crumbly one.  The bar crumbles a little bit when you bite it, but for the most part holds itself together.  Lastly, you’ll get some coconut oil on your fingers if you touch the bar directly.

Apple Oat and Cinnamon 

apple oat and cinnamon

Macros – P 17. C 23; F 8.  Ingredients – Whey protein concentrate, honey, gluten free oats, coconut oil, dried apples, apple juice concentrate, dates, cinnamon, and flaked almonds. 

I was definitely most excited for this one because it’s a unique flavor that you don’t often see in a protein bar.  The flavor that shines through is primarily apple, with nice undertones of oat and cinnamon.  I think there could be some more cinnamon flavor, but I am also obsessed with cinnamon so I might be slightly biased.  Similar to the first bar, there’s no protein flavor or aftertaste.  This bar had more texture than the dark chocolate and cranberry one, with both almond flakes and apple pieces adding layers of texture.  It is also more chewy, and a little more sticky when chewing it.  The bar is still in between a wet and dry bar, with a slightly crumbly texture.  This one also doesn’t have so much residual oil (but it still has the same fat content as the dark chocolate cranberry).

White Chocolate Raspberry 

white choc raspberry 2

Macros – P 17; C 14; F 10.  Ingredients – Whey protein, Honey, White Chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, emulsifier [soya lecithins], natural vanilla flavor), dates, coconut oil, apple juice concentrate, desiccated coconut, beetroot juice powder, raspbery powder, gluten free oats.  

I was pleasantly surprised when I bit into this one.  It’s probably the sweetest of the three, and the strongest flavor is the rasberry.  You don’t taste much of the white chocolate.  Similar to the other two, there’s no protein flavor or aftertaste.  The texture is similar to the texture in the dark chocolate and cranberry bar – smooth with not a lot of variety.  The coconut is visible, and this adds most of the texture in the bar.  The bar is soft, but not as chewy as the apple one.  The consistency feels similar to the consistency of a cookie or brownie (more cake-y and less dense).

In conclusion… 

Overall, I definitely recommend these bars.  The ingredients are all things that I am comfortable fueling my body with on a regular basis, and the taste is really delicious.  The texture and consistency of all three were similar, and I definitely like the consistency better than most other protein bars – it feels like you’re eating a soft cookie rather than a hunk of dense protein mush.  My favorite was hands-down the white chocolate raspberry one, with apple oat and cinnamon being a close second.  This surprised me because fruity protein bars are usually my least favorite (probably because they usually taste so artificial).  Definitely check out Max’s social media and get yourself a 3-pack sample box so you can try these bars for yourself!

Did I address all of the elements of a protein bar that you find important? Let me know in the comments, and I will answer any of your additional questions!

Stay fit and fueled, all!

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Easy DIY Granola

Easy DIY Granola

Sundays have become my favorite day of the week, mostly because I get to experiment with new prep ideas to keep my meals fun and interesting.  Late last week as I was browsing Whole Foods (admittedly scoping out the Halo Top selection) I came across Sambazon frozen acai smoothie packets, which contained pure acai berry and no added sweeteners.  I obviously impulsively threw these packets, along with Justin’s almond butter, into my basket (which was already full of Halo Top) and headed to the register.  Fast forward to Meal Prep Sunday, and I realize I’ve been thinking all weekend of the amazing smoothie bowl possibilities for this week.  But what’s a smoothie bowl without a sprinkle of granola on top, am I right?  I’m often disappointed with store-bought granolas, as they are loaded with unnecessary ingredients and calories.  So I decided that this week’s experiment and featured prep item would be homemade granola.

For each week’s prep I try to incorporate a new recipe for a snack item in addition to the standard breakfast/lunch/dinner.  Since time was limited this weekend, my meals are looking like this: breakfast will be a protein shake or a pre-prepared portion of baked apple oats; lunch will be a salad with a turkey ‘muffin’ (inspired by Jamie Eason’s recipe on Bodybuilding.com); and dinner will be a smoothie bowl (with Greek yogurt being the source of protein).

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Banana Apple Baked Oats

I’ve never tried making granola before, so step one was Googling “how to make granola.”  And of course, I wasn’t disappointed.  I stumbled upon a really great article by Anna Stockwell on Epicurious.com, in which Anna offers a foolproof granola making ratio, which is more of a guideline than a recipe.  I loved this because it gave me the opportunity to use my own preferred ingredients and build my own recipe, while still using Anna’s guidelines and suggestions.  The key takeaway from this article is the following ratio:

“6 parts dry to 1 part wet”

That’s it!  Simple and easy.  Your parts can be whatever measurement you choose (in other words, you can make as much granola as you like in one sitting), but as long as you keep it within that ratio, it should turn into the crunchy and delicious granola you know and love.

A couple of additional helpful points from the article:

  • Wet ingredients will ideally be split between fat and sweet
  • A good addition to wet ingredients is an egg white, as a binding agent to get those crunchy clusters
  • Don’t forget to add spices as well to your dry mixture (or flavor extracts to your wet).  These add a really rich dynamic to the flavor palette of the finished product
  • The addition of dried fruit should be added after the granola is cooked, and doesn’t count towards the 6:1 ratio.

Let’s get to it!

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Ingredients:

  • Oats (1.5 cups)
  • Flax Seed (1/4 cup)
  • Chia Seed (1/4 cup)
  • Cashews (1 cup)
  • Coconut Oil (1/8 cup)
  • One Egg White
  • Honey (1/4 cup)
  • Cinnamon (2 tsp)
  • Nutmeg (1/8 tsp)
  • Vanilla Extract (1.5 tsp)
  • Salt (1/8 tsp)

Instructions: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the dry ingredients, and then mix in the wet. Once everything is well combined, place the uncooked granola on a baking sheet (I greased my sheet very lightly with coconut oil, but you can also use parchment paper).  Make sure the granola forms a thin layer across the sheet.  If need be, split the mixture across two different pans.  Bake the granola until golden brown and dry, stirring and checking on it every 8 minutes or so.  Once fully cooked, allow the granola to dry completely before placing in an air-tight container or jar for storage.

 

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With the ingredients and amounts that I mentioned above, this came out to 4 cups of granola, and the macros per tbsp are:

  • Protein – 1
  • Carbs – 4
  • Fat – 2.5
  • Calories – 45

Remember that this recipe is only a guideline, and as long as you stick to the original ratio you can use whatever ingredients you like! Vary it up across your grains, nuts, and seeds to find the recipe that suites your tastes best.  You can also experiment with various oils and sweeteners.  If you choose to use an egg white in your recipe, make sure you factor that into the one part of wet ingredients (in other words, the egg white isn’t extra).

For an added nutritional benefit as well as another layer of texture and flavor, I added some Goji berries to my granola.  Another option (and personal favorite) is banana chips.  Just beware of sweeteners and additives in your dried fruit – try to find brands that keep it clean and basic.

I hope you all try this recipe, it’s super easy, and granola is a great staple to have in the pantry.  Let me know what you think of this recipe, and what you’d like to see next in the comments! Stay fit and fab, all!

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This Girl’s Back!

This Girl’s Back!

It feels like forever has passed since my last post!  During this past year, my primary focus has been on my health, my career, and my personal self-development.  I’m so happy to announce that I’m back from my hiatus and am excited to share my fitness/foodie/NYC journey with you all again! But first, I’ll share some highlights and things that I learned during my time away.

First and foremost, I learned that I CAN.  So many times I’ve found myself doubting my abilities, or telling myself that I probably couldn’t do something.  Over the past year, I’ve made an effort to tell myself ‘yes’ more – Can I consistently wake up early to get a lift in before work? YES.  Can I meal prep every single week no matter what the circumstance? YES.  Can I take a trip across the country by myself with no one to meet up with on the other side? YES.  It led to me to try new things, take risks, and really step out of my comfort zone.  And you know what?  I haven’t failed.

Second, I learned about ‘work-lift’ balance.  My job is seasonal, so sometimes it’s a 6-8 hour day, and sometimes it’s 12-15.  When outside commitments can be both time-consuming and unpredictable, the gym is often one of the first things to drop off our radar because it can be viewed as ‘optional.’  I learned very soon, however, that the gym really isn’t optional for me, because it translates to health and happiness, and those things are certain necessities.  I developed the mindset that the gym is equally as important in my routine as taking a shower or brushing my teeth.  You don’t shower only when it fits your schedule – you make the time to shower because it’s not optional.  When you view fitness in the same way, you realize how reasonable it actually is to maintain consistency with your regimen despite other commitments.  You also learn to get a little bit more creative in order to achieve your goals.

Third, I learned a thing about being by myself.  This one goes hand in hand with the fact that I CAN.  I’m pretty extroverted, so I love to surround myself with people.  That said, I am also perfectly capable of venturing out enjoying certain experiences by myself.  The idea of being by myself for days at a time, though, was always an unsettling one.  This past summer, I spontaneously decided to take a solo trip to California.  I had never been to California before, had never traveled by myself before, and I didn’t know anyone out there.  I was nervous about it, but wound up having probably the most enriching two weeks experience of my life.  And, I can’t wait to take another solo trip this summer.  (Interested in a post about my trip and solo traveling? Leave me a comment!) 

There’s so much more I can say, but everything I learned and accomplished this past year will spill over into my posts to come.  Leave me a comment! I’d love to hear from you 🙂

Stay fit and fab, all!

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Lombard Street, San Francisco
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View From Coit Tower, San Francisco
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San Francisco, California
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Carmel, California
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Pacific Coast Highway