Healthy meal prep is something us moms want, but we are busy, busy, busy. We have careers, children, new babies, appointments, unpredictable schedules and sleep. But we *know* we need to take care of our health. We *want* to eat what is good for us and promotes a healthy pregnancy or healthy postpartum weight loss.
I get it. I have four kids and my husband and I run two businesses together. I am a volunteer head coach for Girls on the Run, I professionally coach 20+ women every week, I am studying for upcoming certifications, I have after-school activities and practices and doctors appointments to run kids to daily.
I am always on the go.
So how do I manage healthy eating not only for myself, but for my family? And how do I teach my clients to manage their own busy lives and healthy meal prep?
(Be sure to scroll down for a free printable healthy meal prep guide!)
Here are my 6 best tips for healthy meal prep for busy moms:
I am absolutely, 110% committed to healthy meal prep for myself and my family every single week. I understand, not just in theory but through experience, that 80% of my results (in this case, my improved health and fitness) will come from 20% of my actions. In other words, some efforts bring you a much bigger return on investment than other efforts, so put the majority of your energy into those actions.
And from experience, taking the time to meal plan and prep every single week has brought me by *far* the greatest return on my time investment. Because of the one to two hours I spend planning and prepping food, I am well-fueled with healthy and delicious food 95% of the week. I never have to worry about what I’m going to eat or what my family is going to eat. I’m never scrambling through the grocery store at the last minute, desperately trying to make something work and wasting precious energy. I’m never hungry because I don’t have food. I’m never grabbing something at a drive-thru because I didn’t know what else to do.
This commitment on my part is rock-solid because I know how much time and energy it saves me, and I won’t tolerate the chaos and energy drain in my life.
Do Some Research and Find Simple, Healthy Meals
I actually really love to cook (mostly because I really love to eat), but I save my complicated and time-consuming recipes for special occasions and holidays. It took me some time researching and experimenting before I narrowed down the healthy meal prep meals that were easy to prepare AND so delicious that I wouldn’t mind repeating. This was a time investment that has paid off for years and years.
It started with just a simple internet or Pinterest search, looking through healthy recipes that sounded good, then trying them out. If they were too complicated, they were never made again or saved for special occasions. If they were boring or bland enough that I got sick of eating them quickly, they were out.
This is going to take a little bit of time and energy, but the time and energy it will save in the future will be one-hundred fold.
Create a Ritual
Every Sunday, I sit down at my desk and plan our meals out for the week, both for the family and for myself. I look ahead to the week to see if there are any evenings that are especially crazy and need extra simple meals. I then write down what we will eat each night, what I will be eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then use a shopping list app to organize what ingredients I need for everything. Then I order my groceries online (we use Kroger Clicklist) and my husband picks them up. This entire process takes about 30 minutes to an hour (longer when I first started, now I have it down).
Once the groceries are here, before they ever are put away, I get everything ready that I can. If I’m having a salad for lunch that week, the veggies get chopped and chicken gets baked and diced and stored in airtight containers. If there are dinners that call for shredded chicken, I go ahead and cook the chicken, season it, and store it in the fridge. Anything I can do in that hour to make the rest of the week’s cooking and eating easier, I do right then and there.
I only have to get things out, prepare, and clean up the one time. The rest of the week is just throwing the prepped ingredients together.
The process is going to feel out of your comfort zone at first, but the more you do it, the more it will become second nature. Soon you’ll be coasting on auto-pilot.
Repeat As Much As You Can Take
Wouldn’t it be great to have something new, exciting, healthy and delicious to eat at every single meal? While the thought might be lovely, for most of us with busy lives, it’s going to be more important to have sustainable, *familiar* routines in place. When you repeat meals, you become so familiar with the ingredients and the process of meal prep and cooking that you could do it with your eyes closed. There are no decisions to make, no thinking. This saves precious energy and makes the process easy; and when something is easy, we’re more likely to keep it up.
Keep it simple. Find the meals as stated above that meet your criteria, and repeat the hell out of them.
I have been eating a simple chicken salad for lunch for years. Every so often the small details might change – bell peppers and almonds instead of cranberries and walnuts, or seared tuna instead of chicken – but the idea stays the same. I love my daily salad, I love how it makes me feel and I look forward to it every day. And after all these years of making it, I could prepare it in my sleep.
My kids are a little tougher to please – so I rotate through several dinners a week. I keep a list of about 8-10 that I know are healthy, simple to make, and that everyone enjoys, and each week I simply go down the list. Some dinners are just thrown in a slow cooker and served with a side of roasted vegetables, so I save those for crazy nights with late practices and meetings.
Every six months or so, I’ll do a little research and see if I can find something new to add to my repertoire, just to keep things interesting.
In order to maximize on my time investment, I work with my brain rather than against it. I minimize decision-making and learning curves by repeating what I know.
Cook in Bulk
Whenever you see an opportunity to cook in bulk, take it. It takes just as long to shop for and prepare 3 lbs of shredded chicken as it takes to prepare 1 serving, and you only have to prepare, use your appliances, and do dishes once.
Leftovers are your very best friend when it comes to always having healthy food in your home. On the nights when you have the time and energy to cook, cook in bulk, refrigerate or freeze the leftovers, and eat those on the nights when you don’t.
If re-heated leftovers aren’t your favorite, you could at least use your time to prepare multiple batches of food, portion it out, and have it ready to throw in a skillet or the oven. For example, chop up a ton of vegetables but only roast the ones you’re eating that evening, save the others to throw in the oven the next night.
Have Last Minute Backups in the Freezer
Balls will drop and plans will crumble, so I keep a stock of healthy-ish backups in my freezer for the evenings when I was planning for a healthy meal but couldn’t make it happen. This is usually a pre-made meal from the grocery freezer section. My criteria for healthy-ish:
- less than 500 calories a serving,
- at least 10g of protein per serving,
- includes some sort of vegetable,
- list of ingredients is mostly recognizable as food (less preservatives, etc)
Amy’s, Kashi, Evol, Healthy Choice, DiGiorno, and Trader Joe’s all make frozen dinners like chicken and pasta, burrito bowls, turkey burgers, zucchini “fries”, seafood paella, etc. that would make acceptable back-ups in case the need comes up.
As a bonus, I’ve created a printable healthy meal prep guide to walk you through the exact process I use to plan my family’s and my client’s meals. Click below to download:
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